Brothers With Matching Mullets Embrace a Lighter Side of SMA
The video opens with Blake Shofner driving and saying to his younger brother, Nolan, “Dang Nolan, these roads are terrible.”
Nolan Shofner, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1, replies in a southern accent with a computerized voice: “My bones are bouncing all over the place.”
With 1.1 million views as of mid-June, it’s one of the brothers’ most popular TikTok videos. Their social media account, Mullet Bros Co., combines jokes, pranks, and humor to offer viewers a gently humorous look at Nolan’s SMA diagnosis and show what life with the disease is like. The site has more than 11,500 followers and features more than 40 videos.
Both Nolan, 19, and Blake, 21, of Princeton, Illinois, say that making good-natured fun of their situation helps break down barriers between the disabled and the nondisabled community.
“It’s the same way I make fun of Blake’s issues,” Nolan said. “Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I have to take things so seriously.”
A reason to laugh
The brothers say their sense of humor has always leaned a bit into the dark side. Taking everything too seriously makes it difficult to cope with a disability such as SMA, Nolan said.
“Why be depressed when you can just live life?” he asked.
SMA type 1 is the infantile-onset form of the disease, so Nolan’s physical abilities have continued deteriorating since he was young. He’s tried Spinraza (nusinersen) and Evrysdi (risdiplam), but stopped because he had negative reactions to both medicines.
He uses a wheelchair to get around, has limited movement of his arms, and because he’s lost the ability to talk, he relies on a Tobii Eye Tracker to speak to friends and family, a device that has improved his quality of life. He looks at letters and pieces them together on the screen to form words and sentences that are spoken by a computer.
Making videos is only one of the brothers’ ventures. They’ve also started a company through which they sell branded merchandise that shows off their unique, matching haircuts.
A head (of hair) for business
The idea for the Mullet Bros was born in July 2021 after Blake came home one day in October 2020 sporting a mullet haircut. Nolan soon followed suit.
The company sells T-shirts, hoodies, leggings, tumblers, stickers, and mugs. The brothers have sold around 250 shirts and the company is breaking even, according to Blake. Their shirts recently become available at an area Harter House, a midwestern grocery store chain.
Entrepreneurship has been in the brothers’ blood from a young age.
Nolan and Blake started their first business when they were in high school in 2016 selling ice cream from a truck under the name 2 Bros Chillin. The business earned the brothers $30,000 and its revenue went to the charitable youth ministry organization, Speed the Light, to support missionary work. The group provides missionaries with transportation and communications equipment.
Starting this company fulfilled the dream Nolan had since he was a child about setting up an apparel brand.
“His imagination goes crazy. He’s always wanting to start so many different businesses and everything again,” Blake said. “I’m kind of a realist so we bring each other up. We’re a good team.”
Blake and Nolan say they also hope to build a business that’s not based just on mullets.
Once Blake graduates from college at Evangel University in Missouri in 2023 with a business degree, he will have more time with Nolan to help expand the current business.
That means adding a YouTube channel to their Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok following. Creating content like they do on TikTok is hard with Blake splitting his time between Missouri and Illinois, as he does now.
The brothers said they plan to look into selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as a way to diversify their revenue stream over the next three months.
NFTs are digital assets typically taking the form of art, music, videos, and pictures that are bought and sold using blockchain technology.
Mullet Bros Co. also has sponsored a dirt track racing car and held an online mullet competition that drew 150 contestants.
Led by faith
The brothers are both Christians and they say their faith is instrumental to their approach to life. They want to use their social media accounts to bring the Gospel to people and offer viewers lessons about how their faith has impacted their lives, but they also want to help change how society views Christians, letting their behind-the-scenes videos and skewed sense of humor show viewers that they’re not much different than anyone else.
“You don’t have to be perfect by any means to follow God or follow a dream that you have,” Blake said.
The brothers acknowledge their positive outlook has been tested, and that it’s grown in part out of Nolan’s disease, which has brought the family, and their parents, Jason and Monica, closer together. Blake says his brother’s disease is part of the reason they remain so close to each other.
Blake said he recalls times when Nolan would stop breathing and he would watch as his parents would give his brother CPR. Blake said he remembers bargaining with his brother in those moments, telling Nolan he would give him his toys if he just woke up again.
“We have this outlook on life that if it’s short we’re gonna have one heck of a life,” Blake said. “We’ve been best friends since God put us together. We’ve definitely had some struggles that nobody else had to go through, so I’d say 100% that SMA contributed to us having that brotherly bond.”