"How Many Times Have I Mentioned I’m Indian?" Lilly Singh Says Representation Is a Catch-22
The first openly bisexual and Indian late-night talk show host tells HelloGiggles about the pressures of representing minority communities.
Last year, Lilly Singh made history as not only the first Indian, but also the first openly bisexual late night talk show host on network television. On NBC's A Little Late with Lilly Singh, which was renewed for a second season in May, the 32-year-old comedian interviews celebrities, talks current events, and acts in sketches. But with this monumental moment in TV history comes an enormous amount of pressure on Singh not only to perform, but to represent these minority communities. And although she says she's accepted that "the pressure will never lessen", Singh reveals she has adapted how she deals with it.
"If pressure is always going to exist, I shouldn’t try to change the pressure, but I should try to change how I view it," Singh tells HelloGiggles over a recent phone call. "With Season 1, I was very caught up in, 'so many people are counting on me and I’m representing this community and this community, so I want to make sure this monologue is about this; I don’t want to mention that too many times. How many times have I mentioned I’m Indian? Is that too much?'"
While a 2021 return to filming date for A Little Late hasn't yet been announced, Singh says she wants to approach her sophomore season differently.
"In Season 2, I don’t care to tally myself on how many times I talk about things or how much of one side of myself to show versus another side," she explains. "I just want to talk about things I think are funny. I want to have fun, and I want to be true to myself, because I think you can see all of those things through the camera."
Singh, of course, is no stranger to being on camera; in 2010, fresh out of college, she created her Youtube channel IISuperwomanII, where she still vlogs and acts in sketches today. The channel now has nearly 15 million subscribers, but even though she built her career on the internet, Singh says that she tries to limit her personal media consumption—so much so that she doesn't even have any social media apps on her phone.
"I realized that any time there was a lull in my day, like in an elevator, I would impulsively take out my phone and start scrolling through social media without even knowing why I was doing it," Singh explains. "So, not having it on my personal phone is really helpful; social media can really consume you and kind of take your energy for hostage. I also don’t sleep near a device that has social media on it. That prevents me from scrolling through Instagram or Twitter before I go to bed or in the morning. I don’t want to start my day by being bombarded with information and noise and all that stuff."
While doomscrolling and "overthinking everything" lie high on Singh's list of behaviors she's working on quitting, the star recently gave candid advice to fans about how to cut other negative habits out of their lives. For the vegetarian and vegan meat brand Lightlife’s “Make a Clean Break” campaign, people submitted things they want to quit—from exes to junk food to video games—to the company's Instagram. In turn, Singh offered helpful and hilarious advice in her signature direct way by responding in the comments section and through videos posted to Lightlife's Instagram stories. And while the star says guidance surrounding phone usage is where she “shines”, the 12-year-vegetarian is also a huge advocate for healthy eating habits. “I genuinely believe that making a clean break from ingredients you can’t pronounce is so helpful,” she says.
Like everyone else, Singh admits that she's been stressed out during quarantine, but she's been using her downtime to work on skills like cooking (“I have a dope Shepherd’s Pie recipe with Lightlife ground meat”), dancing, painting, and writing. “I’ve been writing things that might never see the light of day, and that’s okay,” she reveals.
But just because production of A Little Late is currently on pause doesn’t mean Singh isn’t working on other career projects in the meantime. She recently expanded her presence at NBC with a late-night special, Sketchy Times, which is available to stream on Peacock now. In the special, filmed entirely in her own home, Singh plays a wide variety of characters in sketches about distinctly 2020 topics, like toilet paper and face masks.
“Extracting these jokes about how we’re adjusting to the new normal was almost therapeutic in a way,” Singh says. “Every day after filming, I was like, ‘oh wow, I’ve managed to find the joy in this dark time for today.’ And then I’d wake up and do the same thing the next day. It helped train my mind to try to find the funny every day, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.”
Looking for a positive spin on shitty situations in life is something Singh says she always tries to do.
Aside from making comedy, aka her full-time job, Singh thinks it’s necessary for everyone to have a creative outlet "that you will not turn into work, and let that be your safe space.” For her, it's event planning—even when the “event” is simply a few friends coming over to hang.
“Even if three or four people are coming to my house, I’ll act as if I’m hosting an enormous event, because I love themes and décor,” Singh reveals. “Every time that I put on an event, people are like, ‘why are you spending money and time and days and days doing this?’ And my simple response is, ‘it makes me happy.’"
Whether it's painting, hosting pals, or cooking new recipes, Singh is finding joy in the little things in order to get through this dark time—and that's something we can all take inspiration from.