It’s 2019 and, unfortunately, when you Google “late night television show hosts,” only three notable hosts stray from the classic formula of straight, white men — Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee and Busy Phillips. Simultaneously, Hollywood audiences have been pushing for more representation and diversity in movies, with films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Captain Marvel” finally bringing Hollywood closer to a new, more interesting horizon.
Despite the calls for a more accurate reflection of our world in movies, late night talk shows have remained surprisingly untouched. Although it’s frustrating that while casts, writers and production staffs are becoming ever more varied, the kinds of people interviewing them are remaining stagnant, NBC’s most recent announcement hopes to challenge this frustration.
On “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on Mar. 14, YouTube personality Lilly Singh announced her newest project: “A Little Late with Lilly Singh.” Her choice of entertainment, comedy, is a male-dominated profession and her success in the field is indicative of the fact that people are becoming tired of the same kind of person telling the same kind of jokes. Some of her more popular YouTube bits involve her dressing up as her Indian parents, delivering jokes that many second-generation immigrants can relate to.
“A Little Late” marks a significant change in late night television: Singh will be the first woman in 30 years, after Joan Rivers, to host her own show on one of the “Big Four” television networks.
Not only does Singh represent women of color, but she is also a shining light for the LGBTQ+ community. She came out as bisexual in the month preceding her announcement and it only added to the value of her new show. However, her appeal doesn’t just come from her diverse background. If anything, those details are a fringe benefit when considering her talents as a comedic personality. Singh has cultivated a following of 14 million subscribers on YouTube and consistently puts out high-quality content, like her yearly “Twelve Days of Christmas” series in which she works with prominent celebrities to create holiday skits. Adding Singh to their line-up of shows demonstrates the network’s understanding of what audiences want and how to give it to them.
Her ascendance to network TV also shows the influence that YouTube has had in recent years and the pressure it has put on companies like NBC to re-evaluate where they stand on the diversity front. More than ever people are turning to online communities like YouTube, where they can tailor their subscription boxes so that they are entertained by someone who looks like them, without having to hope the opinions of a network head coincide with what a specific audience member is looking for. With Singh making a debut appearance on a major television network, it’s hard not to think about the impact YouTube had on her career and the criticism that many YouTubers receive for being “fake” celebrities.
It’s not surprising then, that NBC was the network to take the leap. The company hosts a slew of shows that meet the diversity demands of its customers, including Andy Samberg’s popular “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” which boasts a bisexual and Latina detective, a Black captain and a man comfortable in his masculinity. The company provides a reprieve from the constant barrage of white men on our screens.
Singh represents the changes in Hollywood that are necessary to keeping the diversity train rolling – without diverse people in powerful positions, Hollywood may be doomed to a white, testosterone-laden, future.
CORRECTION: This article earlier stated that Lilly Singh will be the frist woman to host her own show on the “Big Four” television networks. The first woman to do so was Joan Rivers in 1986.