Liv­ing the dream

Toronto’s Lilly Singh bring­ing YouTube act to Just For Laughs stage

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY BILL BRIOUX Bill Brioux is a free­lance TV colum­nist based in Bramp­ton, Ont. While in Mon­treal, Brioux was a guest of The Com­edy Net­work.

Lilly Singh bills her­self as “Su­per­woman,’’ but she’s adored by fans as the girl next door.

The YouTube phe­nom­e­non’s twice-weekly videos have been screened two bil­lion times and some 12 mil­lion peo­ple sub­scribe to her YouTube chan­nel. Forbes re­ports that Singh is one of the big­gest earn­ers on the pop­u­lar stream­ing ser­vice.

Not bad for a 28-year-old woman from Toronto.

The for­mer psy­chol­ogy stu­dent’s life is one big YouTube doc­u­men­tary. She deals with real is­sues such as cul­tural di­ver­sity and girl-on-girl hate, as well as goof­ing on club­bing and “An­noy­ing Peo­ple in Pub­lic Washrooms.’’

But can a girl from the dig­i­tal side of the com­edy di­vide make it as a main­stream star?

Singh, who moved to Los An­ge­les a year-and-a-half ago, is liv­ing that dream right now.

Ear­lier this year, she re­leased the best-sell­ing ad­vice guide “How to be a Bawse.’’ She’s un­der­taken two world tours, in­clud­ing stops in her fam­ily’s home­land of In­dia. Next week, she starts shoot­ing in Toronto on the HBO fea­ture “Fahren­heit 451,’’ based on the Ray Brad­bury sci-fi clas­sic.

This Sun­day, she’ll head­line her first live gala in Mon­treal at the Just for Laughs Com­edy Fes­ti­val, a per­for­mance that will also be seen this sea­son on Com­edy Net­work’s “JFL: All Ac­cess.’’

At this year’s fes­ti­val, Singh finds her­self among such in­dus­try heavy­weights as Jerry Se­in­feld, Judd Apa­tow, Trevor Noah, Ali Wong, Howie Man­del, Mark Critch and Rick Mer­cer.

“I’m thrilled to be head­ing home, play­ing in Canada,’’ she says on the phone from L.A. “I def­i­nitely want to cap­ture what­ever peo­ple love about my videos and bring it to the stage.’’

Her chal­lenge will be bring­ing the many char­ac­ters she plays — adding wigs and make-up to trans­form into her par­ents and oth­ers — to the live stage.

“We may have to set up a few video screens,’’ she says.

Trans­planted to Cal­i­for­nia, Singh has found that “there are just so many more pos­si­bil­i­ties when it comes to tra­di­tional space and dig­i­tal space merg­ing to­gether. Hol­ly­wood is a place where you re­ally can ac­tu­ally make your own path.’’

In the past year, she did a cameo in the fea­ture film “Bad Moms’’ and, as a “dig­i­tal in­flu­encer,’’ lined up pro­mo­tional deals from ad­ver­tis­ers such as Coca-Cola.

Years ago, a co­me­dian would have to make it at a venue like the leg­endary L.A. club The Com­edy Store, get booked on “The Tonight Show’’ and get a thumb’s up from host Johnny Car­son to have a suc­cess­ful show­biz ca­reer.

To­day, book­ing YouTube stars at Just for Laughs is an im­por­tant part of the mix ac­cord­ing to Paul Ronca, the fes­ti­val’s di­rec­tor of in­dus­try and spe­cial events pro­gram­ming.

“YouTube stars are very im­por­tant,’’ he says. “Many are tran­si­tion­ing from on­line to stage and bring­ing those au­di­ences to their shows . . . so if you con­nect all the dots, you’ll see that we would be miss­ing out on a great op­por­tu­nity if we weren’t bring­ing them to the fes­ti­val.’’

Ronca says it all boils down to one fac­tor: “There is room in com­edy for any­one who wants to be funny and is good at it.’’

Jeff Ross, who has lost track of how many years he’s been per­form­ing at Just for Laughs, says he has no prob­lem with YouTube stars host­ing galas.

“If some­body pays their dues in a way that I’m not as fa­mil­iar with, I re­spect that… .”


Lilly Singh ar­rives on the red car­pet at the 2017 Much Mu­sic Video Awards in Toronto on June 18. Singh bills her­self as “Su­per­woman,” but she’s adored by fans as the girl next door.

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