- A viral TikTok showed a user trying to return a wallet and ID to someone named “Gary Lee.”
- “Gary Lee” impostors flooded the TikTok’s comments and asked for the wallet and ID.
- The real Gary Lee told Insider that they’re a 33-year-old from Brooklyn who works in sales.
On Thursday, a man named Gary Lee lost his wallet and driver’s license at Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York.
By extreme luck, it was discovered by a TikTok creator whose video searching for Lee amassed 25 million views and 4 million likes in just three days.
The TikTok quickly went mega-viral and sparked a meme craze where hundreds of people changed their TikTok account names to some version of the name “Gary Lee” and used his driver’s license photo as a profile picture.
Search interest for the phrase “Gary Lee” has spiked in recent days with “who is Gary Lee” as one of the top related search queries, according to Google Trends.
The real Gary Lee, who sent Insider a photo showing him holding his now-famous New York driver’s license, said he’s a 33-year-old from Brooklyn who works in sales.
“It spread so fast,” Lee told Insider in a text message. “Every other comment was a fake account … I found it funny that all these people pretended to be me.”
A viral TikTok birthed the Gary Lee meme
The clip that kickstarted the viral fad featured its 22-year-old creator, @senasoup, holding Lee’s New York state driver’s license while covering most of the information with her fingers except for a picture of Lee’s face.
“Gary Lee please DM me, I found your wallet,” a
voice said in the clip, posted Thursday.
“A whole bunch of us were at the beach and my friend Jimmy found the wallet on the boardwalk and told me about it,” @senasoup, who said she preferred to keep her full name unknown, told Insider. “He wanted to make sure Gary got his wallet back and as soon as I heard that I said let’s make a TikTok.”
The TikTok video’s comments are still flooded with a barrage of Lee impostors. In addition to viewers feigning to be Lee himself, there are people absurdly pretending to be everything from Lee’s grandpa and twin brother to his child and pet bird.
@senasoup said some people are even adding “facial hair, pigtails, and dog ears” to the original picture, creating a multitude of fictional Garies that all seemingly abandoned their belongings on the beach.
“Woof I’m his dog I’ll give it to him woof,” the user @garry.lees.dog wrote, earning 30,000 likes.
One user pretended to be Lee’s “assistant” and alleged they would return the items to him.
The creator met up with the real Gary Lee in Manhattan
When the video had around 30,000 views, @senasoup said, a friend of Lee’s messaged her and said that Lee was “his boy.” The real Lee made a TikTok account — @therealgarylee5 — and coordinated with @senasoup to meet up in Manhattan’s East Village to get his possessions back, the creator said.
@senasoup said the person purporting to be Lee knew exactly what was in the wallet and could identify the correct address listed on the ID, so “it was obvious” he was the authentic Gary Lee.
The TikTok creator posted a follow-up video on Saturday returning the ID and wallet to Lee.
“Yo thank you man, I appreciate it,” Lee said in the video, fist-bumping the person behind the camera.
The comment section of @senasoup’s follow-up TikTok is inundated with Lee fraudsters falsely claiming that @senasoup gave the wallet to the wrong “Gary Lee.”
“Noo [sic] that was my evil twin Bary Lee,” one user wrote. “That guy is a menace to our family.”
Another user falsely posing as Lee said that the person recorded in the video must be “a variant” of him and jokingly asked, “What in the multiverse is going on,” referencing themes from “Loki” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Lee told Insider he thought the whole situation was funny and he was grateful to retrieve the wallet with all of its contents.
“My friend actually put me on notice and I couldn’t believe it,” Lee recalled of finding out about @senasoup’s TikTok. “It was my wallet! On TikTok!”
Read more stories from Insider’s Digital Culture desk.