The queen of Netflix is rocking prime time viewing
The promotional posters for this year’s Mother’s Day special Hard Knock Wife on Netflix, the follow up to the hugely successful breakout show Baby Cobra, show Ali Wong in her signature top knot, cat glasses and round, third-trimester bump (her second child), grasping a pair of nunchucks. It’s a visual that pretty much sums up the career so far of the LA-based, 36-year-old writer, comedian and actor who’s climbed her way to Hollywood’s comedy A-list with a sharply observed “angry, tired wife and working
“Whenever I feel pressure to cook salmon on a bed of quinoa for my kids,” Ali told Ellen DeGeneres on Ellen, “I just think to myself, ‘I have suffered enough.’” The whip-smart jabs at ridiculous expectations of women, magnified on social media, have resonated not just with new moms, but likewise with a broader audience feeling the pressure of striving for a gold standard.
And her stardom beyond her TV comedy base is about to get even bigger. Due out next year are a romantic comedy flick she’s co-written and co-starred in with Fresh Off the Boat’s Randall Park, a long-time friend and collaborator, as well as her first book, to be released by Random House.
How did you get started in stand-up comedy?
I always wanted to tell jokes. I had to be funny to be heard in our house growing up as the youngest. I think it pretty much stemmed from there.
What was it like the first time you performed in front of a live audience?
It was at the Brainwash Cafe in San Francisco which, to be honest, looking back now, was basically a homeless shelter. I knew after that I wanted to tell jokes for a living, so I moved to New York where I did seven to nine shows a night, living on brown rice and, when I was feeling flush, a three-dollar chicken from Chinatown. It’s those days that make you, though — where you just practice, practice, practice your jokes.
How did you end up as a writer on three seasons of Fresh Off the Boat?
Randall Park is a really old friend of mine. He had talked about the show and me possibly writing for it, so we had a meeting. I didn’t know how I would feel about writing for a television show. When I met Nahnatchka Khan and talked to her about her vision for the show, and what my dreams for it could be, I fell in love with the show. I wanted to do it, because Khan’s the shit, dude. Talk about how rare it is to see women of color who are stand-up comics. She’s so funny. I think we both subscribe to the same philosophy of just wanting to make something funny, and not having any other agenda.
Being a mom is a big part of your comedy — how has motherhood changed the way you work or your attitude towards it?
I am a mom and I do stand-up, I am not a “comic mom”. I just don’t get that tag — of course we talk about lives, that’s what comedians do, but they don’t refer to all the male stand-up comedians with kids as “comic dads”. I mean, seriously, what is all that about?
How does your husband feel about his role in your comedy — is he pretty into it?
My husband is awesome. He is as un-Hollywood as you can get. It was actually he who was telling me to perform while pregnant. He went to Harvard Business School and saw so many women take a back seat in their fabulous careers when they became pregnant, which is fine if that’s what they want. He encouraged me to use it as part
of my work — pregnancy was
Does being in a multi-ethnic family lend itself to comedy?
It does for sure, but we were not a conventional Asian-American family. We were opinionated; we talked about sex, not what you expect from stereotypical Asian families. My dad was so direct, he used to walk around commanding people to stop smoking, then fart loudly in libraries. He didn’t care about losing face, and that’s a pretty unusual way for an Asian man to think.
What’s the funniest Asian stereotype you’ve come across in the entertainment industry?
I have made jokes about Asian females being such bad drivers. It’s like every time I crash my car I have to hide my face behind the wheel so people don’t see what they expect to see!
Do you think there can ever be true gender equality and what else needs to be done for that
I long for the days before the “empowered female”, when we could just sit at home and watch TV all day.
How would you describe your fan base?
Loyal. I can remember one time when I was in the middle of a show and I just heard this “waaaaaah” and I looked down and this woman had her baby in the audience with her. She said, “I couldn’t find a sitter, but I really wanted to come and see you.”
The Netflix specials have extended the reach of your comedy — how does this level of fame affect your work?
I don’t really look at it like that. I do it because I enjoy doing it. But if people want to send me free stuff because of it, that’s also cool.
Who’s your career hero?
Chris Rock is just on another level to anybody else. He is incredible at what he does and has been at the top of his game for so long.
In the hierarchy of all the things you do — writer, comedian, actor — what comes first?
My first love will always be stand-up comedy, but during the school year, logistically, it’s difficult for me to be on the road. So it is nice that I have other work I can do during that time.
Will you come to Asia soon?
I hope so — I was in Japan for my honeymoon and would love to come back!
Photos by Ramona Rosales / August / Click Photos, Netflix
This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of Smile magazine.