“Every single person you see on the side of the street, sitting on a bench, or sitting on the bus with you has a powerful, amazing story. They are just as much the main character as you and I are right now,” says Hunter Prosper, the 25-year-old creator of the viral TikTok series, “Stories From A Stranger.” In the TikTok series, Prosper interviews people from all walks of life and captures their wisdom in brief, yet impactful videos that have collectively reached 53.2 million people since February 2021. Today, Prosper has 2.5 million followers on TikTok, and his videos remind the world that everyone has a unique story to tell.
In each video, Prosper asks a stranger to answer a personal question, whether it’s “what was the name of your first love, and why did you fall in love with them?” or “what’s one piece of advice you live by?” With each question and heartfelt conversation, he has made it his mission to introduce the world to extraordinary stories from ordinary people, and it all started when Prosper, a nurse, began chatting with his patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Often, the patients were in critical condition, and Prosper was one of the few people in the hospital they could turn to. “They would look into my eyes and have a conversation with me,” he tells Her Campus. “I’d hear about their children, and I’d hear about their family.” Working at a level one hospital in Pennsylvania, Prosper quickly learned that every human has a meaningful story to tell — and whether it be about love, life, or even death, everyone’s story deserves a positive, empowering platform where it can be shared.
While working in the ICU, many of Prosper’s patients inevitably began to pass away. He became saddened by the regularity of death in daily life, and recalls how it affected him over time: “I started to not feel as upset by my patient’s deaths as I used to,” Prosper tells Her Campus. “It felt, in a way, like I was losing my humanity. In hindsight, what I was suffering from was burnout.” Combined with the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Prosper began searching for ways to cope.
In the midst of burnout and grief, Prosper sat down in front of his camera and began a storytelling project, “Stories From The Bedside,” which would eventually inspire the now-famous TikTok series, “Stories From A Stranger.” In February 2021, he posted his first “unofficial” video of the series: a minute-long video showcasing stories from some of his patients nearing end-of-life in the ICU. In less than 24 hours, the video reached 500,000 views and quickly jumped to a million. “I was like ‘wow, there is obviously a want for this,’” Prosper tells Her Campus.
Inspired by the initial response, Prosper set out to ensure that his patients’ stories would be heard and appreciated, even long after they wouldn’t be able to tell those stories themselves. After recording a few more videos for “Stories From The Bedside” with patients in the ICU, “Stories From A Stranger” was born. And as he documented stories of everyday people and posted them on TikTok, a natural community formed on the app; it appeared everyone was searching for understanding and empathy in a time of confusion and hardship. According to Prosper, it wasn’t the numbers and popularity that motivated him to create more videos; it was the immediate feedback and DMs he received from fellow TikTokers.
“I remember one [comment] that really hit me,” Prosper tells Her Campus. “[The person] said, ‘I’ve been feeling really down, and I was close to not wanting to be alive anymore. I stumbled across your video because I was scrolling through TikTok, and it made me happy…this was the first time I’ve felt that in awhile. I talked to my mom, she got me into therapy, and I want you to know I’m doing better now.’ It’s things like that that made me addicted to making videos all the time.”
When Prosper first set out to create videos, he never imagined talking to strangers was how he’d capture the attention and admiration of 2.7 million followers. “My girlfriend would highlight how good I am at talking to people,” Prosper tells Her Campus with a laugh. “Those are her words, not mine — I don’t agree with her!” He soon realized that every stranger he came in contact with had a natural story to tell, and seldom had a platform to share it on. Now, Prosper has created that platform.
“I wanted to highlight the fact that you don’t have to be Brad Pitt in Hollywood to have a beautiful story. You can be a 47-year-old woman walking your dog in a small town near Pittsburgh…your story can be just as beautiful.”
On the “Stories From A Stranger” feed, no two stories are the same, and everyone’s responses to questions about love and life vary. There’s Margie, who danced every night with the love of her life for 64 years, and Amy, who doesn’t believe she’s experienced true love yet. Prosper even experienced a powerful connection with a Pennsylvania woman — who he later discovered had dementia — and realized that their conversation had helped her remember her past.
Of course, asking random strangers on the street to share a personal story takes some level of trust and rapport — something that Prosper has mastered with time. And according to Prosper’s “unofficial handbook for talking to strangers,” it’s all about creating connections. “At the end of the day, the first thing you have to realize is that you’re taking time out of a person’s day, no matter what they say,” he tells Her Campus. “The connection has to be very organic, and it has to feel natural.”
When asked how he goes about initiating such personal conversations, Prosper tells Her Campus, “If [a person] is walking in the opposite direction on the same side of the sidewalk, I give them a little nod. If they reciprocate and give me a little wave, boom! I’m ready with ‘Hey, my name’s Hunter, and I make these videos.” In Prosper’s experience, there’s an approximate 95% success rate when it comes to strangers agreeing to talk. Some are ecstatic and reply “yes” immediately; however, it’s not uncommon for people to approach the conversation with skepticism, and many prefer not to be filmed on camera. “If that’s the case, I do [the interview] off camera,” Prosper shares. “What I get from people often is ‘I just don’t look good today’ and I acknowledge and respect that.”
At the moment, Prosper mainly interviews people in his home state of Pennsylvania, but he hopes to take “Stories From A Stranger” around the country — if not around the world — in the near future. “When I was in college, I went to the Dominican Republic, I went to Haiti, and I went to Peru helping with surgeries or around the community,” Prosper tells Her Campus. “I’ve always found it really dear to me to not just be in Pittsburgh and see that people are amazing, but to be all over the world, and find that people are amazing everywhere.”
What began as a young man’s interest in storytelling has now turned into a global community, and, in my opinion, the kindest corner of TikTok. “I find a lot of solace in just talking to people,” Prosper tells Her Campus. “Regardless of the sadness in your life, where you come from, what you do professionally, who you love, everyone has a beautiful story full of emotion — albeit positive or negative. Social media has the power to bring us together in times when life might pull us apart.”
But once again, it’s not the fame and numbers that drive Prosper; rather, an intention to bring light to our collective humanity. The popularity of his videos are just the cherry on top. “At the beginning, I was relying on these stories to remind me that people are still human,” he tells Her Campus. “Now, in the comment section, people are willing to be open and vulnerable,” he says. “That’s the only reason why I care so much about the numbers going up. Over 2.5 million people have the potential to see ‘Stories From A Stranger’ at any given moment, and that just makes it all so exciting.”
When Prosper interviews subjects, he often asks: “What would you say to someone struggling to find happiness right now?” And when I ask him the same question, Prosper has the perfect response. Rather than searching for happiness, he lets happiness find him when the time is right. “The main focus we should have as humans should be to accept every emotion we feel, and accept it with open arms,” Prosper says. “The best thing to do to try to be happy is to just try to be human.”