early everyone who's wound up inadvertently becoming a meme has had a challenging time coming to terms with the unique phenomenon. Back in August 2019, Brittany Tomlinson found herself suddenly a part of this exclusive club after an innocuous clip of her trying kombucha for the first time went viral and transformed her into the “Kombucha Girl” online (though she loathes the moniker). After an initial whirlwind of internet attention, Tomlinson was fired from her job at a bank due to the meme and wound up becoming a full-time content creator on YouTube, TikTok and more. We caught up with her to hear the full recount of the viral moment, how she reacted to everything, and what she’s been up to since then.
Q: Welcome, Brittany. Thanks for sitting down with us to chat. Let’s do a quick intro here for those who may not know you or aren’t familiar with the meme.
A: Cool. So I am Brittany, and I’m 23 from Dallas, Texas. I was working at a bank at the time that my kombucha meme went viral. I've been super into Pedro Pascal lately and a big Mandalorian fan. I've really enjoyed it, and I wasn't expecting to enjoy it, but he's all I think about now. So I'm definitely still in a fangirl mind space. That's kind of how I've always been on the internet.
Q: So jumping back to your childhood and backstory a bit, can you tell us more about where you grew up and how you got interested in the internet and online humor early on?
A: I've always been like a “teen online.” I made a Twitter in 2009 when I was in seventh grade, like fresh out of sixth grade. My first handle was "jblover4evah," and it was a Justin Bieber fan account. My parents didn't even know. At that time around 2009, I was watching, Ray William Johnson on YouTube, Smosh and Jenna Marbles. YouTube was kind of my first home where I felt really accepted there, but YouTube and that time period was very different than it is now. Literally, no rules — YouTube comment sections were famously cesspools. Then iFunny, and then kind of in my teen years, I was in the golden age of Tumblr of like 2012 to 2014 before it kind of fell off. I really learned how to be a fangirl. I was in the One Direction fandom, and still am. So, I've been a part of Stan culture from the beginning.
I also tried to be a Vine star. I was 16 or 17 in high school trying to make Vines with my little Android. I didn’t have any success in my early efforts. I was a big Vine person and loved it. It was sad when it shut down, but watching all of my favorite creators move to YouTube and getting longer-form content from them was so nice. Now those are some of the most successful YouTubers on the freaking platform. It's been really fun to see people like Drew Gooden and Curtis Connor become really successful on YouTube. So it gives me inspiration.
My dad was in the military, so we moved around a lot, and I used the internet as a kind of escape and coping mechanism, but also a way to make friends. It's just kind of always been like that. It really prepared me for what I'd eventually be doing, cause I know how it is online. I know this place, it's my home, it's where I feel comfortable.
Q: I’m from a military family so I know what you mean. So, how’d you get your start on TikTok and get into making content? What drew you to the platform over other options?
A: I’ve been making little short videos for my friends and family since I was a kid. I used to make them on Snapchat with the filters and voice modulation, doing little accents and skits or characters of different filters talking to each other back and forth. It became a thing in high school where everyone was like, “Are you following Brittany on Snapchat?” And then in college, I had friends of friends and people that I didn't even know adding me on Snapchat. I was just adding everyone back and ended up with like 700 or 800 people on there that were watching my stories daily. So I was kind of doing exactly what I do on TikTok now for a long time before it even came about.
As I would be creating on Snapchat, I’d get those ads for TikTok in early 2019, and I was like, “What is this app?” because it was just furries. I was like, “Have they created their own app? What is going on?” But then I started to see cosplayers, and I downloaded, TikTok purely to make fun of people. Then I got addicted, and I love cosplayers now. They're so fun. They're the nicest people you'll ever meet. So that's how it all started. That was the “golden age of TikTok” when it was just a bunch of kids on the app having fun dicking around and just posting what they wanted to post until it became this huge, politicized … whatever TikTok is today. It was not the app that I downloaded way back when.
