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In the web series "Keep the Meter Running," host Kareem Rahma urges New York City taxi drivers to take him to their favorite hangouts, a request that usually results in sharing a meal anywhere from Buffalo Wild Wings to a Haitian restaurant. And when the two new BFFs aren't breaking bread, they may wind up kicking a soccer ball around Pier 40 at Hudson River Park or dancing to Tibetan tunes in the middle of Manhattan.

The excursions are both a showcase of NYC's diverse landscape and a chance to humanize often overlooked immigrants. They've also turned its creator into a TikTok sensation, with some episodes attracting more than 4 million views. Last December, Vanity Fair heralded "Meter" as one of TikTok's best new series.

Rahma, who grew up in Mendota Heights, is the latest comedian to bypass the usual path to stardom — years on the road, telling jokes to drunken customers at third-rate clubs — and shift to the web as a fast lane to stardom.

"I'm not going to lie. I like being home before it's dark out," Rahma said in a Zoom interview last month from his Brooklyn apartment. "With videos, I can do them when I feel like it and reach literally millions of people."

Kareem Rahma, who grew up in Mendota Heights, lives in New York City.
Kareem Rahma, who grew up in Mendota Heights, lives in New York City.

Karina Muslimova

Rahma's success isn't limited to his cab series.

The music video for his song, "Really Rich Parents," a putdown of nepo babies, has drawn more than 2 million hits on YouTube. "Out of Order," in which he plays a patsy desperately searching for a bathroom, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. "Museum of Pizza," a pop-up exhibition that he curated in Brooklyn, welcomed more than 25,000 visitors during its six-week run.

He has also launched a podcast company, SomeFriends. Its shows include "First," in which Rahma and special guests like Ramy Youssef and Hari Kondabolu discuss the contributions of trailblazers who broke down racial barriers.

"At the end of the day, I think what people are really eager for is authenticity, and Kareem is a real person," said H. Andrew Kuo, Rhama's business partner at SomeFriends. "He's at his best when he's telling stories that are coming from a really personal place."

One of the common threads in most of Rahma's works is the quest to give voice to people of color. His pizza show may have been cheesy but it was also a showcase for artists like Chinese-American Shawna X and Montserrat native Gazoo to the Moon.

"We're both kids who grew up in the '80s, watching a lot of American television, where we didn't see a lot of people that looked like us," said Kuo, who hails from Michigan. "The mission of our company is to capture the whole pie."

Rahma was born in Egypt, but his family moved to Mendota Heights when he was 3.

It didn't take him long to show off interest in both technology and cracking people up. His mom, Amal Ahmed, remembers how he tried to persuade his parents to buy him a Nintendo system when he was 6 or 7. His sales campaign consisted of leaving notes in every room in the house. It worked.

"He was always doing goofy stuff to make us laugh," said Ahmed, who still lives in the Twin Cities.

Kareem Rahma samples a noodle soup at Joe’s Ginger in New York City’s Chinatown.
Kareem Rahma samples a noodle soup at Joe’s Ginger in New York City’s Chinatown.

Karina Muslimova

But even though the teenage Rahma was a cut-up at school (his classmates voted him Most Likely to End Up on "The Real World") and played pranks on customers while working the drive-thru window at McDonald's, he never considered comedy as a career.

Instead, he embarked on a career in media. After attending University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas, he wound up in New York, where he served as Vice's director of global marketing and was later hired by the New York Times to be its growth editor, a job geared toward guiding the Gray Lady into new forms of communications.

But despite the success, Rahma felt unfulfilled. About four years ago, he had a revelation.

"I started to ask myself, 'What do I really want to do for the next 30 years? And the answer wasn't being the CEO of a company," said Rahma, who is now 36. "For a long time, I didn't want to do comedy because I didn't feel like it was something smart people did. But through conversations with my therapist, I realized comics were some of the smartest people on Earth."

Once he decided to switch gears, he went full throttle, enrolling in almost every class the Upright Citizens Brigade had to offer, taking stand-up classes and shooting sketches. He started doing stand-up and still hosts a monthly showcase in Brooklyn.

But during the pandemic, his focus shifted to the web.

"I'm aware I'm a late starter," he said. "How do I catch up as quickly as possible? The internet was the place to do it."

Rahma's experience in marketing and multimedia has been instrumental. So has his passion for civil rights.

In the summer of 2020, he found himself back in the Twin Cities, helping out his brother who had been injured in a car accident. Less than a week after arriving, George Floyd was murdered.

In addition to participating in numerous protests, Rahma developed "The Revolution Will Be Televised," a video piece about police violence that was screened on the side of the Mill City Museum over several nights.

"Despite having lived in New York for the past 10 years, Kareem still cares about the community he came from and our broader world," said Ahmed El Shourbagy, a longtime friend and co-founder of Lucy & Co., a Twin Cities-based company specializing in luxury dog goods. "He saw an opportunity to leverage his platform to tell the story of what is happening in Minneapolis and how it made people feel."

Rahma's eclectic list of projects may sound random but he insists it's all strategic. You'll have to stay tuned to find out where he's heading.

"It may seem like I'm an insane person but in reality, I have a plan," he said. "I'm not just spraying and praying."