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The secrets of Lilly Singh’s success

Social-media comedy star Lilly Singh is hoping that when she faces an audience in Dubai on Wednesday, there are plenty of grown-ups in the crowd alongside her younger fans.

“I want parents to come,” says the 28-year-old Canadian. “I love when parents come to my show and go back to their kids with my stories of how this journey has taught me to always pick myself up, to never let anything stand in my way, and that hard work is the real secret behind making dreams come true. Parents have no idea what to expect, and then get totally blown away by the message I’m sharing.”

That message, says the YouTube star, is meant to be uplifting. Her first book, How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, was published in March, and she is in the middle of an international promotional tour, during which she shares what she has learnt about achieving success and happiness. She wants her audience to laugh and to be entertained, but also to leave with something to think about.

“Think of it as a comedic motivational TED talk,” says Singh, who also goes by her YouTube nickname, Superwoman. “It’s meant to make you laugh, inspire you. It’s a show where I interact with the audience and where I get the audience to interact with each other. It’s kind of like my vlog but a little more orchestrated and not all over the place – not as much of a hot mess as I usually am.”

That, really, sums up Singh. She is self-deprecating, quick-witted, talks a mile a minute and is smooth with her humour.

She’s a multifaceted comedian and entertainer who relies heavily on her ethnic background when creating skits and stand-up routines. Her Punjabi, Sikh parents moved to Canada from India, and Singh grew up in Toronto.

She has dabbled in singing, dancing, writing and acting. In 2015, Forbes named her one of the top 10 most highly-paid YouTube stars, making an estimated US$2.5 million a year (Dh9.1 million) from her insanely popular videos. Last year, she was named the highest-paid woman on YouTube, earning $7.5 million.

“Look, all that has been great,” says Singh. “And with the book too, it’s been different and exhausting and wonderful. But I’ve definitely evolved since those early days.”

Singh began making her YouTube videos in 2010, newly graduated from York University with a psychology degree and struggling with an unexpected bout of depression.

“I never thought I’d make a career out of it – I never thought that was possible,” says Singh. “I was making it up as I go along. I started because I was sad and lost and wanted a creative outlet to express my feelings, so I turned to YouTube.”

Respect for successful YouTube stars, says Singh, has increased since those early days, meaning the business deals she has struck have also changed.

“Everything is better now, easier, more favourable and more respectable towards creators,” she says. “Even traditional Hollywood is recognising digital space more and more.”

Singh’s collaborations with international stars is testimony to that. Her videos have documented meetings with Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Jimmy Fallon, Selena Gomez and former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson appeared with Singh, he announced the launch of his own YouTube channel.

“Just like everything else on the planet, YouTube and social media are not for everyone,” cautions Singh. “It might seem so easy that anyone can do it – and that’s true to an extent because there’s no monitoring, and you can literally just do it.

“But you have to have passion and a message, not just do it to get rich and famous and make films.”

She likens her experience to having two full-time jobs.

“I can never clock out,” she says. “Social media doesn’t turn off. I have to be consistent, persistent, working very hard. You have to be a self-starter. There’s no boss to tell you what to do and how to do it.”

With more than 11 million subscribers to her channel, and in excess of 1.8 billion views on her YouTube channel Singh seems to have figured out the formula for success.

“I think it’s just that I’m really myself in these videos,” she says. “I honestly am pretty similar to how I am in real life. I don’t censor myself, and not because I think of myself as a role model to younger viewers – this is just how I am.”

She is delighted to be appearing in front of a Dubai audience.

“I honestly love Dubai, it’s one of my favourite places,” she says. “I want to get on that stage and I want to make people think about their lives and about success and about who they want to become and how to get there. I can’t wait to inspire people.”

• Lilly Singh’s How to Be a Bawse Book Tour is at the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa Hotel Dubai on Wednesday at 6.30pm. Tickets start at Dh295 (including a copy of the book) from www.dubai.platinumlist.net or 800 Ticket.

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