DALLAS — Steve Austin, who often explains what an app is to his neighbors in his senior apartment community, has gained a robust social media following by sharing goofy antics and wearing hats. As Old Man Steve on TikTok, omsteve, the 82-year-old retired Richland Hills businessman and bachelor has 1.4 million followers and more than 26 million likes on his self-produced short videos.
Perhaps no one is more surprised by his success than him. Not only has his foray into social media stardom connected him with fans all over the world, but it has also helped him make the most of a year of quarantine.
You’ve been on TikTok since late 2019. How did you get started?
I had a channel on YouTube for 12 years. I started doing an app called Vine and got a little bit of a following on there. Then my nephew told me, “Uncle Steve, you need to check out TikTok.” I started doing “Cooking With Steve,” where I’d just make a ham sandwich or a bowl of cereal on TikTok. It took off. I started getting followers, and it grew daily. I was flabbergasted at how fast it grew. Now I do a lot of different things. I started doing “Dancing with Steve.” On Saturdays, I do a magic trick. I just mess it up. I really can’t do a magic trick.
Most of my success was last year. I think people were in quarantine and had a lot of time on their hands and were on the internet a lot.
For readers who don’t know, what is TikTok?
I get that question all the time from the elderly people in the complex where I live. I take out my cellphone and show them, “There’s this thing called apps,” and I show them what an app is. TikTok lets you make 60-second videos with special effects, like making myself look like three people. You can play around with it to enhance your videos. I try to stay up on all that. You can speed the video up so it looks like you’re moving really fast but you’re not. Because I can’t!
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
A lot of times I don’t know what I’m going to do until I do it. I put my phone on the tripod and put a hat on my head and just do it. Most of the time it’s just spontaneous.
I guess I’m a ham at heart. My sister says I’ve always been silly.
Why do you think you are so popular?
I think I come across as a regular guy having a good time. I’m told I seem honest and trustworthy. Also, everything I do is G-rated. I don’t do any off-color stuff. That’s just not me.
Many of my fans are young people. They tell me they want me to be their grandpa. Or I remind them of their grandpa. Some of their parents are watching, too. I’m getting a big cross section of ages.
I’m 82 years old. I live by myself in a senior apartment complex. All my neighbors are old. I don’t go out much. I have all my groceries delivered. I’m trying to stay safe. I feel like we should all do that. I encourage that with my fans in the videos. I say, “Put your mask on if you go out. Stay safe.” I try to be positive. The response I get shows me my fans like that.
I have a P.O. box and I get cards and mail from fans. Fans write to me from Brazil, Ireland and India. Yesterday, I got three gifts for Christmas that just arrived. Fans send me hats, which is a lot of fun and I appreciate it.
What’s with the hats?
I always wear a hat in my videos. I like the way it looks. It just became my trademark. Now I have more than 100 hats in different colors, sizes and shapes.
How do you pick your music?
TikTok has music that you can pick from, and you can use your own. I don’t even know the artists. The names mean nothing to me. I just pick music that has a good beat.
How often do you generally post?
I try to post two to four times a day. That way it keeps you out there to the public.
Your popularity has led to some appearances elsewhere. Tell us about that.
I get calls almost every day from someone asking me to do stuff. After my numbers started going up, I was on the Kelly Clarkson Show and on the Rachael Ray cooking show. I was interviewed on Australian TV. The World Health Organization called me from Switzerland. They wanted to do a promo thing about not smoking and wanted me to be part of that. It’s amazing to me, the power of the internet.
Do you have any background in performing?
After I retired from the family business, I worked almost 20 years in the box office for the Dallas Summer Musicals.
I did some talent shows when I was a child and in high school. The State Fair of Texas had the Pepsi Stage talent shows. I came in second place one year when I did a record pantomime. Now it’s called lip syncing. Until I started doing TikTok, I’d forgotten all about that!
I’m named after my grandfather, who was an entertainer in Dallas. My mother said that I was just like him. He went by Barnyard Steve and did animal impersonations on a kiddie show on the radio. He had a following in the late 1920s and early 1930s. I loved my grandpa. When I was young, I followed him around like a puppy dog. I guess he was an inspiration to me. Or maybe it’s in my genes?
(Austin has posted photos and stories about his grandfather on Pinterest: pinterest.com/oldmansteve80/barnyard-steve-aka-uncle-hiram)
Do you make any money on this?
As I understand it, TikTok pays you according to how many people watch your videos. Last month, I got a check for $247, that’s the highest it’s been. I live on a fixed income, so that’s really nice.
In one video, I mentioned my back hurt and I needed to get a new mattress. A week later, I got an email from a mattress company that said my fans had written to them. If I would do a promotion video, they would send me a mattress. Which they did. So I got a free mattress.
It’s unbelievable that I became a celebrity at the age of 82. Doing TikTok gives me a purpose because I am by myself. Performing for my fans gives me something to get up in the morning and do. Sometimes I go back and watch some of my videos. It even cracks me up!