Riding high on wit and charismaLhakyila’s simple yet sophisticated, complex yet accessible humour is the hallmark of her personal brand online.
At a bustling cafe in Bauddha, Lhakyila is well rested on the couch when suddenly two teenage girls approach her carrying a tiny box. In disbelief that the box was a present for her, she is taken aback at first but proceeds to politely accept it. The girls ask for a selfie and seem over the moon during the warm encounter. After they leave, Lhakyila returns to her seat with a bewildered yet elated look on her face, although that occurrence, for her, was not some anomaly.
When an everyday Nepali teenager or young adult hops on some of the most happening social media apps like Instagram or Tiktok, there is hardly anyone who has been as familiar and consistent on those domains as Tenzin Lhakyila Maharjan, or Lhakyila, as she is popularly known by. This 24-year-old social media phenomenon is not some overnight sensation, nor is she a commercially funded content creator, and yet a considerable 215,000 people follow her on Instagram, 141,000 on Tiktok, and 146,000 on YouTube—as of now.
“Even when I realise there are tons of people watching the skits I post online, it’s still baffling to me that my audience has been this invested for all these years”, she says, scrunching her forehead, followed by a puzzled expression. Her mannerisms are visibly awkward at times when she talks about her social media presence; it’s evident that she is still not used to the recognition she has garnered.
First coming into the picture on Instagram during early 2014, Lhakyila’s social media pages are now an accumulation of hundreds of self-taped comedy skits. Monologues of her random but peculiar everyday experiences quickly receive between 100,000 to over a million views, and her ten-year-old niece’s cameos typically become the cherry on top for the audience.
Like most middle schoolers interested in making video content during the late 2000’s, Lhakyila was also fully immersed in the world of YouTube. “I used to film arbitrary clips of myself and post it on YouTube just for the heck of it. Once, I lip-synced to a scene of Gabbar Singh from the movie ‘Sholay’ to show it to my family, which my eldest sister, Keyang Yanki, thoroughly enjoyed and decided to share it with her college friends,” she says. “They were the ones who initially encouraged me to make more videos.”
When one scrolls past Lhakyila’s Instagram and TikTok feed, it immediately becomes an engrossing multilingual affair since she typically performs her comedy routine incorporating Tibetan, English, Nepali or Hindi. And due to such multifaceted and immersive content, she has been able to amass a consistent viewership for nearly a decade from not just Nepal but also India, Bhutan, and the Nepali diaspora living in Australia and the United States.
“I first stumbled upon Lhakyila’s content through my cousin, who had been an ardent fan for quite some time,” says Adarsha Rai from Sikkim, India. “Even while watching her videos where she speaks in Tibetan, the humour is so discernable that I don’t need to understand the language to pick up on the nuances of what she is saying.”
Part of the draw of Lhakyila’s social media is her sense of intelligent humour that transcends ethnic and national identities, keeping the viewers craving for more. Lhakyila, however, attributes this level of relatability to the kind of similar experiences we all share within our respective communities. “I centre the theme of my content around the kind of day-to-day occurrences that permeate each of our lives. This is why I think my audiences resonate with what I produce,” she says. Lhakyila also partially credits the Nepali education system for fostering the kind of acceptance she has received through social media, even while producing videos where she speaks in Tibetan, her first language. Having classmates of different races and ethnicities in the same room is what she believes has allowed people to be more open and embracing of the content produced in a language foreign to their own.
Although, in her early years, she would often have one community arguing how they couldn’t understand the other’s language, and vice versa, Lhakyila has gradually learned how to hone her craft and find a middle ground. “I initially didn’t use subtitles back when Instagram only had the 15-second video option, but now, with the use of subtitles and an intermix of multiple languages in a single video, the content is generally well-received by those who follow me,” she adds.
In one Instagram video, wearing an oversized shirt, Lhakyila reenacts how she practices interactions “before guests arrive” at home; yet another skit where she inventively integrates Tibetan, English, and Nepali within forty seconds. “We have pretty much become side characters for her skits at this point,” says Sonam Dolkar, Lhakyila’s elder sister. “She often comes up with her ideas out of the blue when we are home, immediately records it and puts it on the internet.”
While Lhakyila credits that laudable viewership to relatability alone, one could argue that it takes more than simply “being relatable” to be able to produce content that the audience consistently comes back for. That instinctual charisma is something that doesn’t come naturally to people, as Tsephel Pelmo, a Bhutanese native, puts it. “I have been following her content for a really long time now, and the kind of effortless charm that she exudes has been so authentic and long-standing, it’s honestly self-evident why people, even here in Bhutan, are drawn towards her.” As the adage goes: ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, platforms like Tiktok and Instagram mandating that kind of brevity have enabled creators such as Lhakyila to flourish the way she has.
“It’s generally the spontaneous ideas that pop in my head that makes for good content,” Lhakyila says while discussing her creative process. The more we read, hear and watch, the better primed our brain will be to produce its own witty thoughts. With her eldest sister mostly behind the camera, Lhakyila has steadily learned to internalise this over the past eight years of being on the internet. And since wit is predominantly about spontaneous creativity, it becomes apparent that she has relied on that instinctual aptitude to take her this far. “As a content creator, when you start feeling pressured to pump out videos and begin forcing your humour, it immediately loses its punch, and then you end up disappointing your audience, but most importantly, you end up disappointing yourself,” she adds.
The advent of social media has definitely allowed content creators such as Lhakyila to share comedy skits and aspects of her life with her audience to get closer to them. Although that is a wonderful thing, it comes with its own mental and emotional baggage of constantly having to produce videos and always looking “perfect” in the eyes of viewers. “During my freshman year in college back in 2018, I found myself in sort of a deadlock because I had to juggle my college life, as well as cater to my audience. And because I was in a new country, the entire transition threw me off balance,” says Lhakyila, growing visibly solemn.
That pressure to stay relevant with one’s audience can get to anyone who’s been on the internet for a while, and it certainly doesn’t take long for it to start weighing on one’s overall well being. “I could feel my creativity slipping away during that period, and the emotional toll it had on me was palpable for a few months. Meanwhile, I didn’t want to force my content out of compulsion because I knew it would be vapid if I did. Instead of waiting for some breakthrough moment, I simply distanced myself for a few weeks from social media. What I needed was a break,” says Lhakyila.
What a “healthy” consumption of social media looks like is extremely subjective, and it becomes even more complex when a person with as substantial a social media presence as Lhakyila has to navigate the online world. “Whenever I contemplate utilising my platform in a way that’s healthy and enriching instead of draining for myself, I simplify the whole thing down to screen time. Once I limit my screen time on Instagram, I can simply focus on creation rather than consumption,” says Lhakyila. “I can then devote more energy towards sharpening my content instead of feeding into the negativity that often accompanies social media platforms.”
Lhakyila’s simple yet sophisticated, complex yet accessible humour is the hallmark of her personal brand online. And it is perhaps through this accessibility and familiarity that her viewers have consistently consumed her content, as though it were an instant serotonin boost. When one scrolls through her Instagram page now, it feels like a personal diary of sorts—a once perky teenager now stepping into the threshold of adulthood while keeping thousands entertained. For people who have followed her from the get-go, her videos have also turned into a timestamp for different stages in their own lives—another intricate aspect that has helped her maintain that relevance through the years.
“I’m not sure where all of this is headed, to be really honest,” she says, letting out a nervous laugh. “Till today, simply trusting my gut feeling with regards to my content, finding the absurdity in the mundane and not forcing things to pan out have been my ingredients. I guess this is what it’s going to be like for the time being.”