Sitting on the plane from Montreal, Canada to Los Angeles, Zayd Elie thought to himself, “I’m gonna miss Canada.” He was 15. He sat there, scared and excited.
He had no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up. An astronaut, maybe.
He attended Marina High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., where he played soccer and hockey. He made a friend with 600,000 TikTok followers. “Every day after school we would hang out and make TikToks together… one of my videos got like, a million views. And I thought that was like, the best thing in the world,” he said.
In high school, Elie was the typical class clown. He got sent to the principal’s office for using paper airplanes to communicate with his friends. One of them asked him why he was doing comedy for free.
“So I thought about it. I was like ‘Yo, you’re right.’ So then I was like, how can I turn this into money?” he said. “My thing was making jokes and making people laugh. So I just started making videos around that instead of just doing it for free.”
“I didn’t have have any goals about social media… I didn’t know that was a thing… I wanted to make [videos] without knowing that you could make money off of it, making money was not my goal.”
At 17, Elie hit 200,000 followers. Then his family moved from California to Florida. “I [went from having] all those people and all those resources to having nothing. So it’s like a roller coaster,” he said.
“So I was like, what can I do? I’m not gonna let this stop me… so I made prank videos inside my house with my sister.”
“I knew I had to be back in L.A…. when I moved from California to Florida… everyone kind of hated me. My teacher hated that I made videos. They’re all like, what are you doing to do with this? What are you going to do when social media goes away? What are you going to do? Like, all the things.”
“I always kept questioning myself because my teachers were hating on me. But my parents also they weren’t as — they weren’t hating — but they weren’t as — what’s it called — supporting. Because they don’t understand social media.”
One day, Elie was sitting on an overturned Amazon box at his ‘desk’ — a dresser — when he received an email from a brand offering him $70 to advertise on his feed. “I emailed them back. And that’s when I realized, wait, so people can actually make money off of this… I went from being a comedian for free in class to making videos to being a comedian online to making money for being a comedian online.
“So I was like, yo, this is $70, I’m rich. I can finally update my desk seat. Buy a chair.”
He graduated high school on June 2nd. On June 14th, he flew to Los Angeles. Sitting on the plane, Elie started getting excited. “Now I’m going full on social media. Full on career mode. No distraction. Because I was so excited that I finally, like, left everyone that was telling me I couldn’t do it,” he remembered. “That was the best plane ride of my life.”
His parents insisted he pay them rent to prove he could make money through social media before they let him leave. “I was scared. But I didn’t pay attention to the fear because every other emotion was so much bigger than that,” he said.
Before getting on the flight, Elie messaged his social media friends. VidCon, a conference for video creators, was also happening around that time. When he got to L.A., he didn’t waste time — he had already set up meetings with friends and creators.
He lived the life of a nomad for months. “Sometimes I would get an AirBnB, sometimes I would go to my friend’s couches.” He made skit videos and collaborated with other creators in their YouTube videos. At the same time, he was texting casting directors and looking for managers. His dream role is to play a super villain or superhero in a Marvel movie.
But one day while getting In ‘N Out Burger in L.A., a girl sitting in a car with her mom spotted him. She rolled down the window. “Are you Zayd Elie?” she asked, then jumped out of the car. “She hugged me first, like, right away, hugs me. And I was shocked.” Elie said.
“It’s so weird that she was so happy just by seeing me. I didn’t even give her a present or anything,” he said.
He set goals for himself. “When I write my goals down, I always write my first name first. ‘I, Zayd Elie, will be more successful than anyone I know.’ Another goal was the normal, I, Zayd Elie, will hit one million followers by this date. I always put the date down too, so I have a time. So it kind of puts more pressure on you, when I put the date down.”
Elie is now planning a daily vlog on YouTube. He bought a camera and a tripod and has started working with an editor in the U.K. whose sleep schedule aligns with his content creation schedule thanks to an eight-hour time difference. He wants to get into acting, starring in a Netflix movie or series within two years, but also wants to continue creating businesses.
The hardest thing he’s done is let a truck drive over him for a TikTok. One night he was out at famed Florida grocery store, Publix, at midnight. He saw a lifted truck with lights and enormous wheels. “I’ll run you over with the truck,” the owner said. “But only if I can put the smoke.” “I was like, that’s even better for the video.” They went to the side of the gas station, started filming, and the truck ran over him. He kept his eyes open the whole time to make sure the truck wouldn’t hit him.
@zaydelieI can’t believe I did this 😂 FULL 2 MINUTE VIDEO ON MY INSTAGRAM: @zaydelie♬ original sound – Zayd Elie
With more than 6 million followers, one of Elie’s video ideas is to go back to his Florida high school to confront his teachers. His idea? “Probably [pay] off their debt if they have debt or something like that. Paying their rent… surprise my high school bully teacher with a new car. It’s like killing your haters with kindness,” he said.
Not that he wouldn’t rub it in a little. “Remember three years ago when you were talking smack? Now look where I’m at.”
Elie’s parents didn’t fully understand his TikTok fame until two kids approached him at an Olive Garden while the family was eating dinner. They asked him for a photo. His parents were shocked.
The lowest battery percentage he’ll let his phone reach is 80 percent. “If you’re a social media creator, your phone should not be dead. You can’t let your phone die. [That’s] the same reason I won’t eat food until I’m done filming, because I can’t reward myself if I didn’t do any work.” In his free time, he plays ping pong with his family. His favorite musical artist is The Chainsmokers, and his favorite TV show is You.