The Untold Truth Of Lilly Singh

Lilly Singh achieved internet stardom under the moniker Superwoman, but the creator behind the hit YouTube channel has always had mainstream ambitions. Over the last few years, the Canadian comic has been quietly realizing those ambitions. She was the highest-earning female on YouTube in 2016 (raking in an estimated $7.5 million) and she was featured on Forbes' Top Influencers in Entertainment list in 2017. That same year, she became a New York Times best-selling author for her inspirational book, How To Be A Bawse. 

As Singh explained to Elle Canada, being a "bawse" is all about taking charge of your life so you can achieve your goals. "A bawse is not restricted to the workplace," she said. "It's like a lifestyle. It's your personal life, how you communicate, how you hustle." Singh's hustling paid off in a big way in 2019 when she replaced the outgoing Carson Daly on NBC's late night roster, making her the first woman to host a late night talk show in over 30 years.

A YouTuber landing a late night slot on one of the four big networks marked a historic bridging of the gap between new and traditional media, though the transition wasn't exactly a smooth process for Singh. How did she go from a loner student to having over 14 million subscribers on YouTube (not to mention snagging mass followings on Instagram and Twitter), her own TV show, and a host of celebrity friends? This is the untold truth of Lilly Singh.

She has a degree in psychology

After graduating from York University with a bachelor's degree in psychology, Singh couldn't decide what to do with her life. She spent an entire year doing nothing as she tried to figure out what her next step should be, but walking an ordinary career path simply wasn't appealing to her. Her parents (both of Punjabi descent) insisted that she go back to school and study for a masters in counselling psychology, but she had an epiphany while filling out her application form.

"I remember writing the application for my masters and then going 'Oh my god! I don't even want to do these applications, how am I going to do this for four years?'" she told The Hindu. "It was during that time, between sending applications, that I decided on doing YouTube videos seriously and I already had a few videos out at that time. At that moment, I walked up to my parents and was like 'Hey, I've decided that I am not going to do my masters, and instead I am going to make YouTube videos."

Her parents didn't get it

Singh's decision to go full time on YouTube came as a shock to her parents, though after Superwoman (her online persona) became popular on the platform, they slowly started to come around to the idea. "When I first started it was not that they were unsupportive, they just didn't get it and that's fair," she told Flare. "Even my friends don't get YouTube right now. It took my relatives calling them saying, 'Is your daughter Superwoman?'"

Her Punjabi heritage was a big part of her channel early on, and Singh regularly portrayed fictionalized versions of her mother and father in her videos, which they came to not only understand, but really enjoy. "Recently, I feel so grateful because they've become supportive in a new way," the YouTuber said. "They actually watch my videos and understand the art I'm doing. My mom really believes my message. My dad has watched all my videos and he knows how many subscribers I have at any given moment, he's obsessed. They understand what I'm trying to do and that's really special to me."

She didn't set out to become famous

Back when Singh started her channel in October 2010, fame and fortune were not words that people associated with YouTube. The platform had been around for a couple of years at that stage and there were a few content creators that were well-known among viewers, but the notion of the internet celebrity was still alien to most people, Singh included. The real reason she decided to become a YouTuber was actually to counter some mental health problems she'd been suffering.

"When I started on YouTube, nobody knew that you could make a living off of YouTube," she told Elle Canada. "I started because I was sad, and I wanted to be happy. And a lot of my peers who started around the same time, it was for the same reason. We were all messed up in some way. We had anxiety, we were loners, and we turned to YouTube. But now when people start YouTube it's: 'I want to be a YouTuber, I want a career, I want to make money, I want to be famous.' And it's much more of a business now."

She didn't want her race to define her

While Singh used her South Asian roots as a source of humor in her content regularly to begin with, she never wanted her race to define her comedy, which was exactly what happened. "There were already so many females on YouTube but I am pretty sure I am the first Indian big YouTuber that's also female," Singh said. "When I first started, all the media I ever got was 'Hey! There's this Indian girl, and even though she is Indian she gets views and stuff.'"

Before long she realized that if she was ever going to shake that tag she would have to make her content more universal. "Earlier on my videos used to be so geared towards Indian people because that's what I thought I had to do," she told AOL. "So I would call my videos things like 'My Indian Parents Do This' or 'Indian Girls This' and very quickly I realized that I didn't have to do that. All girls are pretty much the same and all parents are pretty much the same, so I stopped doing that and I stopped cornering myself into a niche that I thought I had to be in."

She's a proud Canadian

On top of being extremely proud of her Punjabi heritage, Singh is also a flag-waving Canadian, and she has a particular love for the culturally diverse Toronto. "Out of all the places I've been to, Toronto is the most multicultural," she told Noisey about her home city. "If I'm walking around a shopping mall in the USA and I see a turban or a hijab, it's still a 'wow' moment, but in Toronto you never feel that. You take that multiculturalism for granted."

