It takes guts to compete in the battle royale that is YouTube content creation, and Lilly Singh—formerly known to her roughly 15 million subscribers as IISuperwomanII—is not just a survivor, but one of the platform’s undisputed champions. A viral sensation many times over, the 30-year-old, Toronto-born comedian uses her uncanny knack for spotting the absurdities of millennial life to write, produce, and star in snackable videos that range from helpful (“How to Instagram During Your Period”) to hilarious (“If Rappers Were School Teachers”), and which often feature A-list cameos from the likes of Selena Gomez and The Rock.
Over the past few years, Singh has spun that success into a live tour documentary (2016’s A Trip to Unicorn Island) and a self-help book (2017’s How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life). This fall, she’ll go where no YouTube star—or woman of color—has gone before when she takes over Carson Daly’s late-night slot as the host of NBC’s A Little Late with Lilly Singh. In anticipation of the premiere, Singh set aside her TV takeover for a quick vote of confidence from fellow talk show host Trevor Noah—not that she needs one.
TREVOR NOAH: Canada has the biggest rapper, the biggest pop star, the NBA championship. And now there’s you. Are we in the midst of a Canadian invasion?
LILLY SINGH: I only have this late-night show because I’m Canadian. We are politely taking over.
NOAH: In many ways, that feels like what you’ve done with this show—a polite takeover. Normally, when a late-night host leaves the job or gets replaced, there’s a feeling of somebody losing the job. But with your takeover, people were genuinely excited to see what was going to happen. What do you think gave people that feeling?
SINGH: First of all, Carson Daly was so gracious, especially on social media. I’ve never even met him, so it was very special to see his support. I think times are changing and people are excited to see a different point of view.
NOAH: You are basically a superstar of the future, but by hosting a TV show, it seems like you’re doing something in the past. When I look at YouTube stars, I think to myself, “Wow, you guys literally created your own audiences, your own channels, your own everything.” It’s always interesting when a YouTube person moves to television. Is that ever weird for you, or do you just see content floating across different platforms?
SINGH: It is a little weird, I won’t lie. I feel like my legs are on different rungs of different ladders. One night I’ll have Hollywood Boulevard shut down for the premiere of my documentary, and the very next day I’ll go to an audition and the casting director will be like, “Who are you?” I always feel like my life is divided in half like that. But I’m a big believer that storytelling is important, and that different stories belong on different platforms. We should stop making the division between digital and traditional, because it’s all just storytelling. When people tweet me, they sometimes say things like, “My idols are Justin Bieber, Madonna, and Lilly Singh.”
NOAH: Many people might be on TV, but very few people have the experience of creating a show four or five times a week. It comes with two overwhelming emotions: an insane level of optimism and joy, and a feeling of complete and utter terror. What is the thing that you are most excited for?
SINGH: I’m excited to build a writers’ room, to be able to riff and come up with creative concepts. The smartest person makes sure that they’re the dumbest person in the room. So far in my career, in terms of writing, I’ve been the only person in the room. One thing I’m absolutely terrified about is that since I’ve announced the show, a lot of brown people have come up to me and said, “Yo, two billion of us are counting on you.”
NOAH: As a television host getting into the game in America, there were a few rules I had to abide by, because they had been defined. One of them was that I had to wear a suit. Because you’re going to be the first female late-night host on network television, there are no rules—technically—about what you should wear and how you look. Do you have a look that you’re going for?
SINGH: The first thing I told my team when my show was announced was, “I am never wearing heels on my show.” It was the first sentence I said. I actually got this show so that I don’t have to wear heels, because thus far, on every show I’ve done, I’ve worn heels. The best version of me is when I’m comfortable and happy. I believe that for my guests, too. I want to create an environment where people can come wearing sneakers. I’ll do the suits sometimes, but sometimes I might do something funky, like an Indian designer. I want to show off all the things that I like.
NOAH: What do you plan to do with regard to your online presence? What about the YouTube fan out there who’s worried about losing you?
SINGH: They will not lose me. Since 2010, I have been creating two pieces of scripted comedy a week, which is a lot. That’s in addition to my daily blog. I’ve changed my schedule this year so that it’s not so rigid. I will still upload, but it won’t be so rigorous. It won’t be forced by a schedule. It’ll be when I’m sparked by an idea. I also plan to capture the creation of my show, and my online community will be with me as I build it. By no means will they be abandoned. I love them way too much.
NOAH: Do you have any dream guests?
SINGH: My dream guest is Beyoncé, and not just because she’s Beyoncé. It’s because I want to have people on my show who don’t really do things like this. I mean, Beyoncé has done a few talk shows before, but Beyoncé doesn’t really have to do anything.
NOAH: What’s your average day like right now? And what happens next month and the month after that?
SINGH: Right now feels like the calm before the storm. Everyone thinks I’m not sleeping and I’m pulling my hair out, but not yet. We’re in the process of hiring, so I’m meeting all the writers. I’m meeting every single person we’re hiring, because for me it’s not just about talent and skills, it’s about vibes. I’m going to be with these people every single day. We’re looking at set designs currently, so a lot of the pieces are still being put in place. In September, we’re going to be fully in it. But if I’m honest, when I look at the show schedule, it doesn’t stress me out that much. If anything, it feels like a vacation.
NOAH: Maybe you just have those Indian genes of working too much all the time.
SINGH: Yeah, it’s those immigrant genes. I also think I’m just really excited.
Hair: Rachel Lee using Mr. Smith at Atelier Management
Makeup: Karo Kangas using Gucci Beauty and Kryolan at Lowe and Co
Photography Assistants: Patrick Molina and Maria Noble
Fashion Assistant: Deniz Gumustas
Manicure: Nettie Davis at The Wall Group
Special Thanks: EDGE Studios & Grip