While the more senior crowd may gravitate toward Facebook to reconnect with old friends or to keep an eye on the kids or grandkids, many younger folks are spending their time on TikTok. If you’re unfamiliar, TikTok is a social media platform for creating, discovering and sharing short videos.
Browse through it, and you’ll find thousands of young people expressing themselves through comedy, dancing, lip-syncing, and singing. Seriously short, these videos only last from 15 to 60 seconds. But, despite the brevity, TikTok has spread like wildfire, gaining millions of users across the globe.
The younger set appreciate it for its authenticity. In contrast to Instagram, where photos are touched up to eliminate imperfections, TikTok videos are basically kids (and sometimes adults) just being themselves—whatever that looks like.
One of those kids—now turned young adult—is Pittsburgh native Brandon Max. His entertaining (and sometimes admittedly silly) videos attract views primarily from kids ages 9 to 18, but also young adults ranging from 20 to 30 years old. He’s definitely a TikTok star, but that wasn’t his initial goal when he began sharing his comedic antics online. His goal was acceptance.
After suffering through a strep infection as a child, Brandon was diagnosed with PANDAS—a pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infections. As a result, he spent a significant portion of his childhood isolated from other kids. He was different and he often felt left out. He was also bullied at times.
Brandon knows what it’s like to feel isolated and different, and those experiences provide the motivation for his TikTok platform today. “My biggest goal was basically just to be myself, to stand out and show kids that are different that they’re not alone,” he said. “This helps me connect with them and gives me an opportunity to give back to people.”
When Brandon joined TikTok, it seemed everyone was doing the same things, like trendy dances. He chose to create content that no one else was doing. “I’ve always been a fan of comedy, so I started doing comedic skits and stuff—I wanted to emphasis that it was okay not to fit in,” he said.
Brandon’s first big hit came in September 2019 with a grilled cheese video co-starring his dad, who prefers to be referred to as ‘Brandon Max’s Dad.’
“It was crazy,” said Brandon. “The video went viral.”
That grilled cheese video led to Brandon’s star power in the community. “People see him out and about and say ‘Hey, you’re the grilled cheese dude!’” shared his father.
During the pandemic, Brandon’s mission of staying positive and spreading social media love reached new heights. “With everyone quarantined at home, my numbers reached 70 million views a week,” he said. “People felt alone during that time, and I wanted to find a way to make them laugh.”
Now that things have settled down a bit, Brandon’s views still reach an incredible two- to five million viewers each week. His popularity is earned by the kindness he shows to others. In one instance, a little boy from Tennessee who is on the autism spectrum became a huge fan of Brandon’s—sparked by a mutual love of grilled cheese. His mother reached out to let Brandon know that her son had a birthday coming. “Brandon wanted this boy to feel special, so he recorded a video for the child’s birthday and later spoke with him on FaceTime,” recalls Brandon Max’s Dad.
Spreading kindness and compassion continues to drive Brandon and he has no plans of stopping. “I’m definitely going to continue doing this—I don’t plan to ever give it up,” he said.
And that’s good news for TikTok fans of all generations.
You can find Brandon’s videos at www.tiktok.com/@itsbrandonmax.