Indian-Canadian YouTube star Lilly Singh, aka Superwoman, has made history—she’s bagged her very own late-night show on NBC. With this, she becomes the first brown woman to achieve the feat on one of the four big US broadcast networks.
The actor-comedienne officially announced her new show, “Little Late with Lilly”, which premieres in September, on the sets of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” Thursday night. Another late-night talk show host Seth Meyers was also present and cheered on.
It would be “kind of like my YouTube channel,” Lilly Singh told Fallon; her nine-year-old channel ||Superwoman|| has more than 14 million subscribers, currently.
“Except it [the upcoming show] would have more than three staff members, and my sound guy won’t also be an extra and won’t also write the script,” she said.
A historic first
Singh, bisexual and 30, will be an executive producer and the host of the half-hour show in the 1:35 am slot on NBC, according to its statement.
It follows within a month of the Carson Daly announcement—he will be stepping away from his show “Last Call With Carson Daly”.
The famous YouTuber, who grew up in Toronto with her parents, will be taking over Daly’s slot on NBC; this is a huge deal, because it makes her one of the very few women hosts of a late-night talk show on a broadcast network, a coterie that includes Samantha Bee and Busy Philipps.
Singh’s fans and people of colour all over the world, who have made American late-night talk shows wildly popular and a unique television genre, have received this news with delight and pride.
Singh’s show will include in-studio interviews as well as taped skits and segments but she is sure to retain her niche personality from the YouTube days.
Where you know her from
Her videos on the channel, too, consist of skits and monologues, which invariably draw from her Indian heritage and experience growing up with the immigrant tag; she is extremely popular among the Indian diaspora for their witty jabs at gender relations, NRI mannerisms, Indian parenting, dating (especially intercultural dating), womanhood, and friendship.
She has collaborated with fellow YouTubers Liza Koshy and Casey Neistat in the past and recently with mainstream talent, such as John Cena, The Rock, and Terry Crews. In January 2017, Singh won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite YouTube Star.
Singh has also acted in movies, such as Bad Moms and Fahrenheit 451. Her book, “How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life,” was a New York Times bestseller.
“She is a multi-talented performer who will surely have a great rapport with not only her guests but also with our devoted late-night audience. We can’t wait to get started,” said Doug Vaughan, NBC Entertainment’s executive vice-president for special programs and late night, in the statement.
Why it matters
This is obviously a stupendous milestone in the history of American TV networks, especially for those who consume American television as pop culture gospel. So, let’s jot down the pros first.
First, the fact that Singh’s performing origins were on YouTube might help bring in more young viewers who are gravitating towards other forms of late night/comedy shows today.
The format itself has become hackneyed from being hosted by straight white men; in terms of content and structure, too, there is hardly much diversity. Singh, on the other hand, loves to evolve and experiment with form, as evidenced in her videos, besides being extremely resourceful.
More importantly, NBC will definitely score high race and gender points for this call. Viewers not used to seeing a brown woman in that role will open up to Singh as she declaims freely on all that concerns American life from her perspective as a racial and sexual minority, use her position to bring on a diverse set of guests, and give women of colour a place on television screens and, hopefully, in an egalitarian society.
“I’m so excited, because I truly get to create a show from scratch,” she said. “I get to make it inclusive. I get to create comedy segments and interview people and really create something that I believe in.”
But the threat of tokenism remains
Another comedian who rose from YouTube, Hasan Minhaj, has his own show on Netflix, where he uses his Muslim identity with complete abandon and unabashedness, in a mainstream, non-tokenising, non-self-orientalising manner. Although this isn’t a perfect example—Patriot Act is technically not a late-night talk show—it helps to illustrate the point.
If Lilly Singh is pressured into pandering to the existing audience and carry forward the legacy of her white male peers, this would be a step backward.
As for the quality, some sceptics have put forward their cause for worry. “Her channel is a mix of parody/satirical, collaboration, and inspirational videos. All positive. All great,” says a Buzzfeed article.
Others have pointed to her playing it safe in terms of content so far. So the first challenge this new role will throw her way is to take on more social issues, especially those that affect other people of colour.
For now, it is exciting to watch out for a host who can responsibly take on Trevor Noah and his ignorant and racist excuse of a joke in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.