Let’s face it: Personal finance can be boring, especially for young people. Competing for attention with the entire internet to explain the true costs of health care or the energy consumption of NFTs can be a daunting task (trust us on this).
But for 26-year-old Jack Corbett, the star of the Planet Money TikTok account, entertaining while educating is a natural talent.
That’s evident in his videos, filmed on his iPhone 12 Mini and edited together with pixelated lo-fi graphics intentionally reminiscent of Microsoft Paint. The topics range from the mechanics of shell companies for sweater thieves (over 586,000 views) to congressional stock trading as explained by a face emerging from the back of his own choppy haircut (over 629,000 views).
Shortly after graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in film theory and experimental cinema in 2019, Corbett started as an intern at NPR working on the Tiny Desk concert video series. But when the pandemic hit and offices closed, the team at NPR was forced to get creative with content production.
“We had to learn how to make videos again, but without equipment, a studio or any of the systems that we already had built,” he said.
Corbett was tasked with helping the Planet Money team attract a younger audience on TikTok, which at the time was a relatively new platform dominated by “Bored In The House” remixes and celebs learning the Renegade in lockdown. (Created by Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson for NPR, Planet Money is a popular podcast that premiered in 2008 following the financial crisis; it takes complex economic topics and distills them for the everyday listener.)
The first TikTok Corbett produced for Planet Money explained the circuit breaker mechanism of stock markets. Circuit breakers are trading halts that occur when a market price decline occurs so rapidly that it threatens market liquidity. In the lighthearted video, Corbett broke down the incredibly complicated concept with green screen and hand-drawn graphics that compared the process to a “chill session” — something any Gen Zer casually scrolling on their phone could understand. It went on to recommend traders take the time to relax and, instead of freaking out over tanking returns, watch slow-motion videos of horses.
Weird, right? Its oddball approach didn’t feel like NPR at all. But it was right at home on a feed of the other wacky videos TikTok is known for.
Having amassed over 13.5 million likes, a Webby nomination, and a profile in the New York Times, Corbett’s strategy for the Planet Money TikTok account is proving incredibly successful at teaching viewers about the economy. He’s a sensation (with questionable posture).
Now an assistant producer, Corbett has tackled the Great Recession, the capital gains tax and the impact of soaring rent to fanfare from his Los Angeles apartment quickly after submitting ideas to the Planet Money team on Slack.
In some instances, the videos are produced in a single day to capture the attention around a trending story. The clips on the surging price of GameStop stock — in which Corbett both does the dab and uses the phrase “epic bruh moment” — had a particularly fast turnaround. (While he claims it feels rough and rushed, that TikTok is one of the most successful he’s produced, with over 3 million views to date.)
It’s a strange fate for Corbett. When his team at NPR first got together to brainstorm ideas for Planet Money’s TikTok, Corbett actually voted against using the platform.
“I thought it was just going to die off. I thought we should just stick to what works,” he says. “Now here I am. Eating my own words.”
This story has been updated to correct an error about where Corbett went to college.