Late-night network television became a little more diverse beginning last September when NBC launched A Little Late with Lilly Singh. The first openly bisexual woman to host a broadcast late-night show as well as the first of South Asian descent, Singh has added a bit of energy to the 1:35 a.m. slot.
The show, which is produced by Universal Television in association with Singh’s Unicorn Island Productions and Irwin Entertainment, ran for close to 100 episodes for its first season. It is coming back, as soon as COVID-19 allows, for a second season.
Singh, a well known YouTuber, tells Deadline how she plans to shake up the show, which was filmed in batches of episodes rather than every night, in the second season, hoping to bring more topicality to the show, as well as what we learned from her first run out.
She also talks about diversity in late night, giving chances to new writers and development plans for her production company in this wide-ranging interview, which you can see some of above.
DEADLINE: Congratulations on the first season of A Little Late with Lilly Singh and the fact that you didn’t have to film any of them in your own home.
LILY SINGH: Yeah, it’s a little bittersweet, I’m not going to lie, because I started my career DIY at home. I feel like that’s where I really shine with low production quality making something out of nothing. Now that every other late-night host is doing that my show’s not on the air, so it’s a little bittersweet for sure. It’s also a little strange that my episodes that were airing were shot pre-pandemic, so there is a live audience, no one is social distancing. I’m hugging people and I’m cringing at home truly.
DEADLINE: Did you consider shooting any episodes after that first batch from home? As you said you’re an expert of YouTube.
SINGH: What this has led me to do is really just evaluate and think about how to execute Season 2. Because the schedule of season one made it such where we bank shot a lot of these episodes. So, what seemed efficient at the time obviously has its downfalls. Of course, I couldn’t have anticipated a pandemic, but I think definitely in Season 2 I’m going to want to find a way to be more topical and ensure that our production schedule allows me to talk about what’s happening because I think that’s just so important.
DEADLINE: Was there anything surprising as you did that first season? Anything that you learned that you hadn’t expected?
SINGH: I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t anticipate it to be one million times harder than I thought it was going to be. It was surprising in a lot of ways. It was definitely unlike anything I’ve ever done. It was equally exciting and terrifying and humbling and nauseating all at the same time. I think there was so much to learn in such a small amount of time and I’m no stranger to a learning curving and having to step out of my comfort zone, but it was just such an extreme example of doing that. I knew I would have to work hard, I knew the schedule would be hard, I anticipated some obstacles, but there some obstacles that I just could never have anticipated because they were just foreign to me. I think for Season 2 I just know to expect the unexpected. I’ll walk in knowing that there’s going to be things that happen, there’s going to be learnings that you cannot anticipate and just to deal with those head on.
DEADLINE: There’s a rhythm to it that you have to learn and presumably you were able to learn that in the first season.
SINGH: If I’m honest with you I feel like it takes a second to hit that rhythm. I think when I go to other people’s shows, when I go to Fallon’s show or Trevor Noah’s show I can definitely tell they’re in a rhythm. I think I’m still developing mine. I think my schedule for Season 1 was just so ambitious where the rhythm was to not drown. Do what we need to do today, rush, rush, there’s no time for anything else. I would like in Season 2 to have a little bit more of a rhythm where there is some buffer time to do a little bit of a mental check or tweak a joke a little bit. I think we’re still figuring it out.
DEADLINE: Have you figured out how you will shoot Season 2?
SINGH: It’s going to have to be us figuring out a magic trick to do it all in a sitting, because you’re right it can’t be every night. To be frank our budget just, quite frankly, doesn’t allow for it. It’s going to have to be a split of evergreen content and topical content. Don’t get me wrong I want to be topical, I still see a lot of value in evergreen content. You know I make a lot of YouTube videos that are relationships and parents and those things aren’t topical they’re things you can watch at any time and they’re equally as enjoyable. I think there’s value in both. I just think season one leans heavily into almost like 90% evergreen and 10% topical and I want to try to do it a little more even.
DEADLINE: What did you most enjoy doing the first season?
SINGH: First, I have to say I’ve never experienced the amount of support from people in the industry like I have when I announced my show. I think that instantly blew me away, especially women in the industry that were just cheering me on in really real ways. I had women messaging me saying can we write a recommendation if you need advice on how to navigate the network. That was something that I really valued in Season 1. I mean, in terms of the actual process I loved having a writers’ room.
