Otis Brister Jr. loves to make his friends laugh — all 770,300 of them.
Brister, better known by his online persona OtisSwagg, is a social media influencer living in an admittedly not-so-tech-savvy area.
This surprises his ever-growing fan base.
“Nobody thought I was from Greenwood. They thought I was from Los Angeles or somewhere else in California. They didn’t think I was from Mississippi,” he said with a smile. “But it feels good to be young and representing my town. And at the end of the day, I will never forget where I come from.
Even though the place I am from is small, I will keep representing my hometown and letting people know I’m from Greenwood.”
Brister, 24, is a graduate of Greenwood High School and is known all over the internet for his unique videos and content, which can be seen on several online platforms. His photos on Instagram, posts on Facebook and videos on YouTube are fan favorites, but nothing quite compares to his huge following on TikTok.
TikTok, a social media platform used to make a variety of short-form videos that span anywhere from 3 to 60 seconds, saw a huge increase in users in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While sheltering at home, many used the app to laugh along with funny clips or learn new dances to the radio’s top songs. One such user was Brister, who now has almost 3,000 videos and more than 770,000 followers.
Starting in March, Brister assumed his personality of OtisSwagg — which he said is actually exactly who he is in real life — and created a variety of videos.
“I act, I dance, I sing … but if you were to ask me what my main content is, it would have to be the chicken,” he admits.
Also an employee at the Church’s Chicken on U.S. 82, Brister has created several videos highlighting some of his favorite menu items from the chain restaurant using his signature catchphrase.
“Cwispy wit da Cwunch,” Brister laughed while meticulously spelling the phrase. The slogan has brought Brister stardom on the app, and he is working on trademarking it.
The exclamation, he said, is humorously used when he takes a bite of the food and is taken aback by how good it tastes. “That chicken brought me who I am today,” he said.
It took some time, but after he published his original content over weeks and months, users started following, liking and sharing the clips. Soon after that, people would even come to the fast-food restaurant just to see him.
In addition, families from Texas, California, and elsewhere have traveled just to see the small-town influencer with a big personality.
“Little kids look up to me. I have a large fan base. They will come to my job and say ‘Otis! I want my chicken to be cwispy wit da cwunch!’” Brister said, smiling. “For Thanksgiving I had this couple, and they had like six kids, and they were visiting from Alabama. And the dad said, ‘You know, I told my kids, before we leave and go back to Alabama, I’m going to be sure to bring them to see you.’
And that feels good, to know I have that kind of impact.” It was not long until these videos gained an even larger following and helped earn Brister over $5,000 through the app’s creative fund, a program that pays some of the influencers for their work.
“I tell people, you can’t expect to grow if you do not have good content,”he said. “You have to make good content so people will stay and watch you.”
The job of social media influencer is one of the newest occupations in which people can earn a more than livable wage. For example, Addison Rae Easterling — one of the most followed TikTok users, with over 70 million followers — earned around $5 million in 2019 for her popular dance videos, according to Forbes.
“In a relatively short time, TikTok has grown to become a source of income and opportunity for creators and their families — and we couldn’t be more encouraged by their success,” Vanessa Pappas, the company’s general manager, said in July in a statement. “As our community continues to flourish, we’re committed to fostering even more ways for our creators to earn livelihoods by inspiring joy and creativity.”
But just because it can be done on your phone does not mean it isn’t hard work. In fact, Brister said, this kind of content creation is almost a full-time job.
“A lot of people expect things to happen like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “But you have to have patience. I did not get almost 800,000 followers overnight. It was a grinding process; I had to put in work.”
And he said the process does not stop with just posting some videos.
Brister said he is working toward 1 million followers with the hopes of getting verified — an authentic stamp of status for public figures or celebrities on the app — and is also in the course of designing and selling his own merchandise inspired by his videos.
But perhaps the biggest step for Brister, who is now under a strict confidentiality agreement with Church’s Chicken, has been having a deal in the works with the company for some big plans in the future.
“I am very excited for Church’s because they have given me an opportunity that can change my life,” he said.
He hopes he can use the opportunity to help his mother.
In addition to his other activities, he is caretaker to Cynthia Womack, known affectionally to his online following as Mama_Swagg.
Womack has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow to the lungs, as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
Brister said a big part of his day is helping his mother and making sure she is well taken care of.
One day, while he was becoming more and more popular online, he said he saw a great opportunity to include her in some of his videos.
Brister said his mom is a positive and humorous light in his life, the kind of person who is great for social media. It took a little persuading, but soon she agreed.
“So, I said, ‘Mom, what if we did a little video?’ and that one went viral,” he said.
Not long after that first video, the duo became increasingly popular on social media, earning praise and shares as a team, creating short videos that blend their relationship of affection and humor.
“It is wonderful,” Womack said. “He really motivates me, and it puts a smile on my face.”
She said watching her son blossom into this young entrepreneur has been an incredible feeling.
“I feel good. It is unexplainable,” she said. The world of social media sometimes can be a place of anger and arguments, and Brister said he is no stranger to that. Still, he said it is important to not fall prey to the negativity of a few; instead, he focuses on the positivity of the many.
“You never know what people are going through, so if I could bring a smile to people’s faces, that will make me feel better,” Brister said.
“I go through a lot, but I don’t let what I go through affect me. I keep it moving and I keep the faith. I know God wouldn’t put more on me than I could bear.”