Canadian-born comedian Lilly Singh probably knows YouTube inside and out. The video sharing platform, on which Singh has her own channel, has come a long way since its humble debut in 2005. The once-small operation has become a billion dollar tech juggernaut, and has single-handedly changed the way we consume content all over the world. It also has the power to make its stars into millionaires, as long as you have enough subscribers, views, and on-camera charisma.
Among those lucky enough to be a YouTube millionaire, of course, is Singh, whose total net worth is $16 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Singh has been uploading her comedic videos to the site since 2010, as noted by her YouTube channel, and she now boasts approximately 15 million subscribers. Those are some seriously impressive metrics.
But Singh wasn’t always a world-famous personality with a successful YouTube channel and a fat bank account. Rather, her story starts many years ago in Canada, where her parents moved to from India before she was born. From a small child in Canada to a social media celebrity, this is the stunning transformation of Lilly Singh.
Lilly Singh always wanted to be an entertainer
From the very beginning, Lilly Singh had the impulse to make things as she was growing up in the ’90s. "I was a creative kid constantly doing weird things," she recalled in an interview with Marie Claire. "I was a lot. I was also very obsessive."
Additionally, although the profession of YouTube star didn’t exist when Singh was young, she knew fairly early on what she wanted to be when she grew up. "From a personal standpoint, when I was young I wanted to be an entertainer," she shared in an interview with Flare.
However, that wasn’t an option for her at the beginning, as she had cultural expectations placed upon her. Fortunately, that was something she was able to push through. "I grew up in a South Asian family where [entertainment jobs] are unheard of and to take that leap of faith to actually pursue this has taught me to trust my plan A," she continued. "We are so used to having a plan B all of the time that we don’t put enough effort into our plan A." Dreams really can come true!
Lilly Singh struggled with her parents’ expectations
Because of the cultural expectations foisted upon her, Lilly Singh committed herself to her education, and went to York University after she finished high school. "I was doing my psych degree and was following in my sister’s footsteps," she explained in an interview with The Cut. "My parents wanted me to do my master’s and I was in this phase where I was going through the motions of life and doing what my family wanted me to do." To that end, Singh felt that this path was the best one for her, based on what was available at the time.
But because she was doing what was expected of her instead of following her heart, Singh found it difficult to cultivate happiness. "I was a sad person," she continued. "As a kid, I loved entertainment and dancing and being creative, and I lost that in university." So when she graduated in 2010, she was feeling a bit adrift, unsure of where she was going in her life.
Lilly Singh started her YouTube channel to combat depression
In 2010, Lilly Singh was feeling adrift, unhappy with her life and career prospects. So in order to cope with her depression, she tapped into her creative energies and started making videos. "I was dealing with a lot in my life when I started making YouTube videos and I thought if I could make other people laugh, I could make myself laugh," she revealed in an interview with Flare. "It was self-medicating."
At the time, Singh was unaware of the true power of YouTube and really was just goofing around to blow off some steam. "I wasn’t even totally aware of what YouTube could become," she recalled in an interview with York University. "I didn’t think it could be a career, I didn’t think I could make a lot of money from it, I didn’t think it would be sustainable by any means." Rather, she just had some creative ideas and wanted to express herself. Thus, IISuperwomanII was born.
But much to Singh’s surprise, her channel started to blow up as more and more people started watching her videos. Pretty soon, she was an early YouTube sensation.
Lilly Singh hit 1 million subscribers in 2013
Lilly Singh’s first YouTube video, a self-described "crazy" spoken-word piece that she later took down, amassed 70 views, which at the time blew her mind. "I was like, ‘Whoa, I am famous,’" she mused in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "It boggled my mind. How did these people find this video? Who were they and why were they watching?" Good questions, indeed.
While 70 views isn’t that many, it gave Singh the motivation to keep going and to create more videos. Then, several months later in 2011, she uploaded the "Official Guide to Brown Girls," which quickly amassed 10,000 views. "My phone was going bing, bing, bing," she continued. "After that, I turned off the notifications."
After convincing her parents to give her a year to focus on her YouTube channel, Singh bought a new camera and began collaborating with other YouTubers. By 2013, she had hit the magical 1 million subscriber mark, and was off and running. Unicorn Island had been established!
