Canadian Lilly Singh’s new late-night talk show A Little Late With Lilly Singh (NBC, Global, 1:35 a.m.) does not, on the surface, seem revolutionary.
There’s a studio audience and the host sits at a desk and interviews people. It starts with a monologue, then there’s a comedy bit and then there’s the interview, usually with a celebrity promoting something. That’s pretty much the template for late-night chat shows going back decades. But at the same time, A Little Late is definitely radical.
It might be just 30 minutes long, but Singh is the only female late-night host on any of the main networks. And there’s the matter of who Singh is, and what she represents. As she said herself on Monday’s debut show, “I get it. I’m not your traditional talk-show host. The media has mentioned that I am a bisexual woman of colour so much that I feel like I should just change my name to ‘Bisexual Woman of Colour.’ ”
As groundbreaking as Singh’s elevation from YouTube (where she has 14 million followers) to late night on NBC might be, there’s no doubt the network believes Singh has the potential to be huge. She appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers, the show that precedes hers, and she has been heavily promoted. And she gets a prime-time special on Wednesday (NBC, Global, 10 p.m.), which lasts an hour.
Singh kicked off her first show issuing many reminders of her unique status. And who can blame her? The introduction was a sketch in which she enters an all-male meeting of TV execs who are discussing how to make her fit the late-night mould. She slams her hands on the table, climbs on it and delivers a rap. With considerable gusto she explains, among other things, “I’m gonna throw some melanin up in your late-night” and, “I ain’t talking about Donald unless his last name is Glover.”
It went on a bit long, the rap, but the key line was, “A lady runs the show!”
Then came the actual show and the opening monologue. She addressed “middle America” and said “seeing someone like me hosting a show is terrifying.” She noted that some Americans think minorities are coming to take their jobs and, citing herself in the late-night arena, she shouted, “They are!”
One notable aspect of her style is addressing the studio audience and the camera relentlessly. In fact, she’s milking the audience’s adoration of her. This might be a leftover from her YouTube routine, but it became distinctly distracting when she got around to interviewing her guest, Mindy Kaling.
Most talk-show hosts create a very particular kind of dynamic with a guest. It’s a matter of having a personal conversation while being aware of the audience in the studio and at home. It’s tricky and not every host is a natural at this. Meyers is excellent and Jimmy Kimmel took ages to hone it. But Singh’s constant glancing to the camera and quips to the audience gave the sequence something of an amateurish air. Also, the joshing with Kaling eventually went flat as Singh’s comedic point seemed to be an effort to make Kaling seem a tad old and out of touch.
That’s a rough edge that can be smoothed out over time. What won’t be changed, mind you, is the emphasis on popular culture as the core of the show‘s humour. (Apart, that is, from Singh’s reminders of her heritage and status as a bisexual woman.) She meant it when she declared in her rap that she’s not doing jokes about Trump. Her show is all about TV, movies and online phenomena. That’s bound to be part of her appeal for NBC – she can connect with a much younger audience. Still, there’s going to be a point in the show’s future when even that younger audience is going to wonder what Singh thinks about Trump and Trump-era shenanigans.
For all those quibbles about format and technique, there is no doubt that Singh is a perfect fit for late night. She has the brashness, energy and wit to command a show with ease. The show will evolve, as all new late-night entries do, but Singh is already triumphant – she’s a revolutionary figure and she’s nailed it from the start.
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