Now, I’ve created content since 2010 by myself and I would be banging my head against the wall trying to think of ideas. And to have a writers’ room where people were bouncing ideas off of each other and someone would say something great. It was just a creative process I’ve never had before and I thrived in it and I loved it. I can only hope in Season 2 that I have even more time to sit in with my writers, because I sat in on every writers meeting. I was very involved and I hope that I can continue to do that.
DEADLINE: Talk to me about the writers. You replaced Last Call with Carson Daly and some of the writers that they came from his show included Whitney Cummings, Dan Goor, Alan Yang. Have you got some superstars writing in your room?
SINGH: Absolutely. I think they’re all superstars. I’m a big believer of people have got to be given opportunities and if I’m really blatantly honest with you some of the people that need opportunities don’t have the experience. Like, I was very adamant on saying I want a writers’ room that looks like the world. I want many perspectives. I don’t want a room full of people that all have the same point of view. I don’t want people to have the same point of view as me. I want to make sure that we learn and we kind of are being representative of the world and relating to the world.
Then when you try to find those people you realize there are people that have never gotten a shot to be in a writers’ room. They’ve never had the opportunity to work on a show. Then I faced the pressure of I’m in my first season and I obviously want more experience in what they’re doing, but I’m caught between wanting that and also wanting to make sure that I give people an opportunity. So I bet on people. My writers’ room is relatively small. I have two writers that it was their first writers’ room. They had never been in a writers’ room and honestly they were rock stars.
The beauty of that is that when you give people a chance who have otherwise not had opportunities they don’t have a set idea of how things should be. They come with this fresh perspective of, why do I have to follow these writing rules and why do I have to follow how things have been done? It’s almost like a lack of experience is a tool and it’s a benefit, and I feel the same way about me hosting. It’s like I don’t know anything about hosting a late-night show and sometimes I’d suggest things and people would be like well that’s not really how things are done. And I’m like perfect then we’ll do them that way.
DEADLINE: Presumably you can take those chances because you have exec producers like John Irwin and Aliyah Silverstein, right? Are they coming back?
SINGH: We’re going to be shaking things up in Season 2, definitely, in terms of the team and in terms of who’s coming back and whose sensibilities were correct. But I think that’s exactly correct. I’m not going to be naïve. You definitely need people that have experience because someone needs to know how to do things. But you have some of those people and you bet on other people. I think that’s the path I want to create moving forward is that you take the people with experience and you pair the people that need opportunities and together they become experienced. They all become experienced and that’s what I want to do.
DEADLINE: You talk about people being supportive and I know Carson was supportive when you got that show. Late-night over the last few years or the last 20 years has been sort of defined by clashes between the hosts, but it doesn’t really seem to be like that anymore. There seems to be a bit more camaraderie between the hosts. Do you find that?
SINGH: Definitely. I also am a huge believer that that’s the way things should be. I mean, I’m not going to lie I’m not too savvy with knowing all of the late-night drama that has ensued in the past. All I know is that I come from the YouTube space, which is a very collaborative space. I am a firm believer that there is space for everyone. I’ve said it before I don’t think every story has to be about everyone, but I think there should be stories for everyone. I definitely think there’s nothing that makes me happier than late-night hosts all getting together and all supporting each other because there’s space for all of us.
DEADLINE: NBC calls your slot a creative playground, which is the same thing as YouTube. Does it matter to you what time the linear show goes out?
SINGH: I definitely think it’s less important than it used to be. Does that mean it’s of zero importance to me? I’d be lying if I said that was the case. Of course, I would love for my slot to not be so, so late. But having said that, you’re exactly correct, people watch most of my show online and we’re well aware of that, NBC’s well aware of that. It doesn’t bother us by any means. I also think it’s important to note that when people watch it online it’s a global audience and so I make my show with that understanding. A lot of times when I’m in my writers’ room or I’m fine tuning my monologue or whatever it is I think, “This is very made for one type of person.” And I want to make sure that my fans in India and my fans around the world who are going to be accessing online can relate to this. It’s definitely changed the way I make content, but of course I care about the time slot. But it doesn’t bother me and keep me up at night.
DEADLINE: Having a worldwide audience is rare for late-night show. It becomes more representative, right?
SINGH: The reactions have been interesting across the board. I think I’ve gotten everything from people really understanding what representation means. I mean, it’s easy to use as a buzzword of like “we need more representation.” Well, what does that actually mean? I’ve really gotten to learn through people’s comments and I think what that actually means is when I get comments that say, “Oh my God I saw an episode of A Little Late with Lilly Singh where her and Kal Penn are talking about Indian restaurants and I’ve never heard a conversation like this.” Or when Mindy Kaling and I are talking about her new show, Never Have I Ever, and I’m using Tamil slang or I’m saying something that really relates to people that’s not being watered down.
