Lilly Singh in A Little Late with Lilly Singh.
YouTuber and now late-night host Lilly Singh has marketed her new show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh, as a much-needed diversification of the late-night television scene. The majority of her sketches, interviews, commercials, and promotional materials released thus far center around the sheer uniqueness of her new NBC program, and specifically, the uniqueness of Singh, a female, bisexual woman of color, hosting a late-night show. A Little Late promises that it won’t simply replicate the all-too-common 2019-late-night formula, particularly in that the show will not address politics.
In a Sep. 18 YouTube trailer for A Little Late, Singh states the thesis of her show: “Throughout our program, you can expect to see celebrity guests, games, and sketches. And while we’ll be skipping politics, we may touch on social issues that are important to me” (her emphasis). Further, in a promotional sketch, Singh delivers a rap in which she proclaims, “This show is for everyone, there’s no us, them, or other. I ain’t talking about Donald, unless his last name is Glover.” And for the entire four minutes of one of Singh’s earliest opening monologues, she discusses the fact that she is a bisexual woman of color, how the media won’t stop talking about it, and the socio-political implications of said fact.
All three of these examples sampled from Singh’s recent work illustrate the contradiction inherent in A Little Late’s premise. While Singh has sought to create a show notable for steamrolling social boundaries thanks to its brown, female, bisexual host, and seems to want to bring in her perspective as a member of minority groups to create socio-political change, she doesn’t want to talk about politics; when she does bring up her identities, she doesn’t go further than a throwaway line meant for laughs. The show features no calls to action, no invitations for further thought or discussion. The show is primarily focused on games, celebrity interviews, and sketches intended solely for entertainment.
A Little Late assumes in its premise that viewers are sick of enter- tainment with a political slant. Of course, some viewers might be sick of hearing “Donald Drumpf” jokes night after night—after three years of hand, tangerine, toupee, and fat jokes, she may have a point. But Singh has jumped to the other extreme, avoiding politics altogether while constantly falling back on her race, gender, and sexuality as central talking points. Perhaps in an attempt to rebel against the racial homogeneity of 2019’s late-night scene, Singh has thrown out the baby with the bathwater.
Ultimately, A Little Late becomes a show intent on entertaining both casual YouTube audiences and those who enjoy Singh’s biting brand of “woke” comedy, which has not been received particularly well by the viewing public. Singh’s opening monologue garnered a ratio of 39K likes to 32K dislikes, and the comments—made by an apparently demographically-diverse array of users—make clear that Singh’s style of commentary on race, gender, and sexuality were likely the cause. The show consists mostly of celebrity games, and no game played thus far has been particularly memorable; the true “sticking point” of the show is that Lilly Singh is a bisexual woman of color.
If the show continues as it has, it will be remembered as a wasted opportunity. Lilly Singh’s perspective as a minority looking at politics is incredibly valuable. In terms of sheer, physical, representation, Lilly Singh just standing on screen is a beautiful start. But she could use her platform so much more productively if she used her identities to provide insight into today’s social issues.
Sure, Jimmy Fallon leans more into the celebrities-n’-games model than Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, or John Oliver, but at least Fallon frequently explains current events in his monologue and in- vites political public figures on for occasionally productive discus- sions. So far, Singh has interviewed mostly B-list and a few A-list celebrities. A scroll through the Little Late YouTube channel garners videos about “mini makeovers,” pumpkin spice lattes, “petty dating app stories,” and Singh’s beef with streaming services.
And what’s more, Singh ironically seems desperate to get into politics. One of her first monologues, referenced above, discusses—again, ironically!—the socio-political implications of her presence in late night. She touches on the fear of many in the racial majority that minorities are “coming to take their jobs.” She calls out the media for discussing little else about her or her show besides her identities. But when these callouts simply end with a laugh track and aren’t taken further into discussion, they are unproductive and come across as Singh leveling ad hominem attacks.
NBC has explained the lack of politics in A Little Late: two episodes are filmed per day, with 96 episodes planned for the first season. Longer gaps between filming and broadcast, explained producer John Irwin, combined with a purposeful lean away from politics championed by Singh, contributed to this decision. “There’s a million places to get that information,” said Irwin of current-event comedy. “Her stuff is going to be a little more personal, a little more based in her experiences.” But for Singh to speak about her personal experiences without discussing them in relation to others’ is unproductive.
Compare Singh’s approach to how Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj has used his platform. Netflix’s official description of Patriot Act is as follows: “Every Sunday, Hasan Minhaj brings an incisive and nuanced perspective to global news, politics, and culture in his unique comedy series.” Minhaj’s show aims to discuss politics, and the minority status of the mes- senger aids in the the show creating a unique perspective. Minhaj starts with politics and brings himself in; Singh starts with herself, and doesn’t bring in politics.
When the rest of the show isn’t particularly entertaining or memorable, and its brief discussions of identity are futile, A Little Late currently stands as a tragic missed opportunity for Lilly Singh to productively bring her identities and experiences into the American late-night conversation.
Photo Credit: Scott Angelheart/NBC