The first video I ever posted was in July that year, and I did a “depression meal check” where I had gross brown apples and dry chocolate chips in a bowl cause I was trying to give myself a little tasty “girls treat” and it was the saddest thing I'd ever seen. It was actually a Snapchat that I had saved and uploaded to TikTok. Then, I went to bed that night with no followers, no likes, no nothing. I just kind of uploaded it to upload it cause I thought it was funny. I woke up the next morning with like 30,000 followers. From the beginning on TikTok, it was just overnight success that I found. My post also went up on Reddit’s r/contagiouslaughs and I had friends sending it to me like, “Oh, is this you? Where did they get this video of you? That's cool.” So that was kind of the start of it all as I already had a little “nest egg” following and then everything just snowballed from there.
Q: So then in August 2019, you posted the now-famous video of yourself trying kombucha for the first time that eventually went viral and became an iconic meme format. Can you give us some background on the video and the day you created it? What’d you think of it at the time and how soon after did you notice it was getting attention?
A: The kombucha video was inspired by Cody Ko and Noel Miller on YouTube. I love them. I love Tiny Meat Gang [podcast]. They did a video on GT Dave, who was this elusive, mysterious, self-proclaimed kombucha king, but no one knew what kombucha was and when you googled it, it's like this gross health drink. So I watched their video on it and I was like, “Dang, I bet that's nasty.”
I was grocery shopping one day at Walmart of all places, and I'm in that little salad section just looking at all those health drinks and I see GT Dave's kombucha. I'm like, “Oh, that's from that video.” So I picked it up and was like, “Oh, so it's $6 for one bottle? Well, dang. I better try it.” I put it in my cart, but the one I got was like a cream soda kombucha … absolutely disgusting thinking about it. It was gross. I get home and am putting all the groceries away and I'm like, “Oh dang, I should try this.” So I set up my camera just to film my reaction on Snapchat trying it. That's why I look so bad because I had just come from the grocery store and it was Texas heat.
Q: So that was truly your first time trying kombucha and a genuine reaction? What was going through your mind back then when it started to become such an online phenomenon?
A: That's my genuine, honest reaction. The full video’s like a minute long. I uploaded it to TikTok and it didn't do well on there. It really found viral success on Twitter and then people came back to my TikTok because, thank God, TikTok, watermarks their videos. Everything else kind of happened from there. The day I noticed it was getting attention, it must have been a few days after I posted on TikTok because one morning back when I was working at a bank, it was like 7 a.m. and someone sent me a link to a tweet that was my video and it had the caption “me when I ate ass for the first time.” I was mortified.
It was funny, like trust and believe that I had a good chuckle, but having that be sent to me by people I hadn't talked to in years being like, “Is this you? When I ate ass?” and I had to go to work. So I got ready and I was sitting at work all day knowing this was going on in the back of my mind, knowing that I can't be on my phone cause I'm at work. All during lunch, I locked myself in a bathroom stall and I was just glued to Twitter. It was trending. I was seeing new ones every single second from people that I had been following on Twitter for years. I would refresh my thing and they were using my face. It was just unreal.
the first time i stole from self checkout pic.twitter.com/83wYcrHoI5— Meech (@DemetriusHarmon) August 11, 2019
Q: I always ask people in these how familiar they were with memes and internet culture during their meme’s outbreak, but you definitely seemed to already know about that world.
A: Oh, I was, I had seen this happen. I knew exactly what it was. I was the next meme of the month. Usually, it's like a SpongeBob meme or whatever, but I was like, “Oh my God, I am it. I am it for August 2019.” I've existed in this culture for so long. I know how this goes, and it really paved the way for how I dealt with the whole situation. You're at the mercy of the internet. I was so thankful that I'd been online since I was a child because I knew that it was only a couple of weeks, maybe, that it's really funny. Then it gets really old cause people beat it into the ground and then forget about it.
There was one day where I gained 96,000 Twitter followers, so I made sure when all of that attention was on me, I was like, “These eyes are on me. It is time to dance monkey dance.” So I was constantly posting old Snapchats and new content on TikTok. I was firing out tweets left and right. I was just on it. So as people were looking at me, it was proving that it's not only just Jim Carrey faces that I can make, but it's accents and skits and impressions. Like I'm more than just this meme that people are trying to pigeonhole me into, and I think that's how I've managed to sustain a following because those first few weeks, way back in summer 2019, were crucial. I could've just been like, “Oh, you guys are so funny, thanks for the attention,” and then just fizzled off and worked at the bank for the rest of my life. The universe has a way of not letting that happen.
