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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.
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.”
His videos have a singular style
Lame is a slender Senegalese man with long limbs and an expressive face. In most of his clips, he lampoons videos of people doing overly complicated hacks by responding with a simplified, more logical way of doing the same task.
His reactions personify the term “shaking my head,” or SMH in internet shorthand. After his common-sense approach to a task, Lame extends his arms with his palms facing upward, as if to say duh. Sometimes he throws in an eye roll or a shake of the head.
These silent but expressive reactions have made him one of the most recognizable digital creators on social media.
“Maybe because my facial expressions are funny and they make people laugh, this simplicity makes people laugh and I love it,” Lame said.
One marketer says the popularity of Lame’s videos show how nonverbal communication can transcend language barriers and make connections across cultures.
He sends a message that life need not be complicated
Lame’s deadpan humor has attracted fans from all over the world, who regularly send him videos of people performing simple tasks in complicated ways.
“They know I’m the one who solves problems so they tag me or mention me and they’re like, ‘Khaby it’s your turn, solve this problem because we need you,'” he said.
His stoic facial expressions have also turned him into a meme star — with his face reposted in reaction videos on social media.
Unlike some other social media stars, Lame’s videos are not overproduced. They appear organic and use simple actions and imagery to convey humor, which boosts his authenticity and reinforces his point about making life less complicated, Ferraz said.
She also believes his content resonates with people because he rose to fame during a time when the world was on lockdown from quarantine.
“People were scouring social media for both escapism and connection,” Ferraz said. “The lack of verbal communication allows the audience to focus only on his actions, and no other meaning can be applied other than what he is literally doing or expressing.”
To her, Lame’s videos reveal ‘how often we make life more difficult or complicated than necessary. I think most people prefer to keep things simple.”
But Lame said that’s not why he started posting videos.
“I don’t care if I’m first or second or fourth most popular on TikTok. I started making videos because I wanted to make people laugh in that period of lockdown,” he said. “And I keep making videos with the same ideals. I’m happy about my accomplishments, but those are not my main things.”
His popularity has opened international doors
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.
He said his biggest purchase since he became famous is an iPhone 12 so he can shoot better videos. “I’m not buying anything crazy,” he said.
But his life is a far cry from his days — only 18 months ago — as a jobless young man living with his parents. He says his mother and father are proud of his success.
“It was unexpected (for them) just like for the rest of the world. So they got into the perspective (of me being famous) quite late. And me too. You don’t realize what’s happening to you,” he said. “They didn’t have any set idea of what they wanted me to become when I was a child — the important thing is that I was happy, and had a good job.”
Lame now lives with his agent in Milan. His posts get thumbs-ups from celebrities, including his idol, actor Will Smith.
Meanwhile, he’ll continue crushing ridiculous life hacks — with his deadpan silence.