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COMMENTARY: Lilly Singh’s debut slays stereotypes — and it’s about time

YouTube star Lilly Singh debuts new talk show on Global, NBC
A Canadian woman is breaking barriers as the newest host on late night television. "A Little Late with Lilly Singh" will air nightly on Global and NBC.

Straight outta Scarborough, Punjabi-Canadian YouTube sensation Lilly Singh made television history Monday night with the debut episode of her new late-night talk show A Little Late with Lilly Singh.

From the cold open sketch, Lilly showed that she is here to change the look, feel and players of a game that has been long dominated by mostly white men.

“I was thinking I could actually share my perspective, especially being a woman and all,” Lilly suggests in the boardroom skit, to which the oblivious network executive responds, “Is your perspective not my perspective? … I’m not sure if people will relate to that.”

And then she drops a rap anthem in authentic and colourful Lilly form, which not only addresses but crushes every elephant in the room.

“My writers’ room looks like a mini United Nations, more than 50 per cent women and people of all races,” she quips. “And that’s not because I had to, it’s because I could. This is the new standard so take notes, Hollywood.”

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So. Many. Feels.
As a pop culture fiend, I get pretty stoked about film and television on any given day. But this time is different — this time feels personal. I was literally grinning ear to ear all day Monday as I anxiously awaited to catch the early 10 p.m. YouTube stream, before the live airing on Global TV at 12:35 a.m. ET.

And I wasn’t alone. #LatewithLilly was trending in Canada on Tuesday night as her global fan base collectively shared in the moment. I felt like I was part of something bigger than a TV show launch — and I was — I knew it when I saw the diverse faces in Lilly’s audience and I felt it when I read the outpouring of love in the comments scrolling online.

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There was a moment Monday morning when I actually got choked up after seeing a photo my former kultur’D co-host Sandy Gill had posted of her with Lilly Singh during a visit to the set.

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I've gotten to watch @lilly tape a few episodes of @latewithlilly and with each new episode I'm more and more excited for everyone to see it. Imagine the hardest working person you know and add a big professional team, and you get something we wish we had growing up as women of colour. What Lilly's doing with #alittlelatewithlillysingh is bringing a fresh and magical voice too a space that desperately needs it. The biggest thing I noticed on set was how important setting the vibes and maintaining a safe and positive work environment was, this isn't something we see in Hollywood very often, but it's something YOU ALWAYS SEE WHEN YOU ARE WITH LILLY. Im so excited for this new journey and so incredibly proud of my sister – she's obviously gonna kill it – make sure you're there to watch her story instead of history. It's never been more important to tune in than today. @latewithlilly tonight on @youtube & @nbc. Love u so much babe! @lilly

A post shared by Sandy Gill (@thesandylion) on

“Imagine the hardest working person you know and add a big professional team, and you get something we wish we had growing up as women of colour,” Gill writes. “What Lilly’s doing with #alittlelatewithlillysingh is bringing a fresh and magical voice to a space that desperately needs it.”

It made me think of the magnitude and ripple effect of A Little Late. Of how many diverse voices will be part of shaping the narrative not only what we see in front of the camera but also behind the lens, thanks to trailblazers like Lilly Singh.

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Please Welcome Mindy Kaling
The magnitude is not lost on Lilly in the slightest, which is precisely why having Mindy as her inaugural guest was such a statement in itself. I particularly loved when Mindy came out, sat down and told Lilly how proud she was of her, to which Lilly replied, “thanks Didi” (big sister). It may have been lost on some, but for those who understood, it was a beautiful moment of sisterhood.

Between The Office banter and Euphoria-style makeup bedazzling, Mindy also shared her own experiences with diversity, or lack thereof, in the entertainment industry.

“If I had growing up seen you on TV … I mean, I was already obsessed with late night TV, but it was like loving something that didn’t love me back, but then to have had you,” she said. “It’s huge. And I can’t wait for my daughter to watch the show, 20 years from now when you’re still doing it.”

I couldn’t agree more.

READ MORE: Lilly Singh ‘scared, nervous, excited’ about her show, ‘A Little Late with Lilly Singh’

When I Grow Up

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a journalist. When it was time to choose a university nearly two decades ago, I begged my parents to let me study journalism. But my well-meaning father insisted, “Meera Beta,”  — Beta is a hindi term of endearment — “there are no Indians telling the news, do something sensible and go to business school.”

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Disheartened, I took heed of what he said and went off to a business school. Yet my passion didn’t die, and a few years later, I went back to the books and completed a post-graduate in journalism.

While I always had writing as a hobby on the side, from freelancing to starting my own fashion and lifestyle magazine for South Asian women, I went on to forge my “day job” and career in television advertising.

And even as I grew more accomplished and respected in my sales career, I never quite felt I was worthy enough of having my voice heard on a mainstream platform. It can be tough to reach for the stars when you’re shooting in the dark without a guiding light.

Then Mindy Kaling came along. From watching her rise The Office ranks as Kelly Kapoor, penning best-selling novels, to producing, writing and starring in her own eponymous show, I finally saw someone who looked like me, whom I resonated and I connected with on a deeper level unlike no other. Kaling was widely accepted and even celebrated in the mainstream with the world listening to her voice and stories.

WATCH BELOW: What was Lilly Singh like in high school?

What was Lilly Singh like in high school?
What was Lilly Singh like in high school?

In 2017, I ultimately left my safe space in advertising to pursue journalism full-time with Mindy as my guiding compass. What some would call a fall from grace — it wasn’t an easy decision going from a senior level executive to quite literally feeling like “the 40-year-old-intern” at times — but like all else, the best things in life don’t come easy.

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Now, as the producer and host of Kultur’D, a pop culture show and as a writer, where I work so diligently to put a lens on diversity of people and perspectives, it is especially exciting to see trailblazers like Lilly Singh, and incredibly meaningful to see Mindy as the first guest on such a show.

Yes, Representation Matters

Truth be told, in the first half-hour episode of A Little Late, I felt more seen than in all the years I have been watching late-night TV. From the homage to my Canadian roots, Indian culture, being a working (at times breast-pumping) mom to the subtle quips and jokes about “lenghas,” “bindis”, or “chai, not chai tea” that were oh so relatable to me — and so many like me — I cannot praise Lilly enough or express how excited I am to see how her first (because I am confident there will be more) season unfolds.

Now as a mother myself, I have a young daughter that will grow up watching late-night shows hosted by the likes of Lilly Singh, with guests like writer-actor-producer Mindy Kaling herself talking about rising stars they’re cultivating like Maitreyi Ramkrishnan. I have no doubt, my daughter will feel seen. She will know that she, too, is capable of chasing and catching all her dreams — just as these incredible women have.

It may have been a long time coming, but A Little Late is just on time.

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Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.