When Lilly Singh’s channel took off, she had growing pains
Once Lilly Singh’s channel became a solid brand in 2013, she had to expand operations and hire people. It was important to her, then, that she find the right individuals to work with. "A lot of it was finding a team that was in alignment with me, finding a team that understood my brand," she confessed in a 2017 interview with Cosmopolitan. "Letting go of control was a big part of everything, because when I first started YouTube I used to do everything myself." That would certainly be a transition.
Even though having a really good team was beneficial for Singh and her channel, there were some growing pains that came with the expansion. "As I’ve been growing, it’s been really difficult to let other people do things, because it’s my brand," she continued.
As for going forward, Singh established some goals for herself to help things run as smoothly as possible. She noted, "I think creating a team, letting go of control, and learning how to… not necessarily work more, but how to work more efficiently. That’s what I’ve been trying to do this year."
Traveling to India helped Lilly Singh realize she’d made it
Despite the fact that Lilly Singh had established a successful YouTube channel and was making some real money, she didn’t feel like she had yet "made it." That didn’t dawn on her until she traveled to India in 2015, where she was extremely well-received. "It was something about going literally across the world but also going to the place where my parents were born and being recognized and received well there," she shared in an interview with Cosmopolitan. "Something about it validated me and now my parents get it."
In particular, it was meeting the incredibly famous Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan that showed her just how famous she was. "I went to his house and I will never forget the moment of stepping out of the car and hearing screams and my instinct was ‘Oh my god, some of his fans got in,’ but it was his daughter and her friends screaming for me," she continued. "No other words can describe it besides life changing." She added that it was so overwhelming that, when she thinks about it now, she wants to throw up.
This is how Lilly Singh deals with haters
Much like anyone else who’s famous on the internet, Lilly Singh has dealt with her fair share of haters who leave nasty comments on her videos. She doesn’t act like it all rolls off of her back, though, as she admits that the hate does have an impact. "Anyone who says that the negative comments don’t get to them is definitely lying," she revealed in a 2016 interview with The Cut. "No matter how long you’ve done this, and no matter how thick your skin is — and my skin is pretty thick — from time to time, there will always be comments where you’re like, Oooh, I’m going to reply to you!"
Fortunately, Singh has a strategy to stop herself from getting involved in futile exchanges with negative people. "I have this little sticky on my computer that says, ‘Focus on what deserves your attention,’ and I think that’s what it is," she continued. "It’s a constant battle with my mind." Haters gonna hate, Lilly, so don’t give them the time of day!
This is why Lilly Singh started GirlLove
When Lilly Singh was in high school, she noticed girls didn’t get along with one another, and that behavior was treated like it was totally normal. As she blossomed and spoke at colleges and universities, Singh saw things hadn’t changed much. "Girls still feel like they have to compete with each other, still feel like they have to comment on what another girl is wearing, how she looks — you see that so much on TV and movies, like Mean Girls," she explained in an interview with Cosmopolitan. "Those kinds of movies are great and funny, but there’s always this message of ‘girls don’t get along.’" And that, Singh can’t get behind.
Instead, Singh created the campaign #GirlLove, in an effort to bring women and girls together by having them give a compliment to another woman on social media. "I think it’s our responsibility to teach young girls that it’s actually cool to empower other girls, because that’s actually how it is behind the scenes," she continued. "I think it’s important for kids to know that — that it’s important and COOL to support other women." Louder again for the people in the back!
Lilly Singh had a life-changing experience in Kenya
The campaign #GirlLove isn’t just a hashtag, as Lilly Singh has done some on-the-ground work to change the lives of girls and women around the world. According to an interview in Cosmopolitan, Singh partnered with a charity to help send girls to school in Kenya, as well as to provide women who make bracelets with a steady income.
Then in 2016, Singh took a trip to Kenya see what kind of impact her work was having, an experience she affirms as life-changing. "With the GirlLove Rafiki Bracelet, sending girls in Kenya to school, that’s really cool," she gushed, adding, "Over 600 girls went to school, and that is really powerful." Indeed it is!
