Khabane “Khaby” Lame stumbled on Tiktok after he lost his factory job, the aftermath of the first lockdown in Italy in 2021.
Spending his days holed up at his parents’ home in Chivasso with his three siblings, looking for other jobs. One day, he downloaded TikTok and started tinkering with it in his bedroom, posting videos of himself under the name Khaby Lame. And gradually, a surprising career was born.
At first, like a lot of TikTokers, he created clips of himself dancing, watching video games or doing comedy stunts. Then, earlier this year, he began making fun of the life-hack videos that flood social media platforms — reacting to them with a wordless shrug or a look of exasperation — and he struck a chord.
Now Lame is the most popular man on TikTok, with 114 million followers. The only other person ahead of him is dancer Charli D’Amelio, a California teen who posts playful videos, often with her older sister Dixie.
And Lame, 21, does it all without saying a word. On TikTok, his silence speaks volumes.
“I came up with the idea because I was seeing these videos circulating, and I liked the idea of bringing some simplicity to it,” Lame told CNN in a recent video interview.
“The type of gesture 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 speak.”
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Like his popularity, Lame’s background transcends different continents.
He was born in Senegal and moved to Italy with his parents when he was a year old. He spent most of his life in public housing, which he credits with shielding him from racism and exposing him to the world beyond Italy.
“There we were people from every ethnicity, so we would protect each other a lot. There was never an issue about racism,” he said.
While he’s not yet an Italian citizen, he speaks fluent Italian and said he considers the country home. He’s applied for citizenship and as he awaits the process to go through, he said it’s been hard for him to travel to events in the United States and other countries on his Senegalese passport.
But the inability to travel hasn’t affected his fame. His popularity — he also has 47 million followers on Instagram — has opened doors to partnerships with international companies, including Netflix, 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.