Nine-year-old Christopher Russell — known online by his nickname Topher — has become the center of his very own TikTok genre after the audio of him introducing himself became a widespread meme. Videos tagged #topher have nearly 1 billion views, and the audio has been turned into everything from electronic remixes to cakes to Roblox sketches. “Pov you’re trying to escape TopherTok,” one captioned on an edit of Topher appearing in heaven.
“I’m not camera shy, and I’ve never been shy,” Topher, who lives in a town outside Louisville, Kentucky, with his parents, told BuzzFeed News. “I was shy for, like, one play, but then I catched on to not being shy.”
His sister Allyson Russell, 19, who runs the TikTok of original Topher content, wanted to share Topher’s wild personality with an audience. After a Sprite challenge with her brother started gaining millions of views, Russell began to post more of her wild younger sibling and all his funny mannerisms, filming him screeching, dancing, and literally bouncing off the walls.
Topher was the baby brother that Russell had always hoped for, a long-anticipated member of the family who represented a fresh start after tragedy.
“Although my mom had planned to have at least three children, she delayed having the third one after her twin sister and her three kids were killed in a car crash,” Russell said. The devastating incident took place in April 2007. “It took her years to recover from that. My mom’s mother, along with myself, finally talked my mom into having a third child, which resulted in Topher.”
Topher arrived in 2013. “We always knew, growing up, that Topher was born to be somebody,” Russell said. “He has ADHD pretty bad, so he uses it in a good way. He's pretty funny. And he's wild. And he always keeps us entertained.”
Performing came naturally, and he craved being on camera. “I've always wanted to be a YouTuber,” he said. “When I was like 7, I begged my mom if I could have a YouTube and make videos.”
Now, Topher is posting like a bona fide influencer, creating sponsored posts with Benefit Cosmetics, and being invited to sit courtside at his favorite basketball team’s game. At the time of our interview, he had traveled to North Carolina to film videos with his favorite celebrity, MrBeast, who is the most popular YouTuber in the world, with 131 million subscribers.
The MrBeast visit was a surreal moment for Topher. “He is my idol,” Topher said. “I was watching a video that they posted, and they said ‘y’all already know who I am,’ and I was about to cry, like it was crazy.”
“My parents were freaking out because we didn't know how it would really affect our family,” said Russell, who had traveled with him. “We live in a very small town and everyone knows everyone. Like, most famous people live in North Carolina or LA or New York, a big place where a lot of people live. Compared … to our hometown, it's way different.”
Since Topher’s rise to fame, he’s been asked for autographs in school, been accused of owning his sister’s TikTok account (resulting in a brief account suspension after many people reported it for thinking it violated TikTok’s 13+ guideline), and also received an unhealthy amount of negativity. Russell said initially the comments upset her younger brother.
“There are some comments that have bothered Topher saying ‘Topher's annoying,’ ‘a spoiled brat,’ or ‘I hate Topher,’” she said. “My mom has tried to protect him from these comments by not allowing him to have his own TikTok account, but of course other people share this information with him.”
But Topher said he just lets it roll off his back now, repeating the pep talk he’s received from his family that has helped boost his confidence. “My mom told me there's always gonna be haters,” he said. “‘If you don't have haters, you're not somebody.’”
Many have also left comments in concern about child actors and the dangers of getting famous online. He went viral again for seemingly hitting his head on a wall while wishing a viewer happy birthday, which he wanted to clarify did not actually happen. “I hit a part of my body that didn’t really hurt, and it shook my head,” he said. “I thought it would look funny.”
“It's not like Ally's forcing me to be on camera,” Topher said. “I want to do it.”
Russell, a first-year at the University of Kentucky, said she’ll come home from college on weekends to film with her brother. In that time, they’ll record three or four videos, to make sure she’s got something to post every day. If she runs out of content, her mom films something with Topher for her to post.
Filming isn’t always the easiest. “We argue a lot when we film, because you know, Topher has ADHD, and he cannot stay still or stay focused,” she said. “So whenever we make a video, it takes like 20 tries to get it right. Like it takes hours.”
Topher said he’s also learning to manage expectations about social media virality. “It can be a itsy-bitsy stressful — sorry, we’re country, we say ‘itsy-bitsy’ a lot — because there are so many talented kids that God has created,” Topher said. “There's so many kids way more funnier than me. But I try to enjoy it.”
He said his favorite comment to read is when people talk about his teeth. “I like it,” he said. “It makes me laugh.”
Russell has switched her major to communications, in hopes of using it toward their blossoming social media following. Meanwhile, Topher hopes that he can do even more on-camera work in the future. “I want to be like an actor, like Jenna Ortega,” he said. “If I could be in a Hollywood movie, that'd be great.”