In 2015, she teamed up with fellow Canadian YouTuber and rapper Humble The Poet for a song called "IVIVI" (roman numerals for 416, the area code serving Toronto), which celebrated the ethnic tapestry of the city. The video has been viewed more than 4 million times as of this writing and is just one of the reasons that Singh is held in such high regard by her fellow Canucks. "You should look at my Twitter, how many tweets there are like: 'Canada's the best!'" she told CBC. "When you're online and you see all these other Canadians cheering, you feel like you're part of something."

Moving to LA was hard

She might be a proud Canadian, but every serious YouTuber eventually realizes tha, if they're going to make it big, they need to be in California. Los Angeles has become the unofficial YouTube capital, home to the majority of the website's top creators, including Lilly Singh. Collaborations are a surefire way to widen your viewership, and the possibilities for team-ups in Los Angeles are endless, but being raised in a traditional Indian family meant Singh was woefully unprepared for living alone.

"We're only allowed to move out when you're married, so what I'm doing right now is a huge exception," she explained to Chelsea Handler, who couldn't believe that Singh didn't fly the nest until her mid-20s. "I realized how useless I actually am, because it's true, Indian parents do everything for you," she continued. "I was like, 'How do I use this laundry machine or this dryer?' I was so clueless of what to do, I got to my apartment and I had no toilet paper, I used Chipotle napkins for like, a really long time."

She's collaborated with mainstream celebs

When Singh landed in LA she was met by fellow YouTuber Swoozie, who has a sizeable fanbase of his own with over 6 million subscribers, but he is far from the most famous person Singh has collaborated with. The previous December she made a video with fellow Canadian comic Seth Rogen and his BFF James Franco, which was set up by YouTube. "They wanted to promote their new movie, and they chose to do that through popular YouTube channels," Singh told BuzzFeed. "I submitted my idea for a collab, and fortunately I was selected."

Her biggest celebrity collab to date has been with her childhood hero (and adult crush) Dwayne Johnson. She met The Rock backstage at the 2015 MTV Movie Awards and despite freaking out more than a little, the two hit it off. They later made a video in which the former professional wrestler asks Superwoman for advice on starting his own YouTube channel, which has been viewed over 13 million times. "It was super cool, it was the first video on his channel and he collaborated for a video on my channel," Singh told The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. "It was like 'Let me teach you how to be YouTube star,' but really I'm just hitting on him the whole time."

She's best friends with Charlize Theron

Arguably the most famous of Singh's famous friends, South African actress Charlize Theron wound up becoming besties with her after they met at a charity event. "I went to a dinner with her to discuss all the amazing work she does," Singh revealed during her appearance on Chelsea Handler's Netflix talk show. "I was randomly in Italy once for some Google stuff and she was right beside me and I was like 'Charlize!' And we became best friends, I love her." They even planned to go on an African safari with a bunch of Theron's friends, as Handler noted.

Singh and Theron have been very open about their admiration for one another, both online and in public. Singh told Theron that she "amazed" her on Twitter, and the Atomic Blonde star replied by saying she was "in awe" of the vlogger. Theron even kissed Singh on the cheek at a recent event celebrating ten years of Theron's African Outreach charity, which teaches young men and women about the dangers of HIV and AIDS, a problem that sadly remains widespread in parts of Africa.

Transitioning into the mainstream has been tricky

Despite her ever-growing pool of A-list friends, Singh still found it hard to make the transition into mainstream Hollywood herself, as she explained to the BBC. "I can go to my premiere at the Chinese Theatre and everyone will know me and everyone will cater to me," she said, referring to the opening of A Trip to Unicorn Island, a 2016 documentary about her 27-city world tour. "And then I'll go to an audition and get rejected left, right and center. They don't watch my videos and they don't really know who I am."

It's easy to assume that being internet famous automatically gives you a head start on other aspiring actors, but Singh is living proof that this simply isn't the case. "It is like starting from scratch when it comes to traditional Hollywood," she continued. "In the digital space people consider me a star, but then I go into auditions and they'll be like 'Sorry, what was your name again?' I feel like I'm living this split life, trying to climb two different ladders and I'm on very different rungs on each ladder."

She's a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

Singh is no stranger to humanitarian work. In 2016, she teamed up with social enterprise ME to WE to launch the Girl Love bracelet, with the idea being to use all the proceeds made from the sales to help young Kenyan girls get an education. The following year, UNICEF decided to honor her by making her a Goodwill Ambassador, a title held by numerous A-list celebs including David Beckham, Jackie Chan, and Shakira.

"Lilly Singh is already a Superwoman helping empower girls around the world, and we are delighted that she will lend her passion and her powerful voice to speak up on behalf of the most vulnerable children," UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth said. Yasmin Haque (UNICEF's representative in India) was particularly thrilled about Singh coming aboard, calling her a role model to young girls worldwide. "We look forward to the role she will play in generating greater discussion — and greater action — around the value of girls in India and everywhere," Haque said.

Needless to say, Singh was delighted with the news. "I am honored to join UNICEF as a Goodwill Ambassador, and to use my voice to support its mission of reaching every child," she said at a special event in New Delhi. "The children I have met here are overcoming so many challenges — and they are living proof of what a child can achieve, if given a chance." 

