What A Little Late with Lily Singh Gets Right - and Wrong

Lily Singh, whose late-night show, A Little Late with Lily Singh premiered on NBC on September 16, always seemed destined for great things. The 31-year-old rose to YouTube stardom thanks to genuinely funny material like “If Rappers Were School Teachers” (That DJ Kaled impression though!). Her Instagram often showed her rubbing elbows with A-Listers that other YouTubers could only tweet about, and much of her content was miles ahead of her contemporaries in terms of production and innovation. So when Singh announced she’d gotten the gig as host of her own talk show, it seemed like a great fit.

    ...And cue the think pieces about how important and special this was, since Singh is a bisexual Indian woman. Of course, it is important and special - it’s no secret that late-night talk shows are notoriously run by men who are A) white, B) straight, and, oh yeah, C) men - but publications that insistently made a big deal of Singh’s identifiers only mounted the pressure already implicit in her assignment. Straight white men will always get second chances; a woman’s failure, especially if it’s a woman of color, will affirm to the networks that a “different” kind of talk show just can’t work. (Samantha Bee, who kills it every week on Full Frontal, would beg to differ, but it doesn’t work in reverse: one success does not equal world domination.) All eyes were on Singh to see how she’d perform, not because of who she is as a comedian, but because of what her performance might mean to the executives reading the YouTube comments the next day.

    So it’s hardly Singh’s fault that much of her material thus far has focused on what sets her apart. Singh’s premier episode opened with a truly fantastic musical short wherein she smacks down any qualms about her capabilities, which segued into a monologue addressing the fact that, yes, a lot of people out there will view her as #NotMyCarsonDaly. Her second episode, too, began with a cheeky pre-taped bit advising (white, male) audiences on how to best enjoy a show run by an Indian woman. (“If you hear something you think is funny, an appropriate response would be to laugh or comment ‘Haha.’ An inappropriate response would be to slide into my DMs and comment ‘Kind of funny, could be hotter.’”) While you might think this is just Singh relying on the same jokes each night, it’s really her only course of action when faced with a society so obsessed with whether her identity might cause her to fail.

    Obviously, though, what it all boils down to is whether or not the show is funny. And so far… kind of funny, could be smoother. Singh shines in bits that are the most similar to her YouTube content, like that first musical short, where she raps genius lines like “Only lady in late-night? / It’s cool, but F that / I’m hype to be the only lady who controls the thermostat.” She also has clear charisma; it’s fun just to watch her deliver her lines or interact with the guests who clearly want to be there. While she still adheres pretty closely to her talking points during interviews, those talking points often lead to the kind of funny, feel-good conversations that make late-night shows such a comforting way to wrap up your night.

In short, Singh is a star. But we knew that. The show, unfortunately, has yet to catch up with her. It’s at its worst when falling back on the traditions of other hosts (cough - Fallon), like dumb games (“Sad News,” which saw Singh and guests Jim Gaffigan and Antoni Poworski deliver unfunny headlines with an unfunny straight face, was a particular lowlight) and tired jokes that have been made a million times before. The September 26 episode opened with a monologue about Singh’s age, in which a despairing Singh told the audience, “Only old people say that 30s are the new 20s!” Yeah, we know.

    That’s another problem: Singh relies heavily on self-deprecation. When she’s mocking herself for her age, or being forever alone, it gets the laugh, but it’s at the expense of someone who really doesn’t deserve or need to be knocked down a peg. Rather than apologize for the space she’s taking up, Singh should follow through on the badass bravado that got her where she is. Yes, she’s very different from other talk show hosts, but that’s a plus, not a minus. When Singh interviewed her first guest, Mindy Kaling, they tried on Euphoria-inspired eye makeup looks. “You’re upgrading the bindi,” Singh joked. That’s funny - and it’s a joke that wouldn’t happen on another show. Singh has something to offer that her counterparts don’t. Hopefully in time, A Little Late with Lily Singh will recognize that it doesn’t need to look like Late Night with Seth Meyers. #NotMyCarsonDaly - thank God.