Comedian Khaby Lame has become the king of TikTok, all without saying a word.
He spent his days holed up in his parents’ house in Chivasso with his three siblings, looking for another job. One day, he downloaded TikTok and started messing around with it in his bedroom, posting videos of himself under the name Khaby Lame. And little by little, an amazing career was born.
At first, like many TikTokers, he created clips of himself dancing, watching video games, or doing comedy impersonations. In early 2021, he started laughing at the life hack videos flooding social media platforms, reacting with a wordless shrug or a look of exasperation.
Now Lame (pronounced Lah-MAY) is the most popular man on TikTok with 114 million followers. The only other person ahead of her is dancer Charli D’Amelio, a California teenager who posts playful videos, often with her older sister Dixie.
And the lame, 21-year-old, does everything without saying a word. On TikTok, her silence speaks volumes.
“I came up with the idea because I was seeing these videos circulating, and I liked to bring some simplicity to it,” Lam told CNN last year. ” I thought of a way to reach as many people as possible. And the best way was not to talk.”
“The gesture kind of came by chance, but the silence didn’t. I thought of a way to reach as many people as possible. And the best way was not to talk.”
The Senegalese Lame is slender, with long limbs and an expressive face. In most of his clips, he steals videos of people doing overly complicated hacks, responding with a simplified and more logical way of doing the same task.
In one video, Lame peels a banana with his bare hands in response to a video of someone carefully cutting a banana. In another, he reacts to a video of a woman peeling a cucumber with her teeth using a vegetable peeler to accomplish the same task.
His reactions epitomize “head shaking,” or SMH in the internet acronym. After approaching a task with common sense, Lam stretches out his arms with his palms facing up, as if to say ‘yay’. Sometimes he rolls his eyes or shakes his head.
These quiet but telling reactions have made him one of the most popular digital creators on social media.
“Maybe because my facial expressions are funny and make people laugh, this simplicity makes people laugh and I love it,” said Lam.
One marketer says the popularity of Lame’s videos shows how non-verbal communication can transcend language barriers and bridge cultures.
“You don’t have to speak to be seen or understood,” Christina Ferraz, founder of Houston-based public relations agency Thirty6five, told CNN. “His anger is relatable, and the feelings are universal.”
Lame’s sharp sense of humor has attracted fans around the world, who regularly send him videos of people doing simple tasks in complicated ways.
“They know I’m the problem solver, so they tag me or mention me and say, ‘Khaby it’s your turn, solve this problem because we need you,'” he said.
His stoic facial expressions have made him a meme star, with his face being reposted in reaction videos on social media.
Unlike other social media stars, Lame’s videos are not overproduced. They appear organic and use simple actions and images to convey humor, which increases its authenticity and reinforces the point about making life less complicated, Ferraz said.
He believes his content resonates with people because he gained popularity during a time when the world was locked down from quarantine.
“People were scouring social media for escapism and connection,” Ferraz said. “The lack of verbal communication allows the viewer to focus only on his actions, and no meaning other than what he is literally doing or expressing can be applied.”
For him, Lame’s videos show “how often we make life more difficult or complicated than it needs to be.” I think most people prefer things to be simple.’
Lame did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on his new reign as a TikTok account. But he told CNN last year that he wasn’t posting the videos for fame.
But Lam said that’s not why he started posting the videos.
“I don’t care if I’m number one, number two or number four on TikTok. I started making videos because I wanted to make people laugh during the lockdown,” he said. “And I’m still making videos with the same ideals. I’m happy for my achievements, but they’re not my main thing. ».
Like his fame, Lame’s origins cross different continents.
He was born in Senegal and moved to Italy with his parents when he was one year old. He spent most of his life in public housing, credited with protecting him from racism and exposing him to the world beyond Italy.
“There we were people of all ethnicities, so we would protect each other a lot. It was never an issue about racism,” he said.
Although he is not yet an Italian citizen, he speaks Italian well and has said that he considers the country home. He has applied for citizenship and as he awaits the process, he said it has become difficult for him to travel to events in the United States and other countries with his Senegalese passport.
But the inability to travel has not affected the popularity. His popularity – he also has 47 million followers on Instagram – has opened the door to collaborations with international companies, including Netflix, the Italian food company Barilla and Indian fantasy sports platform Dream11. Lame has several other deals in the works that he can’t disclose yet, he said.
Lam declined to say how much money he makes from the partnership, though the biggest social media stars can earn millions of dollars a year from their content.
He said his biggest purchase since becoming famous is an iPhone 12 so he can shoot better videos. “I’m not buying the craziness,” he said.
But his life is a far cry from his days – just 18 months ago – as an unemployed youth living with his parents. He says his mother and father are proud of his success.
“It was a surprise (for them) like the rest of the world. So they came pretty late into the vision (of me being famous). And me too. You don’t realize what’s happening to you,” he said. “They didn’t have a specific idea of what they wanted me to be when I was young; it’s important that I was happy and that I had a good job.”
Lame now lives with his agent in Milan. His posts get thumbs up from celebrities, including his idol, actor Will Smith.
And as more TikTok stars sign deals with film companies, Lame hopes to fulfill a childhood dream and work on a project with Smith.