She's also a staunch feminist

While promoting her book, How to Be a Bawse, Lilly Singh gave a number of interviews and discussed a number of different topics, but one that came up when the YouTuber sat down for a chat with Glamour was feminism. The popular women's magazine asked her about the response she received after posting a video that explained why she didn't need a man in her life to be happy, which apparently incensed a number of her male viewers.

"One of the most controversial things I've ever said was that I'm a feminist," she said. "To this day, anytime I talk about anything related to women's issues, it's probably the most backlash I receive. I think there's still a certain level of intimidation and confusion that comes around a strong female voice, that video is a prime example of it... There were a lot of angry guys in those comments."

Superwoman is super generous with her fans

To some fans, Singh really is Superwoman. The YouTuber proved just how much her supporters mean to her in 2017 when she decided to give back to a few lucky Twitter followers. To celebrate reaching 1,000 vlogs on her YouTube channel, the Canadian shared $1,000 among the people she felt needed it most. Speaking to the BBC, one Malaysian fan explained how Singh offered to cover the cost of a night out for them and their sick mother.

"Lilly said she would love for me to take my mum out for a night to have dinner and fun as her treat," 18-year-old Uma (who met Singh in person on her book tour of Malaysia) said. "Tell me one celebrity that would do this for their fans. The fact that she took time out of her day just to connect with her fans and to help my mum out, that meant so much."

Singh's generosity was also greatly appreciated by a Twitter user named Claudine, who was shocked when Singh revealed she was going to pay for an upcoming exam. "I have spoken with her team and I will receive the money in a couple of weeks when I am ready for the exam," the ecstatic Dallas resident said. "I feel like this is a dream." Singh also paid for $100 worth of groceries for an unfortunate fan who had been left to care for their little brother following the arrest of their mother.

Surviving YouTube burnout

No YouTuber is immune to burnout, not even Lilly Singh. The YouTube veteran has been churning out videos since 2010, and, in 2018, the inevitable finally happened — Singh hit a brick wall. In November of that year, the internet star shocked followers when she revealed that she'd become "mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted" by YouTube, admitting that her output had suffered as a result.

"The thing about YouTube is, in all of its glory, it kind of is a machine and it makes creators believe that we have to pump out content consistently even at the cost of our life and our mental health and our mental happiness," she said in a candid video. Part of the problem, she explained, was that YouTube had changed so much since she first started out, and she just wasn't willing to change with it. "Whatever currently works on YouTube does not make me happy," she added.

To this end, Singh announced that she would be taking a break so she could rediscover her "creative energy" and figure out which direction to take. A few months later she confirmed that she was making changes to her main channel for the sake of her sanity, including cutting back on the number of videos she posts. Instead of being a slave to a schedule, she now releases videos only when she has a worthwhile idea. "I want to make videos when I have an idea that really does inspire me," she said.

Embracing her bisexuality

When Singh went on hiatus at the end of 2018, her goal was to figure out her future on YouTube, but she apparently did a bit of personal soul searching, too. She announced big changes to her channel in January 2019, and the following month she dropped a huge truth-bomb on Twitter. "Female, coloured, bisexual," she said. "Throughout my life these have proven to be obstacles from time to time, but now I'm fully embracing them as my superpowers. No matter how many 'boxes' you check, I encourage you to do the same."

Singh coming out as bisexual was celebrated by her fans and peers alike. "So happy you're finally comfy enough to say this out loud," Gabbie Hanna said, one of the many YouTube stars who celebrated the news. Manny MUA, Hannah Hart, James Charles, and Lauren Riihimaki also chimed in. The most vocal reaction, however, came from Singh's South Asian followers, many of whom hailed her coming out as a huge step for LGBT rights in that part of the world.

"In the South Asian community there's a hesitancy for women to take ownership of their sexuality in the way Lilly has done," South Asian writer and performer Afshan D'souza-Lodhi told the BBC. "It's amazing news to have her come out like that." Shiva Raichandani (a non-binary performing artist, also of South Asian descent) said that Singh had provided a "platform to younger generations to feel comfortable in their own sexuality and their own skin."

A Little Late with Lilly Singh

Lilly Singh's huge start to 2019 rolled right into March, when she revealed that she was getting her very own late night show on NBC, replacing Carson Daly in the 1:30 a.m. slot. It marked the end of an era at the network (Last Call with Carson Daly ran for 17 years), but it was also a chance to try something completely new. In his parting statement (via The Hollywood Reporter), Daly said that it was time to "let someone else have access to this incredible platform."

In a statement obtained by Entertainment Weekly, NBC late night executive vice president Doug Vaughan said, "Lilly is truly a star and we're thrilled to welcome her to our NBC family." He continued, "She is a multi-talented performer who will surely have a great rapport with not only all her guests but also with our devoted late-night audience. We can't wait to get started."

In her own statement, Singh said that an Indian-Canadian woman with her own late night show (which will be called A Little Late with Lilly Singh) was "a dream come true" for her. "I'm thrilled to bring it to life on NBC, and I hope my parents consider this to be as exciting as a grandchild," she added. The YouTuber could barely contain her excitement when she shared the news with her subscribers, whom she thanked from "the bottom of [her] heart."