This week marked the debut for A Little Late with Lilly Singh, the former YouTuber, replacing Last Call with Carson Daly, which occupied the slot since 2002. Lilly’s show is fresh and original. She upholds some of the popular late night traditions, like the monologue, but she puts a specific Lilly spin on them, turning them into moments or sketches. She even changed the way the show was filmed, opting to shoot episodes over three months instead of the usual daily production schedule of other Late Night shows.
In this first week, a lot of the press, promotion, and even content of the show revolved around diversity. Lilly is different from what you normally see. A different age. A different gender. A different colour. A different sexuality. She even jokes that she’s heard the term “bisexual woman of colour” so many times that they should just rebrand the show with that name.
There’s a reason this is the focus. Diversity on screen is still not where it needs to be, so it’s still a headline when someone of Lilly’s background gets such an opportunity. Plus, in her opening rap (which is badass by the way), she lists all the ways in which she is changing the status quo, including having a diverse team of writers “not because she had to, but because she could.”
But for me, this one screenshot sums up the show’s impact:
Two Indian women, both incredibly successful and supportive, talking casually about Indian culture and representation. I almost cried when I saw this because for once, I saw myself on screen, LGBTQ identity included. That’s the power of representation, and Lilly’s show, especially in contrast to the dominant, white male format, clearly shows the perspectives we’ve been missing all this time. Take her monologue and sketch about the nonexistent “sex talk” in Indian culture. Sex is a taboo subject, which leads to miseducation and misinformation. I’ve heard stories from older generations where men were told not to masturbate because they wouldn’t have anything left when they wanted to start a family. But seeing this issue actually talked about on a nationally syndicated network is a whole new level, one I never imagined that I would see.
I’m incredibly proud of Lilly Singh for this momentous achievement. However, I worry that leaning too heavily on the diversity angle can make it easy to paint her into a corner. As people of colour, our labels and our qualifiers often precede our talent and our actual personality. As a bisexual woman of colour, her work will always be seen through that context, and that places a certain amount of expectation on her plate.
NBC News had a great think piece about the thin line on which Lilly has to walk. A lot of NBC’s value in hiring her is the fact that they get to claim the diversity award. At the same time, NBC can’t alienate its audience, who is accustomed to a white male on its screen. So, Lilly must be daring and different, but also maintain broad appeal. It’s a hard task.
This week’s show was a strong start, but as the NBC article suggests, walking such a fine line leads to a bit of ping-ponging back and forth to test out where that line might exist. I think it will take a while for Lilly to find her niche and that’s okay. But part of the way she’s going to do that is to lean less into her labels, and more into her personality. Because the best parts of A Little Late with Lilly Singh are when her undeniable personality and charism shine through – like in her conversation with Tracee Ellis Ross, where I almost peed myself laughing.
In an interview with Mashable, this is what Lilly had to say prior to the premiere of her show:
“People are not just going to know Lilly the person who hosts the show, they’re going to know Lilly — like, what does she think, what does she like, what does she dislike, what’s she been through, what is her life like? They’re going to get to know me the same way my fans know me."
It’s amazing that a bisexual woman of colour has her own late night talk show. But it’s also important to recognize the decade of work and the incredible talent of Lilly Singh, as a person. It’s not just any bisexual woman of colour on screen; it’s Superwoman who’s saving the day…or I guess night.