Lilly Singh’s Move from YouTube to TV Represents an Empowering Shift in Media
NBC recently announced that Carson Daly’s long-running late-night talk show would be coming to an end, and that, in its place, a new show starring YouTube sensation Lilly Singh would debut. It’s an historic move, as Singh is set to become the only woman — and the only queer woman of color at that — to host a late-night program on one of the “Big Three” networks.
And it’s significant in other ways, too: Singh’s transition from YouTube to TV demonstrates not just that content made by women is, and has been, thriving where these creators have the space to be seen and heard, but also that their work has forced an important shift in established media.
Though she’s relatively new to more traditional Hollywood circles, Singh is already an internet phenomenon with an established and loyal fanbase. Her “Superwoman” YouTube channel, which features zany comedic takes on everyday observations and, frequently, life with her Punjabi parents, is currently 14-million-plus subscribers strong. The hope, of course, is that those subscribers follow her to NBC, where the self-made star plans to deliver similar content on a bigger stage.
“I get to make it inclusive,” she told fellow NBC host Jimmy Fallon of her vision for the show. “I get to create comedy segments and interview people, and really create something that I believe in.”
Of course, Singh isn’t the first woman who’s turned her online fame into TV gold. In 2014, Comedy Central premiered Broad City, a groundbreaking slapstick stoner comedy created by and starring real-life besties Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. The pair initially produced the show as an independent web series from 2009 until 2011, when Amy Poehler pushed to get it picked up for TV. While Poehler’s clout certainly didn’t hurt their cause, Glazer and Jacobson went on to become stars in their own right, delivering five critically acclaimed and beloved seasons. Broad City aired its series finale just last month, and both Glazer and Jacobson already have additional movie and TV projects in the works.
Issa Rae is another creative voice who took her talents to YouTube before getting scooped up by a major player on TV. Her web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl achieved viral, word-of-mouth success after its launch in 2011, leading HBO to hire the singular comedic talent to produce her now-hit show Insecure. Not long after, HBO also announced that it was developing Fatimah Asghar and Samantha Bailey’s hit web series Brown Girls, which follows the friendship between Leila, a queer Muslim woman, and Patricia, a young Black woman.
There are other examples, too — and not just in television. Viral YouTuber Awkwafina had a blockbuster year in 2018, with breakout roles in both Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8. She’s now working on her own Comedy Central show, which received an initial 10-episode order last fall.
It could be said that YouTube’s low barrier to entry, unique production and consumption, and vast accessibility make it the perfect place for the niche, absurd, and slapstick comedy stylings mentioned above to thrive. But it also seems likely that diverse audiences were always there, always underserved, and hungry to see similarly diverse storytellers on more traditional broadcast outlets, too. It’s just that, previously, no one bothered to give voices like theirs a bigger platform.
The system isn’t foolproof, obviously: In 2014, E! tried to convert comedian Grace Helbig’s millions of YouTube fans into TV viewers when they gave her a late-night talk show, but the numbers didn’t follow and the show lasted only one season. There are enough success stories, though, to prove that there’s an audience for women like Singh in more traditional media. We just have to give them a stage.
(Photo via Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for UNICEF USA)