Bill was also born with Down Syndrome, but that’s never stopped him from busting a move in the aisles of Target to bring smiles to the faces of his TikTok fans. Bill stands out because of his ability - to entertain an audience. He has amassed a staggeringly impressive 521,000 followers for his TikTok account ‘The Brother Boys’ (@the_brotherboys) , that he runs together with his 32 year old brother-in-law, Kyran O’Connell (Kyran is married to Bill’s sister). To be big on TikTok, you need not only the confidence to put yourself in the public eye, but the smarts and creativity to interpret, and remix, popular culture - in a manner that resonates and is understood and enjoyed by the majority. On The Brother Boys, Kyran and Bill do all this and more, documenting the ins and outs of daily life, through the vehicle of song and dance - with lashings of Aussie humour.
Kyran’s background is Indigenous, and for the self-described duo of ‘misfits’, TikTok has given them a platform to be their authentic selves. They’re now able to control the narrative in a way that’s not been possible until recently, as Kyran explains: “We don’t always have the luxury of being able to show who we are, in real life. When you have Down Syndrome like Bill, or you’re Indigenous like me, in real life, often people want to make assumptions about what that means. We’ve both had our fair share of being made to feel like society’s misfits. We’ve both had our struggles, and faced judgement throughout our lives. But on TikTok, we feel like we can relax and be ourselves.”
The two first met ten years ago, when Kyran started dating Bill’s sister, “At first, we were a bit nervous around each other!” remembers Kynan, “but we quickly formed a great connection that we still have today. I sometimes wish TikTok had been around ten years ago, so we could show how far our friendship has come.” Bill’s now the proud uncle of Kyran’s beautiful baby girl - one of the duo’s videos shows a montage of shots of Bill and his niece, where he’s affectionately referred to as “Uncle Billboy”.
In 2020, during the first lockdown, ‘Uncle Billboy’ moved in full time with Kyran, his sister and his niece. This is where the TikTok adventure began, when a video they uploaded went viral, ther account exploded in popularity. “We were spending a lot of time on TikTok during lockdown, we were always showing each other funny videos we’d seen - we shared a mutual love for the talent, and fun, that lived on TikTok, TikTok was an interest we had in common” explains Kyran. “We posted a video of me picking up Bill from work, where he was doing a happy dance, and it received nearly 23 million views!” says Kyran (you can watch the infamous video here TikTok).
The account has since landed the brothers opportunities to travel Australia doing educational talks, television appearances (they’re now with JR Management). Most excitingly for Bill, celebrity-like status on their hometown streets of Mildura, where Bill has been getting requests for photos.
“I never thought I would be a TikTok star,” says Bill. “It's nice to meet the fans.”
Adds Kyran: “The positive feedback and support we’ve received from the TikTok community is amazing. Everyone always says they love our videos, or that we’ve helped someone get through tough times - they say that they watch our videos and it turns their day around. We’ve heard some people even start their day by watching our TikTok videos. We’re overwhelmed when we hear we’ve had that effect!”
In its lighter hearted moments, the account shows pranks the brothers play on each other, and is a home for Bill’s voice impersonations of the likes of Arnold Schwarzenneger and Mike Tyson - that rate high on the entertainment factor.
“Sometimes we will plan our TikToks but mostly they are impromptu,” says Kyran of the duo’s content, “I like to showcase Bill’s talents, wherever I can. Bill thinks TikTok creators are super talented, and is always inspired by other creators he sees on the platform to try something new.”
The most compelling content on their account, however, are the posts that celebrate the boys’ open and brotherly affection for each other. In one video, the boys share value of physical touch - Kyran is depicted staring at a bathroom mirror, having a bad day, and he goes to punch the mirror in anger, but just as he’s about to smash the mirror, Bill appears sitting on the bathroom bench, and Kyran hugs Bill instead. ‘Everyone needs a Brother Boy’, the video is captioned.
