The TikTok algorithm has made my For You Page a breeding ground of NYC travel vlogs, food reviews, and eccentric internet personalities. All of these niches are checked by Joshua Block, known to his 2.5 million followers as WorldofTShirts, who has dominated my feed for the past year. Videos of the 21-year-old self-proclaimed king of New York, threatening to sue, vomiting, drinking profusely, and getting accosted on the street appear every time I open my app.
The algorithm has unintentionally painted a lop-sided, parasocial picture of Block in the midst of a constant swirl of chaos and controversy. But after spending years interviewing creators, I knew that couldn’t be who he actually was. Oftentimes a creator’s vlog voice, or the personality they put online, won’t give you the whole picture of who they actually are, and I wanted to learn the truth.
So after some snooping, I found that Block has been putting on NYC tours of the East Village and North Brooklyn, promising that I will “learn about the history of Abraham Lincoln” and a “sing-along of New York.” I’ve lived in the city for a decade so on a whim, I spent $30 and got ready to take the World of TShirts experience.
Who is WorldofTShirts?
But before I embarked on my journey, I needed to learn about Block as a person. According to an interview with Block on YouTube, he was born with autism and has been living with his grandfather since 2015 when his mother passed away from Ovarian cancer. He started his WorldofTShirts account in October 2020, eventually posting multiple videos a day of him dancing, lip-synching, and making sketches.
Watching him stain his tongue with Jolly Ranchers or flailing erratically to “Conga,” there was an instant charm to his content that was missing in the stuff I was being fed by the algorithm. In March 2021, Block went mega-viral with his rendition of Jay-Z’s “Empire of State of Mind,” gaining millions of views, and 500,000 followers, according to Socialblade, even getting dueted by the always-controversial Jake Paul.
That’s where Block’s content became all about New York City. Every day, he’d take the Long Island Railroad, and post multiple videos of him eating, dancing, and exploring the city. When Block turned 21 in the summer of 2022, videos of him drinking were added to his daily rotation. He drank in bars, on the street, or when he traveled to places like Norway or Iceland.
But his rise in popularity and constant drinking led to the controversies that I already knew about. Videos of Block telling fans they’d need to pay $50 for a picture, or licking the ground in Times Square, or even shocking stomping on a fish (though it’s unclear if the fish was already dead or not), gained millions of views online and shifted his public image from one of boyish charm to one of utter disbelief.
A Tour to Remember
Minutes after paying, Block sent over a Google Doc liability waiver telling me the risks of “rat bites” and “falling debris.” We agreed to meet an hour beforehand for a quick interview at McSorley’s, the oldest bar in New York that’s a favorite of finance bros (and Block). When he showed up a half-hour late, he was in his signature captain’s hat, a shirt with “WorldofTShirts” written on the front with a logo of him riding a Subway train, and the smell of the beer he had ingested on an earlier TikTok.
Before we started he wanted to know what “magazine” I was writing for. Our interview was short and ultimately fruitless, giving me short answers I knew I couldn’t use. So I decided to just go with my gut and let Block’s tour dictate my experience.
In front of the actual meeting place (which I promised not to disclose), we met Yannick, a 24-year-old German tourist who was the only other person on the tour that day. Before we got started, Block gave us wristbands because in the past he had people pretending to be part of the tour for content. We also had to hand him another $20 since the first $30 was “just the deposit” according to Block. While dealing with the bookkeeping, multiple people on the younger side approached him for pictures on the highly congested street, which he turned down every time with an “I’m busy.”
From there, we went back to McSorley’s where he ordered us beer. Before I had the chance to really digest what the hell was happening, Block and our German cohort had chugged their beers and Block was motioning us on to the next location.
Because it’s his tour, Block started singing his viral hit “Empire State of Mind” while walking up Second Avenue, constantly pausing to yell at any bystander walking behind us since they could just be “trolls” trying to farm him for content. After the ballad, I asked what he wanted out of life. He wants to take a cruise, explore the world more, and just try to live life. That chaotic sprite that danced along my TikTok page wasn’t walking with us, replaced with a real person who just wanted to get by.
We talked about his paranoia which isn’t unfounded, especially since he alleges the week before in Texas someone had broken into his hotel room and defecated on his bed (I had to confirm and now can say I’ve seen a now-deleted picture of the scene). He was able to laugh about it and realize how absurd the situation was.
Getting to the L train, we headed for Williamsburg, telling another crushed fan he was too busy for a picture. But once we made it to Union Pool, a bar famous for millennial hipsters, nobody was young enough to recognize him.
Our tour ended after a trip on the G-train to the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, where he broke out his catchphrase “What does banned mean?” referencing the time his Tinder account got terminated. The three of us ended up walking to another bar where I bought him a Margarita as a thank you for the weirdness of the night. After he finished, he got out of his chair, said goodbye, and walked off to the subway, even though it was the exact same place that both of us were going. Though I was left in shock, I couldn’t help but giggle at the absurdity of the whole night.
What Did I Learn?
I’ve spoken with hundreds of creators over the past decade, but none of them created an experience like Block. He seemed earnest and genuinely kind to me, a rarity in the world of Instagram glam and highly edited MrBeast videos. Being genuine online is important when growing a brand, but that same type of vulnerability can be used to vilify and condemn.
I couldn’t believe that the Block I had spent the night with was the same one with hundreds of hate videos, comments, and Reddit threads. The WorldofTShirts I saw was a public nuisance, cussing about how he was better than everyone else. But when I stripped away the 6-second snide snippets, I was left with a young man trying to navigate his way through a new world of fame. Though I didn’t learn about Abraham Lincoln.
Just a few days after our tour, Block embarked on a cruise and is currently partying his way through the high seas. Exactly how he wants it.
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