Three years ago, Nik Keswani (otherwise known by his moniker “Big Nik”) was just another high school student living in Del Mar and attending Torrey Pines High School. Born with dwarfism, Keswani has faced a variety of health setbacks throughout his life, finding himself in and out of upwards of 40 surgeries, one of them particularly grueling.
“I had to get metal inserted into my hips and ankles because my bone was dissolving,” he said. “So I was in a wheelchair with nothing to do for almost a year.”
Around this time, a brand new video sharing application dubbed Vine debuted for Apple’s iPhone, so Keswani downloaded it.
“I started making videos in my wheelchair. People really liked the first one I posted and it went from getting 10 ‘likes’ to 100 to 1,000 to 100,000. I saw that and was like, ‘Now is the time to grind.’” Capitalizing on his viral Vine fame, Keswani quickly became one of the biggest stars on the application known for catapulting normal kids from making videos for fun in their bedrooms to worldwide fame.
“I took advantage of the followers I was gaining and didn’t want to disappoint them, so I started constantly posting,” explains Keswani, who today has 3 million followers on Vine alone. “After that first video, I would think of ideas and it was smooth sailing from there.”
One facet that set Keswani apart from the rest of the Vine pack is his humble, what you see is what you get approach to posting videos. On an application where many users rely on shock value and silly pranks, Keswani has stayed grounded and shed light on both his dwarfism and the medical issues he faces. (One recent video, played for laughs, involved how he can’t reach his bathroom mirror to look into it.)
“With me, I got into Vine after having all of these surgeries as a kid and going through a lot of pain, which all made me mature quickly,” he said. “Having an ego and thinking you’re better than people is a waste of time. I don’t see the point.”
It’s this attitude that has launched Keswani well beyond even success on Vine, from starring in a web series for People Magazine’s website about his life and times, to launching a YouTube channel – a video from the channel went viral as well. Publications worldwide have reported about everything from the inner workings of his family (for Britain’s Daily Mirror) to the fact his little sister is transgender (in Entertainment Weekly.)
“At first my parents didn’t really understand it until I was making money off Vine, which was surreal to me,” he said. “I didn’t even start out to make money; I started out to make comedy. Now, whenever I go out with them I always get recognized. I see the looks on their faces like, ‘Wow, my son really made something of himself.’”
Now his family has gotten into the business as well, from co-starring in the aforementioned People web series, to his mother acting as his current manager. “If Vine didn’t exist, I think I’d be making videos somewhere else,” he muses. “It’s just always been a hobby of mine, with or without Vine.”
Now based in Los Angeles (says Keswani: “I miss San Diego but the move has helped my career a lot”), he’s set to undergo another surgery next month on his neck and brain concerning an issue affecting his spinal cord. However, now he knows that he’ll have a fan base waiting for him on the other side of it.
“Every time I go into an operation, my fans will know and they’ll be sending me messages. A lot of people out there support me and that’s just a great feeling.”