LLike many of us, Hubby Lam turned to TikTok in the early days of the pandemic. There was just a Senegalese-Italian one lost his job working in a factory in Kivasaa suburb of Turin 12 miles northeast of the city center, thanks to Covid and didn’t know what to do.
Like countless others, he began posting videos – first videos with Italian subtitles, but later silent reactions to absurd events up close. Unlike most of us, Lame’s fun with the short video sharing app has turned serious. After an astronomical two years, the 22-year-old became the king TikTok.
In late June, Lame replaced Charli D’Amelio as the most followed creator on the app. “I feel like it’s time for someone else to take that spot, and I’m proud of him.” — D’Amelio told attendees at Vidcon last month, an event was held in Los Angeles to celebrate the world of digital creators on platforms like TikTok and YouTube.
Today I have Lame 146 million subscribers on the app, where his profile reads: “If you’re looking for a laugh, you’re in the right place.” Fame has brought him wealth: he recently struck a sponsorship deal with cryptocurrency company Binance to sell its services. He had it before helped by Hugo Bossstanding next to Kendall Jenner and Hailey Bieber in the ad.
“It’s been incredible to watch Khabi’s journey to TikTok stardom,” says Rich Waterworth, the company’s general manager. Europe in TikTok. “In just two years, he went from creating comedy skits in his bedroom to becoming the first creator in Europe and the second in the world to reach 100 million subscribers.”
But how did someone who worked in a factory just over two years ago become the world’s most famous funnyman, the spiritual successor to Buster Keaton’s exasperated reaction?
If the Tinseltown star was the ‘big stone face’ of the 20th century due to his depressed demeanor, then Lame is the 21st century’s equivalent of TikTok, allowing you to develop viral videos about everything from two-hinged contortionists to get the keys to the locked car play and then harshly cut them with a roll of the eyes.
He’s so popular because of his down-to-earth attitude and what he’s managed to perfect as only him. “Khabi’s videos are short, silent and funny,” says D. Bondi Valdavinos Kaye, a PhD student at the University of Leeds and co-author of a scholarly book on TikTok. “They cross language and cultural barriers. His previous popular content made heavy use of the splice feature, cutting a short clip of another video at the beginning of his video.’
Lamé’s talents for poking fun at the odd wrinkles in everyday life are obvious – but he was also in the right place at the right time. When it first started gaining followers in late 2020/early 2021, TikTok was best known as an app popular among teenagers who dance to their favorite songs. “Khabi’s creative offbeat humor is an example of another side of TikTok that can offer the uninitiated a chance to discover what else the platform has to offer,” says Valdavinos Kaye.
“The fact that he doesn’t say a word makes him more relatable,” says Timothy Armou, founder and former CEO of Fanbytes, a Gen Z marketing agency. Armou likens it to a stranger in an unusual situation. “You don’t say anything, but you know exactly what the other person is thinking. That’s how you build a deep connection with someone.”
Lame is also attractive to companies looking to capitalize on its success and differentiate themselves, Armou says. “He doesn’t fit into the stereotype of what an influencer is, so people root for him even more.” It is this opposition to what D’Amelio is and represents—white, middle-class, already rich America—that makes Lamé so intriguing to viewers.
It also conveniently echoes what TikTok aims to be: a diverse, boundary-pushing platform that can propel anyone to superstardom without the gatekeepers of old media. While the most followed celebrity on Instagram is Cristiano Ronaldo, whose abs are viewed by fans, and the top three on Twitter is the otherworldly trio of Barack Obama, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, the TikTok totem is generally more prosaic.
According to TikTok’s internal data, about one-tenth of its audience is in the US, 9% in Brazil and 5% in Mexico. Unusually for an influencer, he attracts male and female viewers almost equally.
“Its success demonstrates how creativity, expressed in a simple and authentic way, can be a catalyst for engaging and connecting millions of people around the world,” says Waterworth. “Hubby’s story also epitomizes why TikTok is quickly becoming the place to find the brightest names and personalities in entertainment.”