Homeless stars, endless spaghetti and amplified farts: the comedians of TikTok | Comedy
I’m used to consuming jokes and sketches as part of shows, as components of a bigger whole. But that experience leaves me rudderless on TikTok, where comedy is often conveyed in free-floating skits and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them stings. YouTube sketches are Infinite Jests by comparison.
Ah, but “the shorter the video, the more you can condense your comedy into bite-size, shareable chunks”, according to one guide to TikTok comedy, suggesting that humour on the platform is as often about brand development as it is about making people laugh.
Undaunted, I plunged into comedy on the platform, armed only with my daughter’s top tips, some online guides and the app’s own algorithms. All three steered me directly to Khabane Lame. A TikToker only since March 2020, when he lost his job in a Turin factory, Lame is quite the Mr Bean of social media, wooing his 116m followers with wordless videos of himself responding to other people’s life-hacks.
The joke – performing an obviously more simple solution to the problem, then staring down the viewer with a “What was all the fuss about?” expression – is an effective one, which is just as well given Lame delivers it over and over again.
Wordlessness is a virtue on TikTok, where the default routine comprises a caption set-up (“When white moms don’t like each other”) and a visual, musical or lip-synced punchline. Sarah Cooper made the leap from TikTok to Netflix last year after the success of her potted Donald Trump lip-sync videos. The very likable Anglo-Somali TikToker Akafi Ali uses lip-sync in his skits, including many filmed in his Sainsbury’s uniform, acting up about customer behaviour. He no longer works in a supermarket, having been poached by the BBC.
If TikTok is notable for these rags-to-riches trajectories, it differs in other eye-catching ways from live, or even TV, comedy. There’s a preponderance of beautiful performers, or performers who beautify themselves – perhaps because there’s slippage between the roles of comedian, influencer and salesperson. But it’s also a more diverse landscape. With 11m followers, Ehiz Ufuah is one of UK TikTok’s biggest comic stars, regularly (over)reacting to other people’s videos for lolz. He also built that profile while living with his mum in emergency accommodation for homeless people. Southampton’s Kyron Hamilton, 23, has racked up truckloads of views for his shrewdly observed classroom caricatures: “Them teachers who think they are funny” or “Teachers when Ofsted are in”.
His is a recognisable character comedy talent, transferable beyond TikTok’s rigid confines. You could say the same of Bristol’s Abi Clarke, who already works as a standup, and made a TikTok splash with DIY, Catherine Tate-alike sketches about office workers Jill and Tracey. The onward comedy career of Chinese-American pranksters the Stokes Twins is less easy to guarantee. A stunt bank robbery video of theirs in 2019 led to criminal charges. Having now watched clips of the twins amplifying their farts through steel piping, I think they got off lightly with 160 hours of community service.
There’s plenty of such first-base humour on TikTok: that’s comedy democracy in action. But there’s plenty to get excited about, too. Singer-songwriter Nina Nesbitt’s comedy songs about Scottishness, including a neat take on Olivia Rodrigo’s Driver’s License, might have been made for me. There are terrific sketches on Egyptian-American Adam Waheed’s TikTok, like the visual gags about the endless spaghetti and (the same gag, amusingly repurposed) the endless queue for the shop, or the one about the hoops you have to jump through to enter an Arab household.
They’re as funny as anything I’ve seen on the great sketch shows of yore. And – what do you know? – they’ve secured Waheed deals with T-Mobile, Lyft and Adidas.