Manitoba

Comedy videos about life in service industry propel Winnipegger to 1 million TikTok followers

Tope Babalola decided to give the social media platform a try during the pandemic. A year later, he's become a TikTok sensation, creating content based on millennial humour and the struggles of those in the service industry.

Tope Babalola, 24, has been featured in Elle Magazine and BuzzFeed, recently signed a modelling contract

Tope Babalola credits the popularity of his videos to their relatability. 'I think it's almost cathartic in a way to know you're not the only person who has to deal with frustrating customers ... or the ups and downs of working in that industry,' he says. (Tope Babalola/Instagram)

A Winnipegger looking for a way to kill time during the pandemic has become a TikTok sensation, with over one million followers thanks to his relatable comedic videos about working in the service industry.

Tope Babalola decided to give the social media platform a try for about a week. A year later he's become hugely popular on TikTok by creating content based on millennial humour and the authentic struggles of those in the service industry.

"I think a lot of the people that follow me are people who currently work in customer service or people who've done a long time ago," the 24-year-old said during a Tuesday interview with CBC Manitoba's Information Radio.

"I think it's the relatability of it and I think it's almost cathartic in a way to know you're not the only person who has to deal with frustrating customers ... or the ups and downs of working in that industry."

He started creating skits playing the part of a cashier at a grocery store — a job he held in real life — as well as a grumpy, rude customer, often donning a wig and costume. 

"It's definitely an outlet, for me, to let out the frustrations I kept bottled up for a while."

In one video, Babalola is confronted by a cashier who asks about his "exotic" name and insists it sounds French rather than Nigerian, playing on the trope of a "Karen" — a slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled and often racist middle-aged white woman.

In another skit, Babalola calls out a male customer for being creepy toward a female colleague and illustrates how some men feel entitled to a woman's time, and don't listen when they're told to leave her alone.

Although Babalola was popular beforehand, his followers more than doubled after he was featured in a February Elle Magazine article titled "18 BIPOC TikTok Creators You Should Be Following." 

He had no idea he would be featured.

"I woke up one morning and I saw that.… It was shocking," Babalola said.

"It was incredible that Elle Magazine noticed me and knew I existed and had seen some of the things I created."

Tope Babalola wears a wig to play the rude customer in his skits, playing on millennial humour about 'Karens' - a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled and often racist middle-aged white woman. (Tope Babalola/TikTok)

Since then, Babalola's content has been featured on BuzzFeed and highlighted by TikTok, garnering him even more followers.

He's also been signed by Plutino, a Toronto modelling agency, and is working part-time as a model while he studies film at the University of Manitoba.

"It's another crazy experience that came out of this. It's a lot of new developments in a really short amount of time."

Host Marcy Markusa meets Tope Babalola whose TikTok account has 1 million followers and counting. He's been named by Elle Magazine one of 18 BIPOC TikTok stars to watch, and shares why his parodies of life as a grocery store cashier resonate with his followers. 6:08

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

With files from Wendy Jane Parker

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