Late-night has long used YouTube as a hosting platform and a place to fish for inspiration. Now, a major network is hiring a platform-native to run one of their shows.
Starting in the fall, Lilly Singh will host “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” in the third slot after Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers. Singh built a career as a comedian on YouTube with 14 million subscribers on her channel, IISuperwomanII, where she’s been posting comedy sketches and music videos since 2010.
Compared to the original sketch comedy from Singh and others on the platform, late-night shows have amassed formidable followings on YouTube over the years. For example, “The Tonight Show” has 20 million subscribers. Segments like “Carpool Karaoke” from “The Late Late Show with James Corden” are designed to exist on the platform, according Myles McNutt – an assistant professor at Old Dominion University, who’s written on late-night in the YouTube era.
“Late-night, in general, is about segments. It’s ritualized,” McNutt said. “In many ways, it just maps onto YouTube so comfortably.”
Late-night shows have been on YouTube for years now. Fallon plays the whisper challenge with guests on his show. James Corden sings with Adele in the car. Seth Meyers will even publish his closing segment to YouTube before the show airs, if it’s a big news day.
Singh will be the only woman hosting a late-night show on network television, replacing “Last Call with Carson Daly” at 1:35 a.m. Eastern time. Samantha Bee and Busy Philipps both host shows on cable television.
“An Indian-Canadian woman with her own late night show? Now that is a dream come true,” Singh said in a statement from NBC last month. Many of Singh’s most popular videos refer to her life growing up in Toronto through sketch comedy. Singh said she seeks to inspire her fans and the channel is called Superwoman because it’s the symbol she used to build her confidence growing up.
On “The Tonight Show” in March, Fallon asked about the show’s format and Singh said it will be more or less like her YouTube channel but “now I have more than three staff members.”
“I truly get to create a show from scratch. You know, I get to make it inclusive,” Singh said on the show. “I get to create comedy segments and interview people and really create something that I believe in.”
A spokesperson for NBC said Singh was unavailable to speak for this article.
NBC’s decision to hire a YouTube creator is just the latest example of late-night television learning from the success of comedy on the platform, said Zoë Glatt, a PhD researcher creating an ethnography of aspiring and professional YouTube creators at the London School of Economics.
“There’s an increasing interpenetration between mainstream media and internet media,” Glatt said. “Mainstream executives, I guess, have finally caught on to the fact that YouTube stars get more views than they do.”
Some independent YouTube creators see a larger narrative here, where YouTube is deferring to established media brands. The Verge’s Julia Alexander reports that as YouTube shifts to more commercial content, “the golden age” of the platform may be over; with bigger, established shows winning out over original videos.
All that said, there are some looming questions before Singh’s show starts in the fall:
Will Singh’s YouTube sketches translate to T V? And, does the traditional format even matter? When audiences tune in, will they find a unique blend of late-night with YouTube and be all the better for it?
“It will be interesting to see what she tries to do with it,” Glatt said. “Some times the charm is lost when it’s translated. There’s no pretending that it’s this DIY, at-home thing when they’re in the studio.”
With such a late slot on NBC, Singh’s show will have to target the next-day audience online as much – if not more – than the live audience every night, McNutt said, adding “this is a show that will live or die on YouTube.”
“She is not a risk in this time slot,” McNutt said. “She represents someone who has already proven her ability to do what they’re going to ask of her.”
For McNutt, that includes connecting to younger audiences, making viral content from the show and taking on Internet trends in a way that’s distinctive and unique.
“The Tonight Show” is basically a series of YouTube sketches now, according to McNutt. Singh’s new show is evolution of the videos she has created on YouTube – videos that have found enormous success. Her top video, “What Clubbing is Actually Like” featuring fellow YouTuber Liza Koshy, has more than 30 million views.
“Really, in many ways, a YouTuber is the safest bet for a position of that nature,” he added.
YouTuber and professional dancer Dominic “DTrix” Sandoval has collaborated with Singh in the past. Sandoval, 33, said Singh is “beyond prepared” for the opportunity, explaining her show sets a new bar for other YouTube creators.
Producers, directors and mainstream actors are going to “give an open ear to a YouTuber,” Sandoval said. Singh has broken a “huge barrier”, according to Sandoval, whereas a year ago those same people may have only thought of Logan Paul uploading a video from Japan’s “suicide forest.”
“What (Singh) does with it will depend and, I think, will weigh whether more YouTubers can be trusted to that level,” Sandoval added.
Other YouTuber’s have already made the jump to mainstream comedy, with varying degrees of success. Back in 2015, Grace Helbig hosted a late-night show on E! for one season. Colleen Ballinger starred as her YouTube personality, Miranda Sings, in Netflix’s Haters Back Off for two season before it was canceled in late 2017; Ballinger also filmed a comedy special in the fall for the streaming-service.
Perhaps the biggest success story is Issa Rae, whose popular web series, “Awkward Black Girl,” took off on YouTube back in 2012. Rae went on to create and star in HBO’s “Insecure,” which is now preparing for a fourth season.
Singh’s already a celebrity in her own right. She was in HBO’s “Fahrenheit 451.” She’s friends with Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Three years ago, in a blitz of original programming, YouTube released “A Trip to Unicorn Island,” a documentary following Singh on her first world-tour for fans of the channel.
In a video after appearing on Fallon’s show, Singh said she’s going to keep posting on a dedicated vlogging channel while planning for (and hosting) her show in the fall.
“If you want to join along this journey of us literally making our late-night show together, subscribe yo because it’s about to get crazy.”