“I was talking to my mother outside, and I remember the conversation so well,” says Brian O’Donnell. “I told her, ‘I know this is gonna work. This is gonna become a phenomenon, but we just need to get out there.’’
It was June 22, 2020. Brian O’Donnell, 21, of Berne and Coy Wickey, 22, of Linn Grove, were getting ready to embark on a cross-country road trip, traveling in a van branded with their TikTok username “The Cheeky Boyos.”
Coy Wickey, 22, left, and Brian O’Donnell, 21, right started the Cheeky Boyos.
Since they started posting videos on TikTok in June 2019, O’Donnell and Wickey have achieved internet stardom on the social media platform, posting slapstick and prank-inspired short videos that often reach millions of viewers. TikTok is a social media site that was first launched in September 2016, and according to the BBC, it was the second most downloaded app globally in 2019.
Despite their current fanfare, O’Donnell and Wickey didn't always plan on being social media stars. The two became friends in junior high school, and they both live in Northeast Indiana today. In his teens, Wickey achieved some internet popularity by posting gaming videos on YouTube. When he got an email from TikTok asking him to join the app and get paid for gaming content. Instead, he and O’Donnell realized there was new potential on TikTok: Creating funny videos together.
As of October, the Cheeky Boyos have 8.7 million followers on TikTok.
Even then, the Cheeky Boyos didn't set out to get as many followers as possible. While TikTok runs on an algorithm that benefits creators who follow the in-app trends, they made it a point to rarely ever make videos based on trends. When they do, it’s to mock or exaggerate them, O’Donnell says.
Instead, he and Wickey try to stay original in the content they post, and they’ve built a solid fanbase doing it. Their latest attempt to grow that fanbase took place in a road trip stunt this summer called the “The Great 48.” The logistics of the Cheeky Boyos’s trip were planned by Brian Blackwell, a college friend and an accountant, who tagged along with them. The goal was to travel to 48 states, stopping in each one to create a short TikTok video.
Wickey, left, and O’Donnell, right, spent the summer of 2020 on a van trip across the U.S.
The three boys were prepared to eat, sleep, and live out of the van—all while giving up their summer to achieve their dreams. But even though the Cheeky Boyos had a strong following before the trip, O’Donnell says growing their fanbase with a cross-country road trip was no easy task.
Within the first 20 states of “The Great 48,” their videos were only getting about 100,000 views each, which wasn’t satisfactory. What started as a fun idea was turning into grueling work.
“Every day we’d wake up, come up with an idea or story or whatever, film, edit it, and then get it out the next day, and then drive like three or four hours, right to the next state,” O’Donnell says. “Not that this trip is a waste, but we put money and our whole summer into it. And it was tiring. We’re eating the same meal every day for dinner and cooking on a tiny grill. Then sleeping in a van together.”
The Cheeky Boyos lived out a van in the summer of 2020 on a cross-country road trip stunt for TikTok.
About halfway through the trip in Missouri, O’Donnell says one of their videos “blew up.” It was a short clip of them going into a Chipotle restaurant and answering “no” to every question the workers asked. The video was viewed over 27 million times.
After that, videos for “The Great 48” started getting 10-20 million views each, and the Cheeky Boyos began gaining national recognition from big-name companies and other internet-famous icons, like YouTuber David Dobrik, who has over 18 million subscribers and is known for his short-form vlogs of his friends and their antics.
In July 2020, TikTok introduced the Creator’s Fund, which allows users like the Cheeky Boyos to earn money based on the amount of content they make and how well those videos do on the app. O’Donnell says it isn’t a lot of money, but it does help. Before the Creator’s Fund launched, TikTok creators could only earn money through brand partnerships and other sponsorships.
As the Cheeky Boyos’s popularity began to rise, so did the number of offers they received for sponsorships from companies and apps. But the Cheeky Boyos were selective about which deals they accepted. O’Donnell says they didn’t want to ruin their page by making it too promotional, so they tried to remember why they started making TikToks in the first place: To make people laugh.
