Vogue India’s April 2022 Cover featuring Lilly Singh

She may have had humble beginnings in the hallowed halls of YouTube over a decade ago, but today, Lilly Singh is an instantly recognisable face on the internet. Despite making record-breaking strides in her industry, the comedian, actor and former talk-show host tells Vogue India that her only competition is the person in the mirror.

“Bollywood was such a huge part of our household. As a teen, there may have been a gap in my knowledge of American culture—pop songs or iconic movies that I didn’t know about—but never with Hindi cinema. Bollywood is stitched into the fabric of my being,” Lilly Singh tells me over Zoom. “The first movie I ever watched was Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994),” she says with a smile, when I ask her how she knows so much about the Hindi film industry despite being born miles away from Indian soil. “I saw Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) thrice on the big screen and growing up, my walls were plastered with posters of Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Madhuri Dixit. I also had a huge pile of Stardust magazines to keep abreast of Hindi cinema.”

For Singh, her entire journey has been a happy accident. Even when she began rising through the ranks of the internet to command a loyal fanbase on the back of a robust reel of relatable sketches, it never occurred to her that she could make a living out of comedy, choosing instead to simply derive unfiltered happiness from having a tangible presence in a virtual world. “There was never really a particular moment where I told my friends that I was going to be an entertainer,” she shrugs. “Even when I walked into my parents’ room and told them that I wanted to focus on YouTube, I didn’t think I was actually going to have a career in entertainment because there were such few examples of people who had done that back then. For as long as I’ve been doing this, it’s been about rolling with the punches and figuring things out as I go along. Fortunately, it snowballed into this career,” she says.

In the years since, Singh has brushed shoulders with prominent Hollywood names like Dwayne Johnson, Will Smith, Selena Gomez, Shay Mitchell and Priyanka Chopra, and featured them in her sketches that encompass breezy, millennial-approved topics ranging from how to get out of a bad date or how to instantly sound smart, to lascivious ones like how to hide a hickey or how to handle your thoughts when meeting a hot guy. But none of the LA-based comedian’s routines have enjoyed the kind of meteoric engagement that her tried-and-tested Indian Parents segments have. “When I first started out, my characters were pretty surface level,” she recalls, a slight grimace distorting her features. “Like, my-mom-doesn’t-know-how-to-use-this-technology. Or she-gets-mad-because-she’s-strict-and-doesn’t-want-me-to-wear-this. As I’ve evolved, my goal has been to delve into the ‘why’. Why are my parents like this? Why do they say these things to me? Over the years, I’ve tried to dig deeper into their upbringing and culture so that my videos don’t end up being appalling clichés.”

Incidentally, being pigeonholed is something Singh understands well—she is one of the few (if not only) South Asian women in an industry that has long been gatekept by white men and is now scrambling to earn brownie points for representation. The comic isn’t resentful about how diversity is injected into the global comedy circuit, as long as it isn’t an exercise in futility. “It is going to take a bit of a learning curve for those in charge to understand that more than one of me can exist in this space. And I’m willing to put in the work to pave that path,” she asserts. “I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. We’re not going to wake up one day and see five desi girls in one room.”
At present, Singh’s hands are brimming with projects. Her second book, Be A Triangle: How I Went from Being Lost To Getting My Life Into Shape, which she refers to as a roadmap for navigating identity and self-worth, alongside circumventing negative thought patterns, also launched this month and is touted to be a New York Times bestseller, just like its predecessor, How To Be A Bawse (2017). But while the latter implored readers to embrace the hustle and tirelessly chase success, the former, written four years later in the midst of the pandemic, takes a step back, nudging them towards a path that doesn’t put a timeline to their achievements. Singh acknowledges that the difference between these characteristically distinctive approaches stemmed from recalibrating her own frame of mind. “I took a break during the pandemic where I deleted social media from my phone for seven months. I wrote Be A Triangle during that time and emerged from that break a brand-new person,” she confesses. For the comedian, writing the book was not so much a self-assigned undertaking as a burning necessity. “During the lockdowns, like with most people, my schedule went to crap. But it was not only the feeling of boredom, of not having anything to do, that bothered me. It was scarier than that. I felt like I had no purpose, that I provided no value if I didn’t work. It made me realise that I’ve always measured my existence against things like my grades, my salary or my possessions. Writing Be A Triangle made me realise that I could also learn to value myself as a friend or as someone who enjoys hobbies, as someone who takes up space without finding the need to provide something in return.”

This article was shared with Prittle Prattle News as a Press Release.

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