With comedy clubs shuttered and other typical forms of amusement depleted in 2020, locked-down comedians (and audiences) desperate for new creative outlets turned to shortform comedy on social media as a source of distraction, income and a method to make sense (or mockery) of an increasingly chaotic world. While comics like Trump lip-syncer Sarah Cooper and Instagram Live master interviewer Ziwe Fumudoh crossed over into traditional media earlier in the pandemic, platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Twitter continue to serve as viable launchpads for fresh comic talent from all over the world.
1. KHABY LAME
(117.3M TikTok followers)
Second only to Charli D’Amelio as the most followed account on TikTok, the Senegal-born Italy resident’s videos silently mock the platform’s popular life-hack genre (why use a chef’s knife to open a banana when you can just… peel it?). Armed with nothing but his signature deadpan expression, the laid-off factory worker, 21, shows you don’t need choreo (or even words) to land branding collaborations (such as with Barilla pasta and the Indian fantasy sports brand Dream11). Lame also has an online store that sells the kind of as-seen-on-TV merch that he makes fun of in his TikToks, except with a cartoon logo of his face on it.
@khaby.lameIg:@khaby00♬ suono originale – Khabane lame
(3.4M TikTok followers)
The Montreal-based musician struck gold when he began applying his serious composition and producing skills to “turning random internet drama into songs,” in which he gives Facebook Marketplace and Yahoo Answers posts the synth orchestral treatment (egregious typo-ridden lyrics and all). In January, he appeared on The Tonight Show, where he collaborated with Jimmy Fallon and Alison Brie on a musical cover of an online dispute about blue cheese dressing.
@lubalinthat escalated quickly… ##sodramatic ##humor ##oldpeoplefacebook ##boomer ##musician ##producer♬ original sound – Lubalin
3. ELSA MAJIMBO
(2.4M Instagram followers)
The Kenyan journalism student and pandemic breakout may be the first comedian ever to land a collaboration with a couture house (Valentino), alongside brand deals with Fenty, Fendi and Beats as well as representation from CAA. But she’s stayed resolutely lo-fi in her videos, cackling blithely antisocial one-liners into her iPhone 6 while donning $2 sunglasses and munching on potato chips. A snack sponsorship “would take two commas,” Majimbo, 20, says. “I’ve purposely not done a chips campaign yet because I figured that I’m only ever going to do one, so I held off for the seven-figure deal. As many people know, money is my love language.”
4. BLAIRE ERSKINE
(439.9K Twitter followers)
Weaponizing her Southern white femininity, the Georgia native’s timely, just-absurd-enough-to-be-believable portrayals of MAGA wives and corporate spokeswomen have trolled netizens on both sides of the aisle and made fans of industry power players like Jimmy Kimmel Live! co-head writer Molly McNearney, who hired Erskine for the show’s writing staff this season. “I have, quite literally, my dream job — and it’s all because I made silly little videos to distract myself from pandemic anxiety,” says Erskine, who signed with ICM Partners last December. “I feel like I just got really, really lucky to have the algorithm work in my favor and get my videos in front of the right people.”
Woman stranded at MAGA rally in Omaha says Trump wanted to teach them a lesson pic.twitter.com/SvqYw5MnOZ
— blaire erskine (@blaireerskine) October 28, 2020
5. VINNY THOMAS
(140.5K Twitter followers)
In “The Galactic Federation Interviews Earth for Membership,” the Chicago-based comedian’s monologue as a snooty space official becomes an evisceration of humanity’s current pathetic state (“Things could be worse, right? Imagine if you were still fighting over resources — oh, you do. You have … big wars? And a pandemic?”). Befitting his Second City past, Thomas’ impressions lean toward the fantastical, imagining the point of view of creatures from the viral animal video of the day, whether it be a rampaging warthog or a pigeon at Pride. “But I am so much more than this — I am also exhausted,” says Thomas, a contributing writer on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.
The Galactic Federation interviews Earth for membership pic.twitter.com/okgC7L0IuH
— Vinny Thomas (@vinn_ayy) December 8, 2020
6. RYAN KEN
(74.3K Twitter followers)
It’s been only a few years since the classically trained violinist, 29, mustered the courage to pursue their lifelong dream of acting, and just 12 months or so that they began uploading their solo sketches to the internet. Ken’s reads of the media and entertainment industry are particularly razor-sharp – like an imagined encounter between Black and white actors at craft services on the set of a slavery movie – and has earned the South Carolina native and Detroit resident famous followers including Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele and Taika Waititi. “Frankly, I’d like more resources to make work at a greater scale and to execute more complex visions than my TikTok videos,” says Ken, who recently earned WGA membership and is currently courting Hollywood opportunities.
This is always how I imagined the lunch breaks for slavery movies pic.twitter.com/fW3uoWXMPl
— Ryan Ken (they/them) (@Ryan_Ken_Acts) May 28, 2021
Read THR’s list of the 40(ish) most influential people in comedy here.
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.