Ali Wong began this interview with an apology. Seconds after answering the phone, she had to accept a delivery and forgot to mute the phone. “Sorry,” she said, “someone was at my door.” No apology was necessary, of course, as these kinds of minor interruptions happen all the time during these phone calls. However, to anyone familiar with Wong’s previous appearances on @midnight, Chelsea Lately and other stand-up comedy programs, such a thing would seem totally out of character. That’s because whenever the Fresh Off the Boat writer takes the stage, she transforms into a vulgar, witty and outspoken persona whose occasional one-liners and extended stories can leave you breathless. And if you’re really paying attention, they might even bring you to tears from laughing so hard.
Her new Netflix special, Ali Wong: Baby Cobra, is rife with such instances of comedy gold. Whether she’s discussing pooping at work, doing stand-up while seven months pregnant, or dreaming about never having to work for a living ever again, Wong will make you laugh. Prior to its May 6 release on the streaming service, the comedian spoke with us about all of these things and more — including her penchant for coining memorable phrases.
“MacGyver baby wipe” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.
Thanks! We haven’t shown it to anybody. I shot it in September and haven’t gotten any feedback. Of course my manager was like, “It’s great! It’s great!” And I’m like, “Is it?”
I feel like those guys were famous before they put out their specials. I mean, you don’t know who I am…
I do. I know you from Fresh Off the Boat.
Okay, but I feel like most people don’t know who I am. I’m really hoping that a lot of people watch it. I wanted a lot of people to watch it, and Netflix has the most eyes. It’s so frustrating when new comedy hours premiere on channels. They come and go, and it’s almost impossible to watch it if you can’t schedule in the time. It’s not as easy. So I wanted Baby Cobra to be as available as possible.
This is your first hour special. Why’d you delay putting one together for so many years?
It always felt like hard for me to give up my material, especially whenever I was on another person’s program for just a few minutes. There’s certain comics who come up with new jokes all the time, but not me. This is me and my stuff over… Some of these jokes date back as far as seven years ago.
True, but you haven’t been pregnant for seven years.
That’s true. Well it’s interesting, because now that I’m not pregnant, I have all these new jokes about what motherhood is like and I’m so excited about that material now. The worry is, I think, when you do specials you totally empty out your tank. Then you have to fill it up again, and it’s scary. I’m excited that people will want to come and see me live after watching Baby Cobra, because I’ll have a whole new act for them. It’ll kind of be like a sequel to the special.
A lot of your jokes come at your husband’s expense, but it’s all in good fun. What does he think of it?
My husband is awesome and totally not Hollywood. We’ve been together five or six years now, and I think he’s seen me perform eight times at the most. Not a lot at all. The eighth time was Baby Cobra, and he was great. He watched one of the tapings, and he thought it was cool. He said, “I saw that. I don’t really need to watch an hour of the exact same thing. I have work to do.” So he sat in the green room and worked on his laptop for the second taping. He’s so supportive. He’s great. As for what he thinks, he calls it my “preacher side.” He thinks I act like a preacher on stage, which is so different because at home I’m not yelling all the time. My language is not as clever or concise, and I’m probably more calm and quiet then. So it’s probably fun for him to see this other side on occasion.
The other thing about him is he was very encouraging of me doing the special pregnant. He went to Harvard Business School, and he saw a lot of women who earned this great education and subsequent careers. Once they get pregnant, however, it turned into this weakness for their careers and they eventually fell out of the workplace. Which is fine if it’s their choice, but for some women it’s not always their choice. For some women, they fall out of the workplace because it just makes more sense financially to take care of their kids instead of paying someone else. Women already make less money than men, and after taxes the cost of childcare is huge. It ends of up being more than their salary. Pregnancy is often seen as this weakness for career women, and I’m so happy that he encouraged me to use it as a super power.
Speaking of which, your story about having a miscarriage is so gut-wrenching, but still funny. That’s a very fine needle to thread.
Someone who watched the special early on — I don’t remember who — wasn’t sure about it. They were like, “I don’t know about this miscarriage joke. Maybe you should take it out. It’s really, really dark.” I love the joke, but I’m also such a big advocate for more women opening up and talking about having had a miscarriage. When I had it, a lot of people were so supportive — especially women who told me what they’d gone through when they miscarried. That helped me feel like I was a lot less alone, and that it wasn’t my fault. It made me understand that it just happens. I think a lot of women tend to blame themselves, because it happens inside your body.
While I joke about being so resentful towards my husband, why so many women become resentful towards men when they become pregnant is it’s all happening inside your body. Even after the baby’s born. I’m breastfeeding now, so she still needs my body. It’s a great privilege and power, but it also comes with this responsibility. If anything happens to the baby, everybody automatically says to the woman, “What did you do?” If she has dry skin, everyone’s like “What are you feeding her? What are you eating? Are you eating too much dairy?” With a miscarriage, then, that’s the ultimate form of a woman being blamed for something really tragic. So I just want other women to know, “Hey, it’s okay. I had one too.” And I joke about it.
And then there are your bits against feminism and Sheryl Sandberg. Also funny, but I can see how some viewers might not take to them as quickly.
My views about feminism and working are complicated. Then again, it’s like that for most people about most things. I’m Chinese and my feelings about Chinese people are complicated. I love the food but I would never hire a Chinese contractor to work on my house, because I know they cut corners. That’s how real life is.
How did the Fresh Off the Boat writing gig come your way?
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. It is so rare to see a woman of color who’s a show runner, and an awesome one at that. She’s so fucking funny. I think we both subscribe to the same philosophy of just wanting to make something funny, and not having any other agendas. No preaching or anything like that. Just wanting to make everything truly funny, and the rest of it will follow suit. Then I fell completely fell in love with the cast and crew.
I just went to Disneyland with the kids and their moms, who were all over me since I’d just had a baby. When you have a baby, there’s this Chinese tradition called the “sit month.” You’re supposed to stay in bed and not shower or leave the house for a month. You drink this soup filled with meat and herbs, and I didn’t know how to get access to the specific ingredients, so the Fresh Off the Boat kids’ moms gave me numbers for these women somewhere in Monterey Park. I’ve grown very close to the people on the show, and when I had my miscarriage that was our first year working together. They totally supported me and were so sweet about it. It’s so interesting because I have no close stand-up comedy friends who are moms, but at Fresh Off the Boat there’s three other moms on staff. They gave me baby clothes, advice and tips for taking maternity leave.
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra is currently available on Netflix. Here’s a preview…