Singh was changed by her trip to Kenya, and feels more motivated than ever to do more good in the world. "I would love to do more social good work, whether it’s building schools, or fighting for women’s rights, or doing things that will actually impact people," she continued. "I know I do that with my videos, but it’s a whole lot different when someone can say ‘I can now go to school.’"
Lilly Singh became a published author in 2017
In 2017, Lilly Singh celebrated another milestone in her life, as she officially became a published author. Her book, How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, reached "instant bestseller" status just one week after it was published. Impressive!
Of course, Singh had been writing constantly for years, but this project wasn’t quite like her previous endeavors. "This one was a bit different in the sense that everything I’m writing about in the book is based off observations and my life, and that happens every day," she explained in an interview with Elle Canada. She continued, "It was really about taking notes about people I’m meeting, and meetings I’m having throughout my day and what I’m learning."
So in a nutshell, writing the book was akin to holding a "magnifying glass" up to her daily life. "Yes, for sure, on my day to day and my past experiences — trying to relive them, and trying to extract lessons from them," she continued. "So it was a lot of me trying to be very analytical." Well, given how well-received the book was, Singh clearly did it right.
Lilly Singh knows burnout all too well
After recording videos non-stop for eight years, going on a world tour, writing a book, and everything else that Lilly Singh was doing, she realized something: She was exhausted. "I came home one day and I remember lying on my kitchen floor and just crying," she confessed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "I turned into such a machine. I was feeling that I was completely losing what it means to be human."
To that end, it was clearly time for Singh to take a break. So in November of 2018, she announced she was doing just that in a video on her YouTube channel. "I’m going to be real with you all. I am mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted," she confessed. "I haven’t been super happy with a lot of the content I’ve created."
While Singh wasn’t gone for very long — only for about a month — in that short time she started seeing a therapist, taking medication, and spending quality time with her friends. That shows just how important it is to tend to your mental health!
Lilly Singh came out as bisexual
On the heels of recovering from burnout and getting her mental health taken care of, Lilly Singh made a decision to share something very private with the world: She came out as bisexual. She did so in a tweet in February of 2019, an act that wasn’t exactly easy for her. "When I tweeted about being bisexual, a lot of people told me it’s bad, that I shouldn’t do that, especially because I have fans in cultures around the world that might not support it," she revealed in an interview with Marie Claire. "And I remember making the decision, like, well, eff it, you don’t get to have an opinion about who I am." Girl, preach!
Singh’s motivation for coming out was to be as authentic as possible and to accept herself wholly. "Loving myself was a very hard lesson," she continued. "I want to love myself, but I also want to be myself." Nothing but respect for that!
Lilly Singh trailblazed into late night television
One of the biggest opportunities that’s ever come Lilly Singh’s way was an offer from NBC to host her own late show, replacing Carson Daly’s Last Call. Initially, however, she wasn’t interested in taking the gig. "The doubt wasn’t whether this was exciting for me," she explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "It was whether this was a puzzle piece that would fit well in my existing life." Given her busy schedule, that’s a legit concern.
But that hesitation didn’t last long, as she decided to give the show a shot once she felt it was the right thing to do. "I didn’t want to sign up for it and then be like, ‘I can only make a little time for it,’" she continued. "I’m very much all or nothing." It’s no secret that hosting a show every day is an enormous commitment, so Singh was wise to make sure she was 100 percent all in.
A Little Late with Lilly Singh debuted on Sept. 16, 2019, making Singh the first openly bisexual woman of color to host a late night television show. Congrats, Lilly!
Lilly Singh is committed to growing as a person
When it comes to what Lilly Singh is focusing on for the future, she’s dedicated to nurturing her spiritual growth and remaining true to herself. "I feel like I’m in a really good place," she mused in an interview with Marie Claire.
But in order to get to this good place, it’s taken Singh a lot of work, as she had to unlearn a lot of programming. "The conditioning I’ve been raised with is if you’re not doing that linear path, then you’re straying too far," she continued. "That’s something I’ve really had to unlearn because I am not made for that path."
Of course, that hasn’t been easy, but Singh is aware that she needs to be her authentic self in order to be happy. "It’s a battle for me to get rid of those expectations. But I think that for the progression of any ideology, it needs to be challenged," she added. You got this, Lilly!