For proof of just how creatively Lilly Singh can make a point, look no further than “How to Make a Sandwich.” The five-minute YouTube clip at first seems to be a standard cooking tutorial, with Singh cheerfully offering advice from behind a kitchen counter. Except she’s talking directly to a commenter—who wrote that “women aren’t funny” and asked why Singh wasn’t “in the kitching [sic] making me a sandwich.” As the sandwich is dressed, he gets dressed down. Try using fresh vegetables “to make up for your expired thought process.” When you’re cutting onions, “you’ll notice [they have] layers—just like your insecurity.”
This is humor as Singh believes it should be: smart, irreverent and unapologetically feminist. It has made the 29-year-old Indian-Canadian a star on YouTube, where her sketch-comedy videos—tackling everything from relationships to racism—have logged more than 2 billion views and lured guests like Michelle Obama and James Franco. Growing up as the daughter of Punjabi immigrants, Singh says, “it was definitely embedded into my upbringing, like, ‘Indian girls shouldn’t do this’ or ‘Girls shouldn’t do that.’” Now “Superwoman,” as she’s known to her fans, presides over a multimillion-dollar brand, comprising live tours, film and TV roles (she’s slated to appear in HBO’s Fahrenheit 451) and a best-selling book.
Like any budding comic, Singh has her share of critics. But none have distracted her from her larger goal of empowering young women—not just by making them laugh but by working with groups like UNICEF and the Malala Fund to ensure that they have equal opportunity, especially in education. “If I can have an impact,” says Singh, “it seems like a waste not to use it to have some kind of positive influence on the planet.”