Lilly Singh breaks the mould with new late night show

“A Little Late with Lilly Singh” offers diversity, energy, and a fresh perspective 

Photo courtesy lilly on Instagram

By Annemarie Cutruzzola

If Lilly Singh were to host a late-night show, what colour suit do you think she’d wear? If you said grey, navy, or brown, you’re probably new here — Singh is a fan of all things colourful. If you’re still wondering, she settled on a bright red ensemble for her show’s premiere — a bold outfit that reflects the spirit of the show.

You likely know Singh from her YouTube channel, where she built an audience of close to 15-million making relatable comedy sketches. Now she’s here to “throw some melanin up in your late night” as the first bisexual woman of colour to host a late night talk show. “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” premiered on September 16 and replaces Carson Daly’s slot on NBC. 

The episode on Monday, September 23 began with a six minute monologue about dating apps, with Singh effortlessly navigating between personal anecdotes and broad observations. After a satirical workout video sketch with witty commentary about the gender pay gap, Singh interviewed her first guest of the week, American actress Jessica Alba, before the pair were treated to some mini makeovers. 

Video courtesy A Little Late With Lilly Singh via YouTube

Singh exudes energy for the entire 25 minutes. After her opening monologue she high-fived audience members in the front row before running back behind her desk. This energy is reflected in the set of her show. It’s vibrant and colourful, a stark contrast from the brown desks and black suits you’d see on most late night shows. And perhaps it’s a coincidence, but the pink, blue and purple lights in the background seem to mimic the bisexual pride flag. 

Singh’s instincts from YouTube carry over to her show. She still has the authenticity and homegrown vibe of a YouTuber but she also has the confidence of a traditional celebrity. The result is an interesting mix of self-deprecating and self-assured humour. Her quick wit combined with audience interaction and occasional cheeky glances off to the camera during interviews make the viewer feel connected and in on the jokes. At some points it feels like you could be watching one of Singh’s YouTube videos. 

Checking boxes and breaking barriers

In an interview on her show’s premiere day, Singh told Seth Meyers that she wants to be known as a storyteller. But she’s making history, and history makes headlines. Singh is the first queer woman of colour to host a late night talk show, and much of the media hype has been focused on this fact. 

In her first opening monologue, Singh acknowledged this, joking that these descriptors are used so often she should change the name of her show to “A Little Late with a Bisexual Woman of Colour.” But hey, it’s 2019, and it’s been long enough. Not seeing yourself represented on screen can be isolating, and constantly hearing stories told from the same perspective can be exhausting. Singh fully owning these parts of her identity allows people who share these identifiers to see themselves reflected, which can be a significant and powerful experience. 

Steps towards diversity and representation in the media are finally being taken. But it’s not just what we see on screen. Singh is also advocating for diversity behind-the-scenes in Hollywood. She proudly describes the writer’s room for her show as a “mini United Nations”, as it consists of over 50 per cent women and over 50 per cent people of colour. 

Having people with different perspectives and backgrounds involved in the production of the show adds another crucial layer of diversity. Even the animated intros to the games she plays with her guests feature players with different skin tones. It’s the small details added by a diverse staff and Singh’s offhand comments about her experiences that make people feel represented. 

Tackling tough topics

It’s safe to say that Singh is a very proud Canadian. The CN Tower looms in the background of the “A Little Late” set while a loonie is embedded in the desk she sits behind. She’s a huge Raptors fan and she even named her dog “Scarbro” as a tribute to the Toronto neighbourhood she grew up in. 

But in light of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent brownface controversy, his pre-recorded segment was swiftly cut from Singh’s primetime special which aired just hours after the scandal first broke. The cancellation sent a clear message. She isn’t afraid to make tough choices. And she won’t tolerate intolerance. 

While talking politics or recapping the day’s news headlines may not be her style, Singh has already used “A Little Late” to speak about issues she’s passionate about in her own way. A rap song she made for the show’s premiere features her opinion on paid maternity and paternity leaves, public breastfeeding, and abortion rights all in 10 seconds flat. She clearly isn’t afraid to start conversations that may be considered uncomfortable or address controversial issues.

Video courtesy A Little Late With Lilly Singh via YouTube

Mixed reactions from viewers online

So how are viewers reacting to “A Little Late” so far? A quick perusal of Twitter, Imdb, or even the comments on the show’s YouTube channel reveals that the public’s reaction has been quite polarized. On Imdb in particular, many reviews of her show are either one star or ten stars. 

Among the one-star reviews there seems to be a common thread of criticism — that Singh makes jokes and references about her race, gender and sexuality too often.

Yes, segments like “The Wage Gap Workout” speak specifically about issues relating to her identity. But she’s also used her monologues to talk about personal experiences that are universally relatable, like using dating apps or getting high for the first time. Singh shines in these monologues, which bear the most resemblance to her YouTube videos (but with a bit of added maturity). She’s in her element when she can talk to the camera and just tell a funny story. 

Gif courtesy A Little Late with Lilly Singh via GIPHY

Like she says in her rap song, “A Little Late” is meant for everyone. Or at least those with enough of an open mind to watch an authentic, engaging, funny storyteller who also happens to be a brown, bisexual female. 

In a recent Instagram post, Singh said: “Beyond being from the internet, being a woman of colour, being bisexual, being Canadian... I’m a storyteller.” That part of her identity is just as important as the others. 

Singh is not simply late night’s diversity hire. She’s unapologetic, outspoken, and challenges the norms. “A Little Late” is just the beginning — Singh is ready to take on the world in whatever colour suit she pleases.