Al Purves’ first viral post on TikTok marked the beginning of his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019. This TikTok, unbeknownst to Purves at the time, would spearhead the popularity of his personal account as well as his eventual involvement with @badgerbarstool, Barstool Sports’ UW-Madison unaffiliated comedy account.
“When [the TikTok] grew that first time, from zero likes to 10,000 likes, you’re just like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is crazy,’” said Purves. “‘Is this like a big break?’”
The TikTok, a clip of a friend of Purves’ reenacting their viral Vine from several years before, now has over a million views. Today, Purves’ TikTok account — @althebadger — has over 50,000 followers and 3.5 million likes.
“There is nothing like getting a viral video,” said Purves. “Knowing that you were able to make people laugh or cringe — get a reaction out of them, I appreciate that.”
Purves’ created his personal TikTok while still in high school, but once he arrived at UW-Madison, he began to post college-related content, quickly rebranding as @althebadger to better appeal to his newfound audience. Later during his freshman year, Purves was approached by the administrator of the @badgerbarstool Instagram account about revitalizing the @badgerbarstool TikTok. He accepted the offer.
“Associating myself with an organization that already had a presence within the college community [was in] my wheelhouse,” he said.
The Barstool Sports’ College Viceroy Program that houses accounts like @badgerbarstool gives account owners autonomy over the content they post. Although specific guidelines — such as avoiding political content — are encouraged, Purves has “free rein” over his posts.
In Purves’ view, @badgerbarstool demonstrates the “authentic” side of many UW-Madison students. He monitors trends, attempting to capture “the pulse of campus,” for the 36,800 followers of the affiliate account.
“It’s raw,” Purves said. “It’s real life.”
As someone in the public eye, Purves has been met with personal criticism. On the anonymous social media platform Yik Yak, for example, digs and jokes about Purves are common.
“People can say really mean things and get away with it,” said Purves. “I have learned to not let it affect me and just kind of laugh with it instead of letting it hold me up.”
Ultimately, Purves treats his experiences with @althebadger and @badgerbarstool as a schooling of sorts. The accounts teach him professional and social media skills, while also teaching him lessons on how to stay true to himself as branding and advertising opportunities come his way.
Although Purves hopes to still post on @althebadger following graduation, the account’s future is unclear. He is already beginning to develop content that attracts different audiences, hoping to establish a more “sustainable” account focus, separate from college content.
“I kind of think of it as a college thing, a learning experience thing,” said Purves. “We’ll see what @althebadger morphs into.”
As for @badgerbarstool, Purves is committed to setting up a framework for future UW-Madison creators, facilitating a “fun culture rather than a divisive one.”
“Barstool will live on past me,” he said.