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Become besties with the reigning king of college TikTok


Welcome to Small Talk, a series where we catch up with the internet’s favorite Extremely Online individuals offline.


Ryan Manderbach wants to help students at big universities feel less alone.

Seemingly overnight, the 20-year-old junior at Penn State became a TikTok sensation for his daily vlogs, which showcase life as a college student back on campus after two years of remote learning. Inspired by the success of #BamaRush TikTok, Manderbach uploaded his first college video diary to his account (@ryan_manderbach) on Aug. 13, 2021. He now has over 149,000 followers and more than 13 million likes across his videos. Manderbach frequently utilizes chaotic audio, such as a pop song mashed up with rapper CupcakKe, in his TikToks. He’s also known for using the slo-mo effect and sticking his tongue out to create hilarious, relatable videos. He frequently features his two friends, Bestie Evan and Bestie Nick, along with students in the freshman dorm where he’s an RA.

Unlike a lot of the content found on college TikTok, Manderbach’s videos don’t romanticize or glorify the college experience. Instead, Manderbach offers a more realistic depiction of college life. His daily vlogs normalize the highs, the lows, and the absurdities of campus life. He talks about everything from depression to the struggle to make friends to dealing with the financial aid office, all in a wildly entertaining way. One recent TikTok, reads, “all of the men in our college town are literal threats to humanity, but Bestie Ryan is the honorary date to every single formal with free drinks and hot girls, so he’s running this town like Kris Jenner.”

I called Manderbach to chat about everything from his love of Stan Twitter to how he balances running his account with being a full-time student.

Mashable: What’s it been like coming back to campus?

Ryan Manderbach: Oh my gosh, it’s been crazy. I’m not gonna lie. I think going back to normal in-person [classes] really affected my mental health, which is really why I did the TikToks that I did. Because all of them are true. I mean, everything that I post is very real, and a documentation of my college experience. So, it’s been unreal.

You’re an RA, right?

Yes, I am. I’m an RA for Earle Hall, which is a freshman dorm.

Did being an RA inspire you to make your TikToks?

Honestly, not the RA part. Being a student at such a large university did. I felt like so many students could relate to my story. Basically, the success of Bama rush — which was just girls trying to rush sororities in the South — inspired me to start documenting my college experience. I was obsessed with Bama rush and watched those videos every day. I think I had around 4,000 followers at the time on TikTok, and then from there it just grew to what it is. 

I graduated in May, so TikTok wasn’t popular when I was on campus. I’ve found it so interesting to see how college is portrayed on TikTok. 

When my videos started gaining traction I decided I’m not going to let any sort of money or anything like that change how I do my videos and share my experiences, because it’s a video diary of my college experience. I’m so thankful that so many people watch them.

Do people recognize you on campus?

Yes. Me and my friends, Bestie Evan and Bestie Nick, will go to Chipotle for dinner because we’re too lazy to go to the dining hall. And then people will come up to us and be like, “Oh my gosh, I love your TikToks,” and it’s so sweet. It just makes me grateful that there are so many other college kids who relate to my videos and are going through the same struggles.

How much time do you spend making your TikToks?

I would say that a typical post with the slo-mo edits probably takes 40 minutes to shoot, edit, and caption. I spend about seven hours a week making TikToks and I usually make seven to 14 posts a week. 

Do you have a posting schedule?

All of the besties take upwards of 16 to 19 credits, so we aren’t done with class until around 5:00 p.m. and then we have homework or exams to do, so we usually try to film around 7:00 p.m. and post around 8:00 p.m.

Your videos all have really iconic edited sounds. How do you find those?

That’s so funny. Yes, so basically, I love Stan Twitter, which is where the audios come from. It’s all these Stan accounts that make these hilarious remixes with their favorite artists. I think the audios make the topics I discuss — like mental health, anxiety, and depression — less intense. When I started getting a little bit of a following, my followers started tagging me in these types of audios [and] asking me to use them. 

Is there a particular account that you get the audios from?

