The Capitolium of Brescia is surprisingly a hidden treasure, quite centrally located, surrounded by the old town, housing and restaurants. It was once the main temple of the Lombard city and dedicated to the three deities Minerva, Jupiter and Juno. Worth seeing preserved, a perfect place for a shoot with a superhero of modern times: Khaby Lame, once a refugee, now the undisputed number one on TikTok. Modest, funny, elegant. Boss brand ambassador and role model: his dream is alive. The school class that discovers him can hardly believe their luck.
He stands for everything that gives us hope: He is young, has a sense of humor, heart and a clear view – and he has proven that destiny is something you can tackle. Khabane „Khaby“ Lame, 22, the superstar on social media, TikTok and Instagram, came to Turin from Senegal as a one-year-old with his parents and four siblings; conditions were poor. During the pandemic, he lost his job, moved back into the closet bed with his parents in Chivasso. In March 2020, he uploaded his first videos on TikTok. Smiled even during dull times. The rest is TikTok history, Khaby number one. His comedic talent, subtle take on everyday madness, and unfolding hands are his trademark. It rains at the shooting in the ancient Capitol of Brescia, but Khaby poses, dances and plays tirelessly.
ICON: Khaby, it all started in your little bedroom at your parents‘ house during the pandemic, right?
Khaby Lame: Yes, that’s true. When I was laid off because of Covid19, I used the downtime to pursue my passions: acting and making people laugh. So I started creating content for TikTok and experimenting with different formats, because for me it was important to have fun and entertain others.
What was life like before?
I had many jobs to support my family: I was a waiter, a bricklayer, an assistant cook, a dishwasher. In a factory near Turin I operated machines, then I was fired because of the pandemic.
Did you ever think, that you would become a TikTok superstar?
It’s hard to say, it all happened very quickly! I only gradually became aware of the situation. When I was asked for photos on the street and famous people I thought were unreachable made videos with me – and perhaps most of all when I was able to help my family and make them happy.
What was it like when you reached the 100 million follower mark on TikTok?
At this point in time, it’s an incredible 150 million. It was crazy! I still can’t believe it! This feeling is indescribable when I think that so many people follow me and support me. Wonderful. I hope I can be an example, you always have to believe in your dreams.
If all your followers were to assemble now, can you imagine the crowd?
I don’t think so! It’s an incredible number, but it would certainly be a beautiful picture, my followers are the most beautiful. (laughs)
Do you know who was your first follower?
My father. He has always supported me. He watched my videos, even when I uploaded them to YouTube as a kid.
At that time, only my father and uncle looked at it, but I was overjoyed because I made them laugh.
You are successful through irony. How nice in times when subtle humor is easily misunderstood, especially on the Internet. „Learning with Khaby“ is your slogan, only with acting, without language – was there a strategy there or rather trial and error?
I started making silent videos because I knew that the only way to get my message across to as many people as possible was silently. I chose the language of gestures and facial expressions because it is universal, so my videos can be immediately understood by everyone. This is important to me. Just as it is important not to offend anyone. That became clear to me very early on.
Were you always the funny one in school?
I always liked to laugh and make jokes and always tease everyone a bit, classmates and teachers. But at the same time I was a shy kid, I still am – strange, isn’t it? I had difficulties because of my dyslexia, but I always found a way to cope with it.
The young people admire you especially, do you feel responsible to be a role model?
Often, whether on social media or in everyday life, kids allow themselves to be influenced by the judgment of others, start to change, and stop pursuing their dreams just because someone told them they couldn’t do it. I am proof that anyone can improve their life, that any goal can be achieved with passion and determination: Always believe in your dreams! I try to inspire others and I have already published content about these topics I hold close to my heart, such as charity and war. I try to do my part and hope that my followers will take me as an example and take action on their part.
How would you explain your job to your grandmother?
I think the best thing would be to show her a video of me, and then conclude with the move that made me famous: the Khaby-move. (laughing)
Many people are surprised that you are Italian. Is that annoying?
I think that’s understandable, also because I don’t speak in my videos, I could be from any country. I don’t pay that much attention to it.
I am proud to have grown up in Italy, and I am always happy to say that.
Where did you meet Alessandro Riggio, your star manager?
I managed to get noticed in the chat of one of his live broadcasts on Twitch, I only had 1,000 followers then, but he saw potential in me. We got in touch and became friends, a real family. We trust each other, and that’s the basic prerequisite for a good relationship, not only privately but also professionally.
How has your life changed?
It’s completely different from before. I lived in a public housing apartment and worked day and night in the factory. Thanks to my work, I can now help my family and old friends, do charity work and support people in need. My days are different, I live in a different place, I dress differently… But the people I love haven’t changed, and neither have my values.
Speaking of clothing, you are an ambassador for Boss and also design your own small collection.
We met in Milan in 2021, Boss wanted to rejuvenate its approach to customers. It was a bet for both of us, and I think it worked. I also have a small collection to put my ideas into, but the credit goes to the designers at Boss.
Have you ever thought of going into politics, with your popularity?
No, I think everyone has their own way and their own place. Politics must be in the hands in those who have the skills to lead a country; fame cannot be a passkey to obtain these skills.
What is your dream? Your hope? Your fear? „I can sum them all up in one point: to make a career in film. I am sure that I will continue to follow my dream, work hard and study to achieve my goals, even and especially in difficult times.“
The next Eddie Murphy?
I would love to go to America and make movies, become a comedian, so I’m already studying acting and English. It would be great to make a movie with Will Smith, Eddie Murphy or Dwayne „The Rock“ Johnson. Those are all actors I really admire: Will Smith is my idol and a phenomenal actor, Eddie Murphy taught me to believe in myself, and ‚The Rock‘ has always given me a lot of strength, not only physically but also mentally.
Are you a happy person?
Yes! How could I not be? I am happy because I am doing what I love to do; there are many people who sincerely love me, and I have an army of followers, of people who support me. Everything is going well!