Almost 2 million people and counting have watched Lilly Singh talk about poop. There are different kinds of poop, she says. There’s the “weight-loss poop” where you feel you released half of your body, the “boom-box poop” for you know, the loud ones, and then the “prankster poop” where your body decides to not let you poop at all.
Your YouTube channel has almost 10 million subscribers. Your videos have billions of views. How did you get here?
Most of the journey I’m on right now started in my last year of university. I was doing my psych degree and was following in my sister’s footsteps. 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. I was a sad person. As a kid, I loved entertainment and dancing and being creative, and I lost that in university. One random day I found a YouTube video, and I had never heard of YouTube. It was a Jenna Marbles video and I thought, You’re telling me this girl is making videos in her room and people are watching it? I got sucked into the vortex of YouTube until one day, quite spontaneously, I was just like, I’m going to throw up a spoken-word piece just because. It was so bad — it was the worst video I ever did.
Is it still up?
It’s not. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because it doesn’t represent who I am anymore. It was really bad and really awkward. A lot of my early videos are still up, and they’re so awkward. That video did something really important in that it reminded me of what it felt like to do something I enjoyed. After so many lectures in school, here was this project where I could do what I loved. That kind of led to a second video, and then a third video, and they made me happy, so I chased my happiness. And here I am 400 videos later.
You’ve mentioned before that these videos helped with your depression. Being a woman on the internet is often a very difficult thing. Were you ever scared it could backfire?
There was fear throughout the journey. Even today I’m scared of certain things. When you first put your video out, it’s scary. My first video maybe 70 people watched, probably my Facebook friends. The fear grew as the numbers grew. These are people I don’t know, and they could be anywhere judging me, and that’s scary. The whole idea of talking about depression … I never had that agenda when I started. I never thought that, Oh, you’re going to get a following and talk about the stigma of depression. I discovered that when I realized that my message could help people.
Who is your audience?
My main demographic is mainly female, from 14-25. My core is around 16-24. Having said that, more and more guys are watching my videos. When I went on tour, I was shocked to see so many parents and guys. Parents are really interesting because I do a lot of PG content, and I always get parents who say, “We watch you together as a family.” That’s really cool.
How do you deal with the negativity of the internet?
I have a video called “10 Reasons to Smile,” and that has hate on it. It’s the realization that you can do anything and someone will say something negative. Anyone who says that the negative comments don’t get to them is definitely lying. 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! I have this little sticky on my computer that says, “Focus on what deserves your attention,” and I think that’s what it is. It’s a constant battle with my mind. If you’re going to respond to the negativity, it’s not fair to the people who say positive things.
People try to pit minorities as spokespeople for their group as a whole. Do you feel a weight on your shoulders in representing South Asian women?
Inevitably that label is placed upon me whether I like it or not. Above all else, I’m Lilly. I’m not just an Indian woman. I have this unique set of characteristics that make me who I am. But the media will always say I’m that diversity card. I remember in one article they called me the voice of India, and I was like, I’m not even from India, I was born in Canada. That pressure is placed upon me, and my response is that I’m super-proud of my ethnicity, I’m super-proud to be a woman, but above all, I’m super-proud to be Lilly.
What would you call your genre of YouTube videos?
I would like to call it positive, uplifting comedy. I really try to embed a message into my videos, whether it’s don’t be superficial, be nice to your parents … I always try to have some sort of message. I have one video called “How to Be the Perfect Brown Person,” and it talks about the double standards between the males and females of the culture; the whole video is super-sarcastic, but that’s how I communicate messages.
At what point did you start making money off of your videos?
Now everyone can make money off of YouTube. When I started, that was not the case. I had to apply for a partnership [with YouTube]. It wasn’t until two or three years into it that I actually thought I could sustain myself off of this. That’s what’s so exciting. Things like YouTube, when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re your own boss — your success is determined by how much effort you put into it.
So what’s next for you?
This is going to sound kind of Tumblr-unicorn-y, but I want to continue being a light in a world that can be a little dark. People are scared of the internet sometimes, and I am just committed to making my voice a positive light in that world.
This interview has been edited and condensed.