The reputation Lilly Singh has built for herself is as someone shattering all conventions of the media industry — as a performer of color that broke an internet that was primarily white. Singh was introduced to the late night talk show world with the pressure to uphold the renown that she worked towards for almost nine years as a YouTuber.
As Singh is a Canadian citizen of Indian origin, this came with the added pressure of being a voice for Indians in general and Indian women in particular, as the first bisexual person of color talk-show host on NBC, one of the largest broadcast networks in the world. “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” held extremely high stakes from its onset. Unfortunately, since its beginning, the show has received ambiguous responses, primarily tilting toward the negative end of the reception spectrum.
As per late night talk show convention, Singh’s episodes begin with a monologue followed by interviews with various celebrities. The content of her monologues, however, center around trying to be relatable rather than making powerful comments on the ideas she discusses. She focuses on her own experiences and attempts to universalize them, overlooking the fact that events she recounts are often specific to people of Indian origin.
The outcome is much like a lot of her content on her YouTube channel — stories and characters specific to India and its people that are caricatured and exaggerated. As a female Indian voice, she has some responsibility of bringing a sense of awareness to her audiences about the Indian community. But instead, her monologues seem to work to put forward a particular kind of story about India — rather than one that holds multiple perspectives.
The transition from the medium of short-form YouTube videos to one as large as that of late-night television could not have been easy for Singh. She started her career by herself in her room, in front of nothing but a camera, and was suddenly left to face a massive live audience every night during her monologues as a stand-up comedian. Her YouTube channel catered to a smaller, more targeted audience of young people who could pull out their phones at any time of day or night, in any location; the audience she now has to address consists of viewers across ages, including those who may actually view the show when it airs on television in the middle of the night.
Singh is no longer given the kind of leeway she had as a YouTuber — the space she now occupies is less constricted and more intimidating. Her monologues appear to follow the same format as much of her content on her YouTube channel, however. Despite her explicit aim of straying away from political conversation, her jokes — although rooted in her personal experiences as intended — very often do not deliver an impactful punch line. She has used various media platforms to put forward her views on sexism, racism and hate in society, but making her monologues a loudspeaker for her to spread positivity. Generating “snaps” prevents Singh from doing what she does best: comedy. She constantly reiterates that she is a queer Indian female in an industry chiefly controlled by straight white men — although exceptionally significant, something that becomes the central point of her monologues more often than not. It gives less room for her monologues to touch on unique subjects from the distinct perspective of a queer Indian female.
Singh’s conversations with her audience during the course of her show are surprisingly self-deprecating, like her “Dating App Story” monologue, that included awkward jokes about how unsuccessful her experience with various dating apps has been. Many of her jokes also paint a portrait of an Indian community that is intensely conservative — a community portrayed as wholly opposed to feminism and LGBTQ+ people, for instance.
These examples shadow her portrayal of her parents in her YouTube videos — imitations that, although very funny in some cases, often satirize Indians, giving them exaggerated accents and unintelligent responses and reactions. Lilly Singh is witty and hilarious, but does not need to parody the Indian community or create a concentrated image of it to make sure her audience is listening.
The success that Lilly Singh has had is immensely respectable and incredibly inspiring in so many ways, and her hustle, her journey and the path she paved entirely by herself is always going to be a phenomenal tale to tell. She is exceptional in more ways than one and Indian girls across the globe have a chance to feel inspired when they see a girl that looks like them host a talk-show.
But there is plenty of room for Singh to target her monologues toward a broader audience — especially now that she has secured a platform to do so. She has the opportunity to focus on being funny, rather than trying to force relatability and generalization on the stories she discusses. She has set a precedent for Indian girls everywhere looking to be heard in the American media industry, and it definitely isn’t “a little late” to set the bar higher for us.
Anoushka Agrawal covers culture and diversity. Contact her at [email protected].