From problem to superpower (to $10 million)
The rise of Khaby Lame. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
How's this for an inspiring story? It's about humor, persistence, and finding ways to transform big problems into even bigger advantages.
The main character: Khabane Lame, a 22-year-old Senegalese immigrant in Italy, who was making $1,000-a-month as a waiter and factory worker before the pandemic.
During quarantine, he started creating videos on TikTok from his parents' apartment, under the shortened name, Khaby Lame.
Fast forward two years, and Lame is now the number-1 TikTok influencer in the world, with almost 150 million followers, and millions more on other social networks. He's on track to make a reported $10 million a year.
There are so many fascinating elements to Lame's story, including how stars are born, how influencers make money, how third-decade social media works, and how to connect with giant audiences.
There's also the simple joy of watching someone who says his lifelong dream was to make people laugh and to provide for his family—and who now actually gets the chance to do it.
But I think the most inspiring thing is how Lame overcame a huge challenge, and even transformed it into a superpower.
Problem: Lame doesn't really speak much English, which you might imagine would make it hard to connect with a big audience. (He's learning—more on that below—but he's MUCH more comfortable in his native Italian.)
Superpower: As a result, Lame stopped speaking at all in his videos. The fact that he's almost completely silent, relying on expressions, gestures, and props for humor, has enabled him to grow a worldwide fan base quickly, because it doesn't matter what language his viewers speak.
"It is accessible to more people than if I would make my videos in English. I speak a universal language that everyone understands," he told Forbes (in Italian) earlier this year.
"He's basically saying that's his power," a woman who translated for Lame during another interview explained. "The fact that he can communicate like that without even speaking—because he's not speaking Italian either—that's his power."
Let's examine two other quick details: a description of Lame's videos, in case you haven't seen him, and an explanation of how he makes money.
First, the videos. Lame's bread and butter is silently, simply, making fun of TikTok trends and other viral hits, debunking magic tricks or ridiculously simple life hacks. Other videos are just pure silent comedy, with an exasperated “everyman” persona.
Describing the videos doesn't really do them justice; they're short and simple, and you might just want to watch a few. I've included a highlight reel at the bottom of this newsletter, in case you don’t want to click on TikTok, but other examples include:
Debunking a magic trick (13.6 million views)
Poking fun at a dance video featuring firefighters (52 million views)
Mocking self-defense videos (97 million views)
Taking the result of a Valentine's Day cologne video to absurdity (135 million views)
Second, the money. According to a recent report in Fortune, which calculated the $10 million revenue number, this included $750,000 for a single sponsored TikTok post with a "major Hollywood studio."
The video isn't identified in the article, but I’m guessing it's this one: a 59-second post in which Lame (silently) co-starred with Idris Elba in a promo for Elba's movie, Beast.
Lame is a charismatic actor and fun to root for. But, I also hope other people considering their dreams will think of his example, especially if they're tempted to scale back their ambitions because they might not seem realistic.
The key: Sometimes the solution isn't to adapt your dreams to fit the world, but instead to adapt the way you interact with the world to achieve your dreams.
Lame's current plans include making more videos, but also working on his English, so that if social media algorithms change, he'll have other career options.
His language-learning strategies include formal tutoring, according to Fortune, but also binge-watching American children's television shows like Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood for several hours a day.
"Every day I wake up doing what I love," he said during an Italian interview in March, adding: "People are so influenced by the judgment of others. They stop chasing dreams, just because somebody told them that they cannot make it or shouldn't do it. I am living proof that everyone can improve their life no matter where they come from."
I watched nearly all of Lame's videos while writing this, and now I'm going to go finish the rest. Here's a quick compendium of some of his highlights, if you'd like a little inspiration, too.
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7 other things worth knowing today
Adnan Syed, whose legal saga rose to international renown because of the hit podcast “Serial,” is free after 23 years in prison. In an abrupt move Tuesday, Baltimore prosecutors dropped Syed’s criminal case stemming from the 1999 killing of Hae Min Lee, due to a new DNA test on Lee’s shoes, which showed DNA from four different people on the shoes -- none of them are Syed, Mosby said. (Baltimore Sun)
Moscow’s barrage of missile strikes on cities all across Ukraine has elicited celebratory comments from Russian officials and pro-Kremlin pundits, who in recent weeks have actively criticized the Russian military for a series of embarrassing setbacks on the battlefield. Separately, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is denying claims that he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin before posting a controversial tweet implying that Ukraine should not retake more land from Russia than it has lost this year. (AP, The Hill)
President Biden on Tuesday for the first time addressed his son’s exposure to possible criminal charges for allegedly lying on a gun-purchase application, but he said he was proud of Hunter Biden for confronting his struggles with drug addiction in an interview with Jake Tapper aired on “CNN Tonight.” Hunter Biden purchased a gun during a time in which he has now acknowledged he was struggling with drug addiction—an issue now under federal criminal investigation because federal law requires purchasers to attest that they aren’t users of or addicted to illegal drugs. (CNN)
Tom Cruise will “hopefully” become “the first civilian to do a spacewalk” outside of the International Space Station when he blasts off to space to shoot a new action movie. The $200 million movie that will send Cruise to space “actually [mostly] takes place on Earth, and then the character needs to go up to space to save the day.” (Variety)
One of the often-touted benefits of working from home is the freedom: theory, you can work remotely anywhere with a decent WiFi connection. But according to the 2021 edition of the American Community Survey, many remote workers didn't go far from major metropolitan areas. Urban neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Seattle; New York; and Chicago snagged some of the top spots, with work-from-home rates over 50 percent. (Entrepreneur)
Angela Lansbury, a versatile actor who wowed generations of fans as a murderous baker, a singing teapot, a Soviet spy and a small-town sleuth among a host of memorable roles, died Tuesday, her family announced. She was 96. (NBC News)
Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein is being held in appalling conditions in a cell as he awaits his daily trial sessions on trial for multiple counts of sexual assault in Los Angeles, his lawyer said Tuesday. "Unsanitary, fetid ... It’s almost medieval, the conditions. I’m concerned about his health and his ability to survive this ordeal... without a heart attack or stroke," attorney Mark Werksman told the court. "He’s 70 years old." (AFP)
Thanks for reading. I wrote about this previously for Inc.com. See you in the comments!