As their view counts on “The Great 48” continued to climb, they made their way to California and began making connections with bigger name celebrities. Instead of stopping in California for the day, as they originally planned, O’Donnell, Wickey, and Blackwell ended up staying for a week due to the connections they were finding there.
While in Los Angeles, they met James Charles, a makeup artist and YouTuber with more than 23 million subscribers. Charles invited O’Donnell and Wickey to his house, where they filmed themselves getting a makeover by Charles. Both men finished the video with a full face of glam makeup. O’Donnell says Charles was nice, and it was a “massive deal” to be able to work with him.
The Cheeky Boyos pose with YouTube makeup artist James Charles, center, who gave them a glam look.
The Cheeky Boyos left Charles’s house feeling enthusiastic about what was to come. As they pulled out of the driveway, they saw another YouTuber, Logan Paul, riding by on his bike. O’Donnell and Wickey say they contemplated stopping him to say “hi,” but they didn’t want to bother him.
As luck would have it, two days later, the Cheeky Boyos were filming a TikTok at Logan Paul’s house. The boys arrived at the house and filmed a TikTok where O’Donnell takes a punch to the face from Paul, which now has over 3 million likes.
As exciting as it was to meet fellow internet-famous icons, the biggest moment for the Cheeky Boyos was meeting singer Jason Derulo, after reaching out to his manager. Per Derulo’s instructions, all three boys had to test negative for COVID-19 before meeting him, and O’Donnell says they were very happy when the results came back negative.
“When we first met him, he was like, ‘What’s going on ya’ll?’ And we dapped him up, and in that moment, it’s like a video game,” O’Donnell says. “Someone you see on your phone or television is right in front of you, but it’s not like starstruck; it was more just like, ‘Cool. Now let’s get to work.’”
The Cheeky Boyos pose with singer-songwriter Jason Derulo in his Los Angeles pool.
After arriving at Derulo’s house, the Cheeky Boyos pitched their humorous video ideas to him, and Derulo agreed to take part. O’Donnell and Wickey were able to film multiple videos with him, including one where they tackled Derulo into his pool. That particular video has reached 7.2 million likes and has been seen over 33.8 million times as of October 2020.
O’Donnell says the Cheeky Boyos could feel a change in their fame levels after leaving California. People were starting to recognize them in public and ask for pictures. For two weeks, their videos were listed as the “most seen” on the TikTok app, and for almost a month, their account was among the top 10 in the world in views because of their trip.
“It ended up becoming something big, thankfully,” O’Donnell says, reflecting on the journey.
Like most internet-famous incidents, he attributes a lot of what happened on the trip to good fortune or luck, but he also recognizes the hard work his team has put in since they started making TikToks.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet and social media, two men from the Midwest have been able to achieve international stardom.
“Fifteen months ago, I had never made a TikTok in my life,” O’Donnell says. “Now, it’s all I think about out of the 17 hours I’m up. I think about it all the time.”
The Cheeky Boyos are known around the world by fans on TikTok.
As of October, the Cheeky Boyos have 8.7 million followers on TikTok and have received 224.6 million likes across all their videos on the app.
So, what’s next?
They plan to move to California, but only after O’Donnell finishes his degree at Purdue Fort Wayne in December, something he says his mother “would kill him” if he didn’t do, since he’s only 12 credits away from graduating.
The Cheeky Boyos are working on building a YouTube channel, too. With only two videos posted so far, they have 30,000 subscribers and 90,000 views on the latest video, but they say they aren’t expecting instant fame on YouTube.
“YouTube is like a big, big, big thing that we’re trying to push,” O’Donnell says. “It’ll be a lot of trial and error, but we’re trying to find a good formula of like setup and pacing.”
As they continue to branch out to other platforms, The Cheeky Boyos plan to keep making TikToks for one simple goal: To make their viewers laugh.
The Cheeky Boyos can be found on TikTok and Instagram, @cheekyboyos, on Twitter, @thecheekyboyos, and on Youtube by searching for “The Cheeky Boyos”.
Brian O’Donnell can be found on Instagram, @brianoooooo.
Coy Wickey can be found on Instagram, @coywickye.