Q: Within just a few days of the video going up, it then became a meme format known as “Trying Kombucha for the First Time” and people coined you the “Kombucha Girl.” Do you remember when you first saw one of these memes using your reaction, and how’d you respond to all of this early on?
A: I never could have imagined it blowing up the way that it did. What was going through my mind was like, “My grandparents are going to see this,” because at that point it is very scary to have the realization that this is so far beyond my control. I was used to posting online and having that content be under my control — like I could make my account private, block a follower, etc. All my followers were people that I knew, but when you're gaining 96,000 followers in one day or on TikTok at this point I'd hit like 500,000 or 600,000. You have no control over what people do with you after you post content of yourself, and that's a very scary thing because I was seeing some racist, homophobic and transphobic versions of the meme and I was just like, “Now people are gonna associate that with me and I have no control over that.” So that's very, very scary.
The way I responded was that I would interact with the people posting it. I would be like, “Hey, that's me.” And then they'd tag me or they'd retweet it. That's how I was gaining followers so fast. Under all the really big ones I would find I'd be like, “Would you mind tagging me?” I figured that if people are flocking, I might as well try to have them credit me. Some of them would just delete the tweet vs. giving a creator credit. It was very shocking. I mean, just thoughts on becoming a meme, it's kind of the worst thing ever, but also really, really funny.
Q: In addition to the memes, several online media outlets also began covering you shortly after, and even Billie Eilish reacted to it we heard. Was this more bizarre or exciting for you to see such coverage, and what was that experience like?
A: So I was at work, and during my lunch break, I would step outside and take these interview requests with the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Observer, etc. It definitely started local, and I thought nothing of it. I never ever thought I could make money from this and it was just going to be like, “Oh, people just kind of know me online.” But then the New York Times reached out to me when someone DMed me on Twitter and he was like, “I'm a writer for the New York Times would you like to sit down and talk?” I was like, “Uh, yeah, the New York Times? I would,” so I did the interview with them and that went crazy.
The reaction from celebrities: I was trying to stay grounded because they don't know me, you know, they laughed at the meme, which I didn't even really create. I posted it and then other people were creating from it, so if it was a specific meme that made a specific celebrity laugh, it wasn't really me, it was that creator. So I was trying not to freak out too much, but it was so cool watching Lil Nas X or Billy like it on a meme page. That was definitely really cool.
Q: Particularly in the NY Times piece where you said “I’m sick of seeing my face,” can you tell us more about if you had a negative reaction to the meme early on? Has this changed since that peak?
A: It wasn’t really a negative reaction early on. This was probably like a month or two into it [the NYT interview], and I was still going to work, I had to. I was giving interviews and appearing on talk shows and stuff, then going back to my job [at the bank]. So I was over it in a sense. I wish that people weren’t so quick to label you. Oh, “Kombucha Girl,” “computer girl,” etc. There was not a single moment in time when someone was ever like, “So Brittany,” you know? It was never addressing me as who I actually am, and that started to really wear on me cause my identity is important.
Me acquiring the taste for beer over the course of like 10 years pic.twitter.com/lR6k9ZTEUJ— New Year New Dad (@BigTucsonDad) August 11, 2019
Q: That's why I mentioned the whole “Kombucha Girl” label because I feel like that's an interesting phenomenon with memes, how they kind of become disassociated and you get labeled as this random image description.
A: Yeah. They forget that you're a real person, for sure. At that time, I was putting out so much other good content. It was becoming increasingly frustrating that that's all I was being reduced down to. So that's where, if there was any frustration from the New York Times article, it was just the fact that I was being pigeonholed.
Q: Aside from yourself, what did your family, friends or coworkers make of you becoming a meme and online sensation? Was it exciting, funny or were they concerned? Did they learn to like it later?
A: Family and friends were very supportive. They were like, “We knew it would happen. You're famous.” But I felt like, “I don't like it, it's a meme. I had no control over this.” My family was kind of just happy for me but didn't really know what was going on. They were happy for me as long as I was happy. My friends who were in this meme culture with me were definitely like, “This is insane!” I was getting messages from people I hadn't talked to in years. It was like, “If I see your face on my Twitter timeline one more time.” And I said, “Dude, I'm sorry. I'm sick of seeing my own face,” cause there was a moment in time when it was everywhere. It was every single post because everyone wanted to have their 15 minutes of fame.