Yes, so there is a TikTok account called @ranvision_2. He is hilarious. He’s a huge Taylor Swift stan account. He always posts her songs mashed up with CupcakKe, because CupcakKe is kind of a meme. That’s the main account I follow and get audios from. 

Are you a big Taylor Swift fan? Or do you just appreciate the culture?

Oh, you already know. [I love] “Getaway Car,” reputation, any album [of hers]. 

Your videos got super popular seemingly overnight, were you surprised by that?

Yeah, pretty much! I’d shot TikTok videos before that randomly got 10,000 likes because the algorithm had oddly worked in my favor and I just thought it was cool that anyone followed me. 

Then I posted literally one video of me moving into the dorms and it went viral overnight. I was like, “Why would I stop posting my video diaries if people are loving them?” So I decided to just keep doing more. People started tagging their friends in them, and then people that go to Penn State were like, “Oh my gosh, he goes to Penn State.” It turned into sort of a community, which is insane. People started DMing me, thanking me, and telling me that my videos helped them so much. It’s so crazy what just a couple videos can do for someone on the other side of the screen. 

I remember early on people got mad when they found out you weren’t a freshman.

I completely understand why they would think I was new to college, because I posted like Day 1, Day 2, etc. I never put my grade level in my caption because I am just living a normal life at school. I didn’t have a lot of followers or feel the need to share that. 

People started commenting and making videos exposing that I wasn’t a freshman and I was like, “OK this is weird.” I was getting DMs like, “I know your secret,” and it just isn’t that deep. From my Instagram you can tell I’ve been in college for two years! So it was interesting and made me realize how dark the internet can be. It can be the most satisfying place or the most rude place. It just depends how you use your platform. 

Since Penn State only went back to campus this year, in a way you were restarting college.

A lot of people don’t realize that as well. I haven’t been able to enjoy a full year of college, so this is really my first normal year of college. Everything I share in my videos is 100 percent true.

We have to talk about the tongue thing you do in all your videos.

I didn’t invent it or anything like that and it’s definitely not an original concept. I first saw it on Alt TikTok, or the side of TikTok where people talk about their problems. While they talk about their problems they do a little dance with their tongues out. I don’t know how to make this make sense, but imagine your boyfriend broke up with you and you send a Snapchat to your friend of you crying, but you have your tongue out like, “lol this just happened?” The tongue can get you through any situation — even the hardest things. If I do that face I am automatically in a silly, goofy mood. I just did it in a couple videos and it became our thing. What’s even funnier about the tongue is that if we don’t do it in a video people will comment, “Where was the tongue?” Or people will comment [to rate] the tongues in the video, like, “Umm the tongues were a little aggressive.”

How did you decide to bring your friends into your videos?

It wasn’t anything calculated or planned, I can tell you that. Bestie Evan just came to see my room because he hadn’t seen it before and I was like, “Hey do you want to get in this TikTok with me?” I wanted him to be included in my video diary. At the time, Evan wasn’t on TikTok as much as me. He was more of an Instagram boy, so he didn’t really understand the whole concept of [TikTok]. 

When we started getting more traction we were like, “Nick you have to get in this, we want you to be a part of this.” So we decided to do a bestie reveal as a spoof of gender reveals with babies. We thought the whole thing was hilarious and now when we brainstorm videos we always say, “We miss the bestie reveal era. It was so fun.”

Before your TikTok account became popular were you extremely online?

100 percent. I love pop culture, which is another reason why I love Stan Twitter. I love following the Kardashians and seeing what they’re up to, and keeping up with YouTubers. I’ve always been someone who loves to get on social media and keep up with what celebrities are doing. I think it’s so underrated, and something that older generations don’t understand, but it’s so entertaining.

What advice do you have for college students?

If I could tell college kids one thing it would be to be authentically yourself. Every single day you are going to have so many people that will try to change how you are, or you will want to change to fit into certain friend groups or organizations on campus. But if you’re authentically yourself people will gravitate towards you. I respect someone so much when they’re just themselves regardless of anything.

Want more Small Talk? Enjoy:

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