Congratulations to late night host Lilly Singh on her first week hosting her new NBC talk show A Little Late with Lilly Singh. I have watched her show and I have analyzed her abilities as a talk show host. Now I would like to share my thoughts.
First a little context so you may appreciate how momentous it is that Singh managed to get this gig in the first place. Let me explain why I love late night comedy so much.
I have said before that I love comedians because they are oftentimes the most fearless and honest people in show business and that makes them well-suited for delivering the news. Even if it is a parody of the news.
Talk show hosts, who frequently have comedic backgrounds and have been a staple of late night television since Steve Allen first hosted The Tonight Show in 1954, often joke about news, pop culture and everyday life. But rather than solely make fun of those things, the best talk show hosts can often make sense of them.
In the 20th century, everyone wanted to know what Johnny Carson was going to say about the president. In the 21st century, it was Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, who young people looked to for the humorous and honest take on modern politics. Comedians often conduct the best interviews too. Interviewees who laugh tend to be more relaxed and as a result the interviews are better. Dick Cavett was a stand-up comedian who wrote for Johnny Carson on Tonight and he conducted my favorite interviews of any talk show in existence.
These guys are more than just hosts and comedians to me. I watch their shows religiously. I worship people like David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Bill Maher who often point out the ridiculous aspects of our lives and help us make sense of them through humor, which is often more accessible than a lecture or a TED Talk could be.
We all tell jokes and we all laugh. It’s how we communicate with each other. We are more receptive to new ideas if we are having fun as we are learning about them. And more personally, for someone who gets as angry about politics as I do, seeing people find the humor in these situations is like therapy for me. Which is why every night I tend to gravitate more towards The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and less towards The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Each talk show host is different. Some are more funny than others. Some are more political than others. And each one has their own strengths and weaknesses based on their personalities. But each of them have a specific target audience and all have the same goal: providing some much-needed laughs at the end of the day. This is why comedians tend to make ideal talk show hosts.
Jay Leno, David Letterman, Arsenio Hall, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Maher all started out as stand-up comedians. Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers were all improvisers who wrote and performed for Saturday Night Live. Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee and Hasan Minhaj are all Daily Show alums. Jimmy Kimmel got his start in radio. James Corden got his start in the theater. For a long time having professional stage experience was essential to hosting a talk show. But the entertainment landscape has changed since the talk show formula first got established in the fifties. There’s no greater proof of that than the rise of Lilly Singh.
I have to admit that I had no idea who Lilly Singh was when I first heard she was going to take over the 1:30am slot from Carson Daly, but I have learned that she is a fairly well-known YouTube star known as “Superwoman” who got her start posting videos around 2014. She’s actually one of the highest-paid YouTube stars. Her videos are mostly humor-based but she is not exactly a comedian. Nor is she an actor or a singer. She once described herself as a storyteller, which is an accurate description.
An Indian-Canadian tomboy who struggled with depression, she posted YouTube videos to make herself feel better and her love of the spotlight prompted her to move to L.A. to further her career.
She put a spotlight on her career with the 2016 YouTube documentary A Trip to Unicorn Island (unicorns are kind of her thing) and she wrote a 2017 New York Times best-seller called How to be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life. She’s actually so popular that she has collaborated with a lot of celebrities on YouTube, including Dwayne Johnson, Selena Gomez and Priyanka Chopra.
The announcement that Lilly Singh would host her own talk show on NBC was not exactly surprising given her fame. But what WAS surprising was that her talk show would come on late night, which was predominantly populated by middle-aged white men. Singh is the first woman to host a daily talk show in late night since Cynthia Garrett, host of Later (the predecessor to Last Call with Carson Daly) from 2000 to 2001. Singh also makes history as the first late night talk show host to be openly bisexual.
So what do I think of Lilly Singh now that her first week as a talk show host is behind us?
I have watched each episode. I have gotten to know her and see her comedic style and I am now a huge fan of hers! Something she has been doing a lot this week is show pre-filmed comedy sketches, such as a short movie which shows that the origin of the show came from a game of Truth or Dare in which one of her friends dared her to host her own talk show (solidly funny bit). These are the most YouTube-like aspects of the show and it is clearly her strength and she knows it, so I have high hopes that these will be frequent throughout the show’s run.
So far she has interviewed Mindy Kaling, Kenan Thompson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Chelsea Handler. She knows how to have fun with people but sometimes you can tell she is still getting used to the talk show format when she has to work within the confines of the new half-hour commercial-based structure of television and she is visibly star-struck by some of her guests. But these are understandable for a rookie talk show host in his or her first week. Luckily her personality is charming enough that I liked her anyway. It is very similar to the reason why Jimmy Fallon is so likable despite his tendency to seem too unprofessional. As a matter of fact, Singh could prove herself to be a worthy successor for The Tonight Show should Jimmy Fallon ever retire.
My verdict is that A Little Late with Lilly Singh is an overall excellently crafted talk show and I will be tuning in regularly to watch.
Before I end this article, I have to take one last moment to discuss how surreal it is to watch this show and how amazing I think it is that a millennial woman of color is hosting a late night talk show on one of the most popular networks on television after decades of non-stop white men. It is a similar sensation to seeing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on CSPAN, a woman who is close enough to my age range that we could have went to high school together. Lilly Singh, who is one year older than me, is similar to the kind of girls I grew up with in Oakland as a kid and who I am still friends with today. Seeing this generation of women lead the way in entertainment was something that seemed so out of reach when I was a kid, but now it’s possible because platforms like YouTube are proving that millennials want to be able to relate to the people they watch. NBC is listening. Here’s hoping Singh will be a turning point in late night.