Probably the biggest struggle was my boss. I had to have the same sit-down. My boss was like this sweet 57-year-old Southern redneck lady. It was just me and her. I was her assistant and I had to sit her down and be like, “Hey lady who doesn't know what YouTube is, let me try to explain what a meme is to you … and also how I am one.” It was just a nightmare.
Q: I can only imagine. But she took it pretty well I guess? Or no?
A: Oh no. I got fired. I explained to her what was happening and she kind of sat there and she was like, “Okay.” I thought that was going to be the end of it because I explained to her that when you see posts that say “when I tasted cum for the first time,” just know that that's not me posting it. These are random people that have found my video and are using it. That night, she was a really sneaky, curious person and she went home and apparently did some digging on me. The next morning she stopped at my desk and said, “So I found your TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, I don't appreciate your vulgarity and your choice of language is very disappointing,” acting like she was my grandmother. This was so far beyond the boundaries of like professional and personal for sure.
When I tasted the cum for the first time pic.twitter.com/8HMGkvz1Zz— StarHoes (@seancarteroff) August 9, 2019
Soon enough, she pulled me into an office and she was like, “You need to pick if you want to be a corporate professional and continue to work here or if you want to be a ‘meme’ or whatever that is because the rate at which you're giving interviews, all it takes is one Google search to realize that you're Brittany Tomlinson and you're this age and you went to college here and you work here. So pick it, pick which one.” I was obviously like, “Well girl, I want to work here because I have rent to pay. I love this job so much, please.” Then two days later she brought me in again and slid a little letter over to me and said, “You've been terminated,” and Texas is an at-will employment state, so I was still within my first 90 days of the job. She fired me on the 89th day so I couldn't pursue legal action against them.
Q: Damn that is wack. Do you think she knew anything about it before you brought it up or do you think she would have found out?
A: I thought I was doing myself a favor by trying to control the narrative, but yeah I would have quit regardless, probably around December right after Christmas because things were picking up for me at the time that I got fired. It was like in early September. I already had signed with management, was being flown out to LA, and I had brand deals. So at that point, she did me a favor because I wouldn't have quit for another few months. But I was mortified. I was so embarrassed to call my dad and be like, “Hey, I got fired from my bank job because I'm dicking around online.” I cried. I was so embarrassed.
Q: That's something, I feel like a lot of people probably don't have too many firsthand accounts of — somebody being impacted like that for a meme through nothing of their own will. So following that initial wave of coverage and virality, what were some of the biggest ways the meme impacted your life? Did it sort of prove to you that you were on to something or could make a side hustle out of being an influencer and content creator?
A: It kind of forced me into it. I got fired, so I was fully planning on applying to like Outback Steakhouse and stuff to get a waitress job. So I applied the pressure to my management at the time where I said, “You guys don't understand, I just lost my job. My rent is like a thousand dollars a month. Like if I can't make at least that my life falls apart.” So yeah, I was kind of forced to.
Q: But you never really had the intention to be an “influencer” or “content creator” or anything like that at the time?
A: I still don't. I was literally forced into this and I'm very, very thankful and grateful because I get to do what I've always done, and now I get paid to do it. But no, who would want to do this? Who would want to be an influencer? Literally, all I get every day is just hate comments and purely because I have a verified checkmark. People want to see influencers get burned so badly. It's insane. This culture is so toxic. Social media is so toxic, but I take this any day over working at a bank or working as an insurance agent like I was before that. So I'm very thankful, but it does not come without its toxicity.
Q: How often do people recognize you or refer to you as the “Kombucha Girl” these days? Can you elaborate on some of those interactions and what they’re like?
A: People don't refer to me as “Kombucha Girl.” In fact, I find that really disrespectful. If anyone refers to me as that, it's a straight man. People will know me as “Brittany,” and I prefer it that way. The coolest interaction I've probably had is when I went to London and I tweeted, “Hey, I'm going to do a meet-and-greet in Hyde Park,” because people are always asking me to come, come to London or Manchester or whatever.
