Khaby Lame is on top of the world. He’s the most followed TikTok creator on the planet, travels the globe to film videos with celebs like Idris Elba and Ed Sheeran, and collaborates with brands like McDonald’s. That’s how we get to talking on a Thursday morning (for me, in New York City) and evening (for him, in Milan) — he’s one of four global idols tapped for McDonald’s FIFA World Cup 2022 campaign.
It makes sense. Lame is not just one of the top creators in the world, he’s also a huge soccer fan and plans to attend World Cup games in support of his native Senegal (he is both a Senegalese and Italian citizen, but Italy didn’t make the cut for the Cup). Sitting jovially in a white Nike hoodie, Lame looks like he might be off to shoot a few goals any minute.
Behind him are framed black-and-white photos of Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Cary Grant and Grace Kelly — all icons who communicated as much in words as in physical expression. Lame is looking to make a jump to acting in movies by doing something similar. He is a man of few words. In fact he’s built a TikTok audience of more than 140 million people without saying a single one. So if he doesn’t plan to speak, how does he plan to act?
Lame’s got it all figured out: “Mr. Bean doesn’t speak,” he says, “or Charlie Chaplin.”
Read what else he has to say about his idols, McDonald’s, and being a role model below.
Hi Khaby! How’s your day been?
I’m working but mostly chilling. It’s an easy day, but only today. Every other day is so busy. I’ve been dubbing a character in Black Panther in Italian and making content around the film. I’ll show you one now. [Holds phone up, plays a TikTok video of him transforming into Black Panther]. There’s a creative agency we work with that helps me develop these types of videos and effects.
You’re doing this campaign with McDonald’s. I have a strong childhood memory of going through their drive thru in Los Angeles, smelling the pancakes and hashbrowns, and eating them out of a little plastic container in the back seat. Do you have a childhood memory of McDonald’s like that?
I just remember when I was a little boy on our way from Turin to Chivasso, before taking the highway, my brothers and I knew there was a Mac there, and I remember us praying and hoping we would turn left and stop at Macs. Most of the time, we didn’t stop.
[Begins to laugh] Another time, there was a long line of cars at a McDonald’s drive-thru and we took a shopping cart through it, trying to bypass all the people who were waiting. People were angry, but we were served. I worked as a waiter [before blowing up on TikTok] and actually sent an application for a job at McDonald’s when I was younger. I thought it’d be nice to work for them.
What is your daily life like now and how does your family feel about your success.?
[Imitates a flying plane]. I’m always traveling, and I love it. My family is very happy for me. Every now and then I take my brother traveling.
How old is your brother?
[Thinks, counting on his fingers] Twenty-four! It’s hard for me to remember because I have a lot of brothers. Three little brothers, and one big brother. Don’t ask me their ages, please!
I won’t! You’re dubbing Black Panther and have recently collaborated with Snoop Dogg, Future, and more. Is there anyone that you’ve been nervous to collaborate with?
I generally feel at ease. I’ll say that I was a bit excited, a bit nervous, when first meeting Usain Bolt and Snoop Dogg. Most of all Bolt, probably because as a little boy my dream was to become an athlete and be better than him. I ran the 100 meters and the marathon, and then I had to stop training because I had to work and help my family.
When you became the no. 1 most-followed creator on TikTok, it was a big deal for a lot of reasons. It’s almost always white creators on top, so it’s so nice to see a creator of color. Do you feel like you’re a role model for young Black men?
I think so. I think that my hope is to influence not only people of color but everybody.
In terms of how you want to influence people, I saw that you had posted a video of actors that you admired. Is that your goal, to become an actor?
Becoming an actor has always been my dream. Ever since I was a little boy, my hero was Will Smith in Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Right now I’m studying acting with a coach and learning English. My dream is to become an actor and make people laugh.
When it comes to your role models, you recently posted a TikTok of Will Smith and Johnny Depp captioned “My dream in my mind 🙏🏾 to become like them!” Recently those two men have been in the public eye. Do you look up to them as actors or people?
I only look at them as actors. As talents. It happens, making mistakes in life. I just consider them to be my idols, great actors, incredible people. And this is what I would like to become. Everybody can make mistakes in life. Everybody should be forgiven for making mistakes.
Can you tell me a little bit about the kind of content that you consume? Do you listen to K-pop at all? A really fantastic K-pop girl group, Itzy, is part of this campaign with you.
To create my content, I watch movies, listen to music, watch Japanese anime. Everything can be a source of inspiration to me. And no, I don’t listen to K-pop. But I’m convinced, I’ll listen to Itzy’s whole album.
You want to act, and you’re also working with Hugo Boss. Is your dream project an acting role or more fashion based? And can you give me a hint about what you’re working on now?
No! I have some projects, but I can’t give any hints. And as for my dream project, I’m interested in both! Just keep following me.