SINGAPORE — Comedian Lilly Singh found fame thanks to her no-holds-barred YouTube comedy channel, IISuperwomanII.
But the social-media star hates that her success is sometimes tied to her ethnicity.
The 28-year-old admits that her Indian background — both her parents are from Punjab, India, but Singh was born and raised in Toronto — has been a boon. At the same time, it has often resulted in her work being overlooked.
“People are intrigued that there’s a South Asian woman who is so outspoken,” Singh — who is in Singapore on May 24 as part of her comedy tour — said in a telephone call from Los Angeles last month.
“But ... many people, (in particular) the media, try to corner me into this niche and just identify me as this Indian woman. And they don’t even talk about what I do. They just talk about the fact that I have brown skin.”
Singh started posting comedy skits and vlogs on YouTube in 2010 under the moniker IISuperwomanII. She shoots, writes, directs and stars in the videos, and has amassed a whopping 11 million followers (and 1.8 billion views). Her videos take social issues, as well as see her impersonating her Indian parents in clips such as Sh** Punjabi Mothers Say. One video starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saw Singh and the star telling a dirty joke.
The numbers are testament to her success: Last year, Singh ranked third on the Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid YouTube stars, raking in a reported US$7.5 million (S$10.4 million) through her various projects.
The digital powerhouse has landed bit roles in Hollywood films like Bad Moms and Ice Age: Collision Course, and even released her own lipstick with cosmetics brand Smashbox. She produced a feature-length film, A Trip To Unicorn Island (2016), which chronicles her first world tour.
Heck, she’s even had tea with former United States first lady Michelle Obama during filming for an episode of her #GirlLove series, an online movement against girl-on-girl hate.
Singh’s venture into YouTube was hardly born from a desire to create a career as an online personality, she said. She “had no idea it would snowball to what it is”.
“I never even thought about it in terms of success. I just (started making videos) to be happy,” said Singh, who plans on dabbling more in music, television and film once she wraps up her book tour.
As for how one of the world’s biggest online personalities handles nasty comments and trolls on the web, and Singh, who holds a degree in psychology, is nonchalant. “I’ve gotten really good at learning how to focus on what deserves my attention,” she said.
“I always tell people that my job is 90 per cent psychology and 10 per cent actual work, because it’s all about understanding that people who leave (mean) comments are telling their story, not mine.”
Singh’s show at the Kallang Theatre is based on her book, How To Be A Bawse: A Guide To Conquering Life, which she is currently touring. She will perform what she calls “a comedic, motivational TED talk”.
“I want people to leave my show determined to go home and work hard and check off everything on their bucket list,” she said.
“When you think of happiness, confidence, self-esteem and making good impressions, you think these things are really natural... But all of those things require the type of work and dedication you put towards a (school or work) project,” she added.
“If you really want to be a certain way, it’s going to require an immense amount of work — and the book provides some practical guidelines.”
Singh was last in Singapore last September (2016) for It’s A Girl Thing — a female-centric event which aimed to promote positive personal development and raise awareness about issues like bullying. She was also here in 2015, and some 1,400 fans attended her A Trip To Unicorn Island show at the Kallang Theatre then.
“Singapore has some of my most dedicated fans,” Singh said.
“Nowhere else in the world have I ever landed at the airport and had that many people welcome me (with) a lot of screaming, a lot of crying, and a lot of hugs. It’s always interesting to me that my presence evokes such emotion from people... It’s a little confusing but also exciting.”
LA Comedy Live presents Lilly Singh: How To Be A Boss Tour Live In Singapore on May 24 at the Kallang Theatre at 8pm. Tickets from $93 to $244 are available through Sistic (www.sistic.com.sg or Tel: 6348-5555).
OTHER ASIAN YOUTUBE STARS
These other YouTube personalities may not have quite as many subscribers as the IISuperwomanII herself, but they have certainly made a splash online.
CASSEY HO, 30
Considered one of fitness pioneers on YouTube, having launched her channel Blogilates in 2009, Ho, who is of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, currently has almost four million subscribers. She is in Singapore on May 20 as part of Fitness Fest Singapore. Ho has created a fitness empire, selling activewear — including her own collection, Bodypop — and DVDs. Ho is also behind Pop Pilates, which involves pilates choreographed to pop music and has travelled extensively conducting classes. Her net worth is rumoured to be around US$2 million.
NATALIE TRAN, 30
Posting videos under the handle communitychannel, the Australian multi-hyphenate, who is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, currently has over 1.8 million subscribers. Her rising popularity on YouTube since 2006 has led to prolific media coverage, and she was commissioned as a contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald’s technology blog Digital Life. She has also worked with travel guide The Lonely Planet on a series of promotional videos.
RYAN HIGA, 26
Japanese-American Higa, also known as nigahiga, has made quite the name for himself as a comedian since making his YouTube debut in 2006. His videos — ranging from comedy skits to music — have been viewed over three billion times, with nearly 19 million subscribers to his channel. This year, he was featured on Fobes magazine’s 2017 list of 30 under 30 celebrities who are “using their fame to make a difference — and a fortune”. He also performs in a parody K-pop group, Boys Generally Asian.
SAM TSUI, 28
This American singer-songwriter — whose father has roots in Hong Kong and whose mother is American — started garnering attention on YouTube in 2011 with his covers of songs by popular artists like Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift. He currently has around 2.7 million subscribers and has appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among others. He released a full-length original album titled Make It Up in 2013 and had a bit role in television drama Bones last year.