He ousted Chiara Ferragni by becoming the most followed Italian on Instagram, while on TikTok he is third with 77 million followers. Khaby Lame is the new social phenomenon, who has gained popularity thanks to his videos where he does not say a word. But his irresistible gaze, his wide eyes, his sympathetic smile with tight lips and hands, with his palms turned towards the sky, take care of communicating, as if to say: “Do you see it? It is easier than you imagined”.
“Silence is a universal language, if you want to communicate with everyone you don’t have to talk”, explains the 21-year-old from Chivasso who talks about himself in an interview with Repubblica, starting with his arrival in Italy twenty years ago: “I was one year old”. Dad got a job here and brought his family with him. He arrived by plane, it was said. So you didn’t arrive on a boat like other migrants? “I hope!” laughs, “they told me it was a plane.” The Lame family first went to live in Romano Canavese and then in Chivasso, on the outskirts of Turin, in public housing: “Everyone thinks that public housing is ugly, inhabited by bad people, but I have been there very well”.
What about racism? “Never seen, never heard of, everyone has always been kind to me, we always helped each other”. And the haters? The haters who live on social media? Khaby gives us one of her most beautiful smiles: “I love them”, she says, “they always follow me, they watch every video of mine looking for a mistake to get me in trouble. Yes, I love my haters, they are the number one fan, like I’d do without them “. Khaby has fun at school but not doing well: he is dyslexic and has a form of dyscalculia, problems with dealing with accounts. “They failed me twice,” he says. But have you finished school? “Yes, everything is regular. And I started doing a thousand jobs. Waiter, bricklayer, window cleaner, I did everything to make money.”
Until he was hired in a factory. Worker in charge of a numerically controlled air filter machine: “Even if there were the numbers, I understood those. But I was bored, in the factory, I have always been a cheerful, sunny type, it was not the place for me” .
The turning point was Covid: in March 2020 the first lockdown is triggered and Khaby is fired. But he doesn’t despair, on the contrary: now he has time to stay at home doing what he loves: funny videos. “I had started some time before with my friends, we made videos that we put on YouTube, but nobody saw them, thirteen, fourteen views. We only saw them”.
With the pandemic, he makes his debut on TikTok which has an algorithm that immediately identifies the contents that potentially can please everyone and compared to other social networks allows you to be successful even if you are nobody. Like Khaby Lame from Chivasso. The first video is obviously about the Amuchina: what does it take to wash your hands? It goes strong. In June Khaby understands that this thing works, it’s not like YouTube, and looks for a manager: it is not the manager who chooses he is the one who chooses Alessandro Riggio, a young and handsome Calabrian with a past at the Actor Studio in New York and a present from the agent of famous influencers. Riggio is the one who deals with the international journalists lined up to interview him; it is Riggio who convinced him to study English “because he will be the new Eddie Murphy”; and there was always Riggio on the phone with the foreign ministry to try to get a visa for the United States where Khaby had been invited. Visa denied, “I only have a Senegal passport”.
Yep: even if in the various rankings there is always the Italian flag alongside Khaby; even though he’s been here since he was one year old; even if he did all his studies here; even if from here he works and communicates with the world, Khaby Lame is not an Italian citizen: “But I don’t need a piece of paper to make me say that I also feel Italian. Senegalese and Italian”. But citizenship is for a question of rights, that’s why he’s trying to get it. “And when I do it I’ll be one of the first who will try to help everyone who is in my situation”, he tells us, answering the question about the need not to give him citizenship (who will have it), but to change the law to all.
And now? “I keep thinking about how to make people laugh.” Your dream? “Making films, I would like to become a comedian”. Your secret? “Consistency. I haven’t given up. People sometimes give up doing the things they love because they allow themselves to be influenced by the judgment of others.”