The Side-Eye Popeyes Kid, Dieunerst Collin, Meets the Creator of the Viral Meme

In 2013, Samuel Jean made Dieunerst Collin a viral meme one day in a Popeyes. Eight years later, Collin and Jean finally discuss how their lives have changed.

Dieunrest Collin, Samuel Jean meet on Zoom
Complex Original

Image via Complex

Dieunrest Collin, Samuel Jean meet on Zoom

Dieunerst Collin was a global superstar before the world knew his name.

In a clip that went viral on Vine in 2013, a 9-year-old Collin, wearing a yellow T-shirt, side eyes the camera as he stands in a Popeyes restaurant. The video was played nearly 20 million times on the platform and became one of the most recognizable memes of the internet era.

But while everyone’s seen the video—or a photo or gif—of a confused kid repeatedly glancing at a camera, that kid’s name wasn’t revealed publicly until this week, when Akeem Cunningham, like Collin, an alum of East Orange Campus High School in East Orange, New Jersey, posted an update that broke the internet.

From Popeyes to State Champion!! East Orange #StateChamps

Collin wasn’t a fan of his internet stardom. In fact, he was initially offended by the video, which was recorded without his permission and, because of his appearance, had commenters jokingly comparing him to another viral star, Lil Terrio.

Samuel Jean was the man who recorded him that day. Looking back, Jean regrets posting the video.

“I know I was 21 and still young and naive,” Jean says. “I look back at it and was like, ‘What if I’m in his position? How would I feel?’ You got a whole bunch of people coming up to you in school either making fun or thinking it’s cool, but nine out of 10 times, they’re probably making fun of him. I felt for him.” 

Collin and Jean shared negative feelings about the meme, but both were excited by the reaction to Collin’s identity reveal. Aside from a one-time DM exchange last year, the two had never spoken, so we connected them on Zoom and talked to them about the meme both made, which eight years later is still dominating the internet.

So y’all have never met before, at least face to face? 
Collin and Jean
: Nah.

So this is the first time you guys are seeing each other eight years later. How has life been since that moment? What was it like these past eight years, seeing this meme? Samuel, you recorded that video when Vine was poppin’. 
: Over the past eight years, it’s been pretty dope. No time can pass without seeing that meme. A lot of people haven’t seen the video; they just see the meme and say, “Oh, shit, that meme is funny as hell.” Even when you watch the video, you’re not looking at who recorded the video—you kinda look at what happened in the video. 

Dieurnerst, before this week, the world didn’t know it was you. You’ve been seeing this all your life. You knew you were the famous kid from this meme, but nobody knew. What’s that been like the past eight years before you blew up this week? 
: I ain’t gonna lie to you. Before, I did take it as offensive. Now, I do take it as a joke. When I look back at it, I laugh at it. In general, I’m known as being a funny guy. 

How did it leak to everyone that the meme was you?
: [@zone6ixfootball] posted it on Instagram. One of our funny guys from East Orange reposted it and said, “Who made this?” That’s when everybody in the comments was like, “That’s probably him,’ and yeah, I just commented and said, “Yeah.” They clicked the page and were like, “Oh, snap. Yeah, that’s really him.”

But have you told people this, growing up, that the meme was you? 
: What’s funny is no, I have not. People would just come up to me and ask, ‘Are you such and such?’ Sometimes I’d take it as a joke and say, “Nah that’s my twin brother.” Then they would have to think about it and I’d just give in and say, “Yeah, that’s me.”

Sam, you were trying to make a joke and whatnot, but what made you start recording? 
: I was at Popeyes with my friends at the time. They were actually the ones to bring it to my attention. They said, “Yo, you see that kid by the soda machine? He look like Terrio.” I went and recorded and said, “Say ooohh,” and he just gave me this crazy look. I posted on my Vine because I had a couple of videos up there, and I didn’t expect anything of it. I finished ordering my food and sat down. Out of nowhere, my phone started ringing nonstop. 

This is the first time y’all are meeting each other face to face. What do y’all have to say to each other?
: I spoke to him on Instagram. I want to say last year I DM’ed him. We spoke for a little bit. I definitely want to publicly apologize to him because, you know, at the time, whatever age he was eight years ago, I know I was 21 and still young and naive. I look back at it and was like, “What if I’m in his position? How would I feel?” You got a whole bunch of people coming up to you in school now either making fun or thinking it’s cool, but nine out of 10 times, they’re probably making fun of him. I felt for him. 

Looking at it now, he turned it around and made it a positive for him. He’s playing football now. They just won a state championship, so congrats to him. Last night, I think he had 8,000 followers when I checked his page, and today he’s at 30K. This kid has blown up. It’s pretty dope to see that.

Dieurnerst, what’s your message to Sam? You said you were offended, but now it’s grown into something that’s made you become a star. 
: He messaged me all that stuff and asked to collab again. I don’t hold grudges, but at first it was kinda weird because, do I really want to meet the guy that kinda “messed up” my life? But then again, it wasn’t messed up, because obviously it’s a positive now. I told myself, you can’t hold grudges like this because it’s nothing serious. Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m doing the same thing you doing. I’m pulling out phones and making jokes. You feel me? I’m the funny man now. I don’t hold grudges. That whole thing kinda flipped how I am as a person. 

Jean: It’s lit.

What was your instant reaction when you saw all these big pages like SportsCenter repost this? 
: When I seen it, I was like, “Oh, snap. I made SportsCenter.” I wasn’t jumping up and down because you know random people just be making SportsCenter now. They be famous for a couple of months, but people have been looking for me for years. I’m telling you, for years. I never said nothing about it. Sometimes I’d comment on posts saying, “Yeah, that’s me,” and people wouldn’t believe me. Someone in my group chat sent it to me and told me I’m going viral again. I just thought people gonna think it’s me but won’t really think it’s me. When you look at it, you still see the resemblance. I had to turn my notifications off. 

Jean: It was pretty dope. Eight years later, we still going. It’s a legendary meme, man. You got to look at it in that aspect—it’s really legendary. That shows you the power of social media. Some things just last forever. Now he’s a icon living. 

So what’s next? We got a remake coming? 
: If Popeyes trying to do it all over again, I don’t mind. 

Jean: I’m all for it.

Popeyes, give ’em the bag! Dieurnerst, football-wise, what are your goals within that? You want to go pro? 
Everyone wants to go pro. I want to go pro. Aside from that, I want to be a sports analyst. That’s all I talk about.

Y’all got any final things y’all want to say to each other? 
: I ain’t going to lie to you: I want to say thank you. You changed my life. My teacher just told me today, “A positive can come out from something you took as a negative.” I was never the type of person to get mad and be like, “Yeah, you gon’ have to fight me, because I ain’t like it,” but I just kept it cool and kept being myself and it flipped, so all I can say is thank you. 

Jean: I’m just going to say one thing. Listen, out of everything you’ve been through, you’re making a lot of your life. Keep striving. You can go as far as you want. The world is in your hands.

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