It is what it is and I’m not shying away from it, and I think that’s what representation means. It’s having conversations, seeing stories that are so authentic to that group of people, which we just haven’t seen. So that effect has been really great. Of course, I’ve gotten feedback on how to improve the show. People are never shy to tell me what to do better. But I think the number one thing I can say is that I am my biggest critique. There is not a person out there that is more critical of me than I am. If you have any feedback for the show chances are I have it tenfold. I always say that this show, the first season of A Little Late with Lilly Singh, reminds me of my first YouTube video.
You know there’s moments where it’s great and there’s moments where it’s very uncomfortable and there’s lots of room for improvement and I’m well aware of that. Don’t think anyone tweeting me telling me that is groundbreaking news to me. Trust me I’ve watched all of the episodes, so I think there’s lots of room for improvement. But I’m really proud of what we’ve done and also really proud of just the authentic conversations, because I think that encompasses what representation is.
DEADLINE: Late-night is largely full of old white men, but you’re at the new front of increasing diversity on these shows. How important is that?
SINGH: I think every culture and every group of people deserves an avenue to talk about things that feel safe and that feels light even if the subject matter is not light. You said it yourself, late-night hosts have been white males and I think they’ve had that space for a while. Now there needs to be that space for other groups of people to put their defenses down and talk about things and address these issues better. I think comedy is golden for that and so that’s why I’m so passionate about it.
DEADLINE: You’ve also got your own production company, Unicorn Island. How is that going?
SINGH: It’s actually quite the professional and personal seesaw act of balancing. Because professionally I can say yeah I’m making time to read scripts and also make YouTube videos and be on these meetings and also shoot my own videos. One of the hardest things in my career has been how to learn how to have delayed gratification, because YouTube doesn’t allow for that. You make something, you put it up, instantly you’re making money from it and getting feedback,. Development is not that. I’ve been working on some projects for two years and they probably will take three more years. I’m learning how to prioritize that when I’m so used to being gratified in one certain way.
I’ve had to teach myself that there’s different buckets of success and there’s different levels of gratification. But professionally I have a great team I have a head of development named Polly Auritt and she’s fantastic. I think what’s really helped is creating things I actually believe in. I am a firm believer that if you find yourself not working on something hard or if you find yourself slacking on something or sleeping in past your alarm, you probably are not that passionate about that thing. So, something that has really helped drive my hustle is working on things, and it’s a privileged thing I will say, working on things that I’m really passionate about that I just simply cannot sleep through, I simply cannot be lazy about because I’m so driven and that’s what my slate is full of. It’s full of stories that I love so much that I’m OK having two full-time jobs to get them done.
DEADLINE: Is that a balance of scripted and non-scripted and then things that you might be in and things that you won’t?
SINGH: Absolutely. There’s definitely a balance of scripted and non-scripted. In terms of me being onscreen I’m not precious about it. I am game for whatever is good for that project. If someone else is better because they will execute it better they should be onscreen. I want the best version of that story to be told. But if we think that my voice is going to elevate that project I am all game for being part of it as well. So we have a good mix of things that star me and don’t star me.
DEADLINE: Going back to A Little Late, presumably you would’ve been gearing up for Season 2 if we weren’t in the pandemic. Have you guys figured out a plan for when you can get back?
SINGH: All of it is TBD, honestly. You’re correct we would’ve probably been in production right now. Like everyone else, we’re just so uncertain with what the state of the world is going to be in terms of production, so I don’t assume it will be anytime soon. But for me the silver lining is it just gives me more time to brainstorm and figure things out. I feel like I just have a longer runway now, so I honestly don’t know, but I’m going to use the time regardless.
DEADLINE: You’ll presumably miss the audience.
SINGH: I wouldn’t even say, in terms of the audience. I would also just say, I’m not quite sure that a virtual writers’ room is going to have the same effect as a writers’ room in person. I talked to someone I called in the industry who expressed the sentiment as well. I’m just not sure the magic that’s required to make something like a late-night show is possible if it doesn’t have all the people in the same place to be honest. So, yeah, I’m not really sure.
DEADLINE: Final question is, is Beyonce still the dream guest for Season 2?
SINGH: Absolutely. Beyonce could’ve been on my show five times and she’ll still be the dream guest. Honestly, I can’t think of a person beyond Beyonce. If you have Beyonce who else is there? No one. Yes, Beyonce if you’re watching this be on my show.
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