Sometimes people find fame, sometimes fame finds people — and sometimes the stars just happen to align where the two find each other.
Sweet Brown falls into the latter category.
After giving a very animated interview with KFOR-TV Channel 4 about a fire at her apartment building in early April, the Oklahoma City woman soon became a viral Internet phenomenon. The video of her interview currently sits at more than 2.8 million views on YouTube. It even spawned catchphrases: “I got bronchitis,” and the seemingly ubiquitous “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Brown’s meteoric rise to fame on the Internet is thanks to her overwhelming personality, her ability to tell a good story, and the Internet’s constant need to feed on the unique and funny.
‘It’s a fire!’
The damage done by the April 7 fire at Brown’s apartment complex is still evident. It destroyed five units and injured one person. Blackened wood and the smell of stale smoke still lingers at the complex on the 2300 block of N.W. 22nd Street.
It’s not the Ritz. A milk crate nailed to a utility pole serves as a basketball goal. A cat with its head stuck in a Mr. Potato Head blindly wandered around the street. For Sweet Brown, however, it’s home.
And yes, that is her real name. “I brighten people’s day. They can be mad at somebody or arguing or whatever. We sit at the table and drink coffee, and I just try to make their day,” she said. “That’s what I love. Laughter is good medicine. It’s good for your heart.”
Brown is a lifelong OKC resident who considers herself a homebody and enjoys spending time helping her children and grandchildren.
“She tries to take the high road and lighten things up when she can,” said neighbor Greg Godwin. “That’s good. Especially around here, you’ve got to let things roll off your back.”
Even little kids are imitating me!
It was the day before Easter, around 3:30 a.m., when Brown woke up thirsty.
She was going to grab a soda from a vending machine near the complex’s office when she smelled smoke.
Initially, Brown said she thought someone was barbecuing and preparing a meal for Easter, but her brother, who was at her apartment, told her there was a fire in a unit across the empty swimming pool in the center of the complex.
After firefighters extinguished the blaze, Brown was standing in the park ing lot when a KFOR photojournalist, Eric Dixon, asked to interview her.
“I got this,” she told her son, 19-year-old Stanford Wilkins, much to his amusement.
It was the epic interview that launched a thousand web browsers.
During the interview, Wilkins could be seen face-palming in the background, trying not to laugh.
“I was just trying to explain the fire to the man,” Brown said, “and the man’s shaking. He couldn’t even hold up the camera. I’m looking at him, why is his camera shaking? Is this man’s arm going out or something? I’m still talking!” The Internet meme database website knowyourmeme.com indicated the video was first uploaded to YouTube by a KFOR employee, Lucas Ross, the same day it was shot. A different user uploaded another version on April 9, and it quickly went viral, landing the next day on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 website and ebaumsworld.com.
Within 48 hours, the video had more than 1 million views. Soon there were multitudes of follow-up interviews, remixes of Brown posted on YouTube and even a donation of “cold pop” (cases of RC Cola, courtesy Ross).
Wilkins said he began to suspect his mother was famous.
“I go to Taco Bell, and I hear someone saying ‘I got bronchitis!’” Wilkins recalled.
Friends and family who hadn’t been seen for years began to make contact. Strangers began showing up to request autographs.
“I said, ‘I’m glad y’all are getting an autograph while I’m broke,’” Brown said, laughing. “Even little kids are imitating me! ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that!’ I said, ‘Now, don’t get suspended from school.’” Brown said she was not expecting the fame, but hopes to be able to turn it to her advantage (sweetbrownapproved.com sells T-shirts, and ring tones are available on iTunes).
“It’s crazy because it happened so fast,” Wilkins said. “After the fire, it was like three days later people were at our door.”
Brown said she and Wilkins plan to visit Chicago soon, and that she has been invited to co-host an event to help raise money for the March of Dimes.
“It’s going to be nice,” Brown said.
“It’s going to be fun.”