A local comedy video maker has almost as many social media followers watching as there are people living in Manitoba.
In the spring of 2020, Tope Babalola sat having "literally nothing else to do" as he was out of work and school for the season. To help pass the time, he downloaded an app he knew teenagers were using, trying it out for himself as an "older person" with hopes of combatting boredom.
"It was boredom that finally made me do it and I honestly didn't think anything out of it."
One year and more than a hundred videos later, he is a recognizable face on the app in the past three months.
"Elle Magazine did a feature of me a few months ago, Buzzfeed did a feature as well. A modelling agency reached out to me and I am working with them now. So a lot of new developments in a really short amount of time."
More people are following Babalola on Tiktok than living in Manitoba, something Babalola has a hard time picturing.
"I do get a lot of people that are surprised that I am from Winnipeg."
This move brought Babalola from behind the camera to out front. As a filmmaker, he recently created "Hall Monitors," A Springs Christian Academy movie about friendship and school dynamics. Babalola is a 2015 alumni of the school, crediting it with growing his faith alongside his education.
"I am actually in film school right now so I am planning on going into producing, screenwriting, and directing."
The 23-year-old did not expect to become a hit, mostly making videos as a way to entertain himself when he had nothing else to do during the pandemic. Babalola's most recognizable character is a grocery store worker, a role he played off-screen as a teenager.
"Thankfully a lot of customers were great and I loved them but there was the occasional frustrating customer here and there and obviously not a lot you can do as a young grocery store worker to deal with it in person, so in a way, I kind of viewed these videos as very cathartic."
There has been a tremendous amount of support behind the videos from people with similar experiences.
"I think one bad customer can really scare someone out of a customer service job," he says, recollecting bad experiences such as being screamed at.
While the roles poke fun at some of the experiences he's had, including a customer telling him he was wrong about his name being Nigerian, he says there is some truth in the lessons gleaned.
"I think sometimes people forget that it is kids working these jobs and you need to have a little bit of mercy," he says. "It is just a lot of things you might not be conscious of completely if you have never worked the job before but having been on the other end of it I know exactly how it feels."
Babalola has found his first job helped him be more compassionate later in life, particularly when interacting with store employees.
"They are fun too. It gives me room to be a little bit creative especially during a time where there was not much else to do."