Living the dream
Toronto’s Lilly Singh bringing YouTube act to Just For Laughs stage
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.