We went and it was about a hundred people that showed up, and I was just blown away. I mean, that doesn't seem like a lot given the online following [I have], but that many people took the Underground at 5 p.m. when the sun was down and waited in some sketchy park to come meet me. It just made me so emotional because all of them were either Americans studying abroad or genuine British people that loved me. I thought, “These are real people that are like sitting in their beds and following me on social media and I positively impact them.” It was just a really eye-opening experience. So that was really neat.
Q: Interestingly, while some people who’ve unintentionally become memes continue to love them or find a new interest in such culture, others either distance themselves or simply don’t care for them. Given your personal experience becoming a meme, do you keep up with them much these days?
A: Oh, I'm super into meme culture. The newest is like badly edited Facebook memes. That's like the funniest thing ever to me. Then, obviously, the old Rage Comics and Wojak and all that. I frequent Know Your Meme and I have forever. When Ugandan Knuckles was a thing all throughout high school, or if it was one that I was like, “Where did this even come from?” Know Your Meme’s always been great.
Q: Looking back on your original clip and the ensuing meme, why do you think it became such a hit? What was it about your reaction that you think so many people could relate to that made it so popular, even to this day?
A: It's just so fully encompassing of our reaction to a lot of things — the full range of emotions. It's short, sweet and to the point. It's super applicable to literally any situation.
Q: Since you’re a TikToker who’s seen a lot of success on the platform, how do you think it’s changed the meme landscape and become so prevalent in meme culture lately, especially with videos such as yours or Cranberry Dreams breaking out and spreading all over the web?
A: I think there's a lot of levels to this question. The app itself is designed to be addictive if you're talking about just TikTok’s success. I was lucky that I've been on it for a long time, so the native TikTok community from those nostalgic times of like summer ‘19 knew about me before the middle-aged moms who are on TikTok now knew about me. I love TikTok, and it's been integral to my success and where my most avid followers are. I have a really personal relationship with my followers and talk to them in my TikTok comments. I recognize names and we've talked back and forth. It's just really personal.
I think memes come from the “deep web.” A lot of memes are from Reddit or Twitter. So TikTok, if anything, is just where kids who like memes go and create things based on a meme trend or whatever. I wouldn't say TikTok is integral to meme culture, but old TikTok was the thing for a while. That's a certain type of humor and not everyone likes it.
Q: So, what’ve you been up to more recently? Can you tell us what types of content you’ve been producing lately or focusing on? Any upcoming projects, collaborations or endeavors we should know about?
A: Just YouTube. I'm about to hit a million subscribers on YouTube, which is insane. I'm so excited. YouTube is a lot of fun. When you think of social media, at least for me, I think of YouTube because the majority of people that are in the limelight or who make the “big bucks” are YouTubers. I'm just so blessed that I have a following there and people follow me from other platforms over to YouTube because that platform is so different from any other type.
As far as collabs or things to look forward to, I have a lot of stuff coming in 2021, but I am under NDA for a lot of it, so I can't really talk about it. Once ‘rona kind of calms down, there are so many people we've gone back and forth with on all these different collab ideas and what we'd love to do. But it's really not safe and responsible right now.
Q: To finish out here, we’d like to ask one more question based on your original meme. What’s your overall opinion on kombucha now? Is it a drink people fool themselves into liking despite smelling like dirty socks, or have you ultimately learned to love it after that first experience?
A: Personally, keep that shit away from me. For brand purposes, I love it. I feel like it's like pickle juice. There are people who really like that acidic vinegary thing. Some people eat it up and they love it. So if you like it, eat it, but I don't think it actually does anything for your gut health or anything like that.
Q: Thanks again for joining us, it was really nice speaking with you. Any final word or additional info to add before we close out?
A: Just follow me everywhere. Follow me on YouTube. I post one video a week, every week. We have fun over there. But thanks for this opportunity, I love Know Your Meme. Definitely frequent it. What an honor [laughs].
Brittany Tomlinson is a content creator based in the Texas whose viral video became the Trying Kombucha for the First Time meme back in 2019. You can follow her on YouTube, TikTok and Twitter @brittany_broski to check out all of her content.