“A lot of mates say ‘how can you do that?” says Kyran of these videos, “How do you get on there and do that, hug each other, and plant kisses on each others’ heads? But we don’t care what people think, it makes us feel good - and it resonates, as those are some of our most liked videos.
We hope that our TikTok account helps to normalise friendships between males. Continues Kyran: “We want to show people, especially men, that it's OK to hug your friends and show them affection. It’s important to be open with your mates, lean on them for help or ask them for support if you need it, and be there for them in return. It’s nice to think we’re role models for Australian men. We want to tell guys out there, step away from being so macho for a little while, you don’t have to act a certain way for fear of being judged, don’t ever be afraid to show your male mates a bit of affection. It’s completely normal. Give them a kiss. It creates a stronger bond between the two of you.”
The Brother Boys are not only advocating for male affection and love with their account, but normalising disability, too. Through their TikTok account, The Brother Boys have opened the front door of their home to Australians, allowing us to step inside and be part of an Aussie family that sets the bar for the rest of us: a family that know Bill’s disability doesn’t define him, or stop him from achieving his goals in life, and that the acceptance, support, and optimism of those around him are so important to facing societal views.
The firsthand experience The Brother Boys share on their TikTok is particularly valuable to buck the misrepresentation, or lack of representation, in media, around disability. The number of Australians with physical and intellectual disabilities on TikTok, who are finding a voice, and ways to be seen, on TikTok, is exciting. For those TikTok creators with intellectual disabilities, such as autism, TikTok has enabled a better illustration of the broad spectrum of autism, and smashed a one-dimensional outlook.
The multi-narrative nature of popular broadcast TV show Love on the Spectrum comes to mind as an example of a beautiful showcase of how a multitude of experiences can sit behind one label, and similarly, each Aussie TikTok creator is able to share their unique, first-hand perspective, through these collected creator viewpoints, we better see how disabilities such as autism encompass so many individualised experiences. Also on the ever-diverse ABC, You Can’t Ask That, where viewers send in the most “outrageous and uncomfortable questions to uncover the truth behind what it's like for marginalised and misunderstood Australians”, that are proof that there’s a lot of people out there that may not be close to someone with a disability, and they’ve got questions and misconceptions about disability that they’re open to answers to. And there’s people on TikTok willing to provide those answers, and advocate for an amazing, diverse community of people with disabilities. With knowledge, comes normalisation, and with that, the chance for us all to transition into a loving, accepting, and mutually respectful society.
Says Kyran: “We don’t directly address misconceptions about disability, we just normalise it by doing what everybody else does - viral dances, comedy routines, voiceovers, OK, maybe not the make-up tutorials (laughs) - we’re showing we’re just like everyone else. A highlight for the boys is being able to reach audience members on TikTok who might be ‘misfits’ like themselves, and potentially making them feel less alone.
“I’ve never met anyone like Bill, he looks at life completely differently, he’s always positive, and he doesn’t let negativity let him down. He’s a role model for everyone out there who feels different, alone, or is struggling. The Brother Boys account is a place where everyone gets to experience the Bill that I know. He’s a good lad. Funny, very quick-witted. He catches me off guard all the time. You can be down, for whatever reason, and Bill will ring me up, and say something silly, or he will play a prank on me. He brings happiness to our lives all the time.”
Bill’s message for anyone wanting to start their own TikTok, or anyone who is struggling to fit in, is: “Be proud of yourself, don’t ever give up. Chase your dreams and you can do whatever you want.” And as to The Brother Boys’ next dream? “We’ve been writing bars about the diversity between us,” shares Kyran, “how we came from different backgrounds. We’ll probably trial it and if we get any interest in it, we’ll continue to do it. Or maybe we will scare people away!” Since this interview, the boys have made their rap video debut on TiKTok.
It’s as heartwarming as you would expect:
“We’re an unusual duo, but the people love you!” raps Kyran
“I think they love you too,” raps back Bill.