If you have Netflix, I’m sure you saw when Ali Wong’s stand-up special Baby Cobra was featured. You know, the way Netflix is basically like, “Hey, we put money into this so you better watch it.” So I did watch Baby Cobra. And I didn’t laugh. I found Wong’s humor to be shouty and aggressive, like she was trying to prove that she’s a cool girl, just like dude comics. But I watched because Wong was hugely pregnant during filming, and I’d never seen that before.
When Wong came out with Hard Knock Wife, a second stand-up special that she filmed while pregnant with her second child, I didn’t watch it, but I did keep my ears open. Who is this lady? Only after Wong broke preggo comic ground did I see famous actress and comedian Amy Schumer record a stand-up special while pregnant. Women can do everything.
Really, it was the Netflix film Always Be My Maybe that drew me back in. Wong and Randall Park co-wrote and starred in this rom-com about two people with different Asian heritages who grew up together and “should” be together but can’t get it together. An old story, to be sure, but Wong was powerful and sweet, determined yet flexible. My enjoyment of the film led me to read Dear Girls, Ali Wong’s first book. And this memoir had me very, very surprised.
The tenderness and deep emotion Wong expresses is almost contrary to her aggressive comedy, which sure features a butthole joke or twenty. The book is written as a series of letters to her two daughters, so it feels personal. The chapter that stood out most was describes Wong’s desire to have a large family. But she experiences a miscarriage that scares and changes her when she becomes pregnant again:
Every day of every trimester was filled with happiness that I was still carrying and paranoia that I could all of a sudden lose the baby. So I never got too upset about all the discomfort. Even when I was I was throwing up on planes, even when I would get a charley horse at night that felt like a ghost was strangling my calf, I was just grateful Mari was alive.
Maybe it’s because I often hear mothers (rightly!) bemoan how terrible being pregnant can feel, but I was surprised to see Wong appreciate even those moments of misery. I hadn’t thought of how grateful and scared a pregnant mother who had previously experienced a miscarriage would feel. It made me more sensitive to women’s complicated feelings during this time.
Of course, when babies get here and grow up, no matter how their parents feel about them they’re going to shoot out fluids and need constant care. As a book lover and library employee, I was delighted to read more about what it was like for Wong to feel pressured to make sure her children were read to:
I had a plan to read to Mari constantly, because someone forwarded me an article threatening that if your child doesn’t hear five thousand words by the age of one, they’re definitely gonna turn into a prostitute. And even worse, an illiterate prostitute. SO then I began to read Mari all those ‘first words’ baby board books that didn’t have any plot. No beginning, no middle, no story arc. A lot of them would just go like this: Banana, boy, spoon, egg, everybody takes a bath. The End. Finally my mind got so numb from reading all these dumb-ass baby books that I said to myself, ‘Fuck it, no more reading to the baby.’ By the time Mari was five months old, at the end of any day, if I held my finger under her nose and felt breath, I was a great mommy.
I don’t typically include such long quotes, but this one stuck out to me because it progresses from the hopes of a mother to keeping one’s children alive. Plus, it’s funny. And I couldn’t help but wonder why Wong’s humor on stage isn’t more personal like her writing, and less . . . about buttholes.
I enjoyed Dear Girls and learning about Wong’s multicultural background (Chinese-Vietnamese-American) and her years spent in Vietnam getting to know the people, food, and culture. I was less impressed when Wong relayed some of her stand-up jokes (one ends in pulling down her pants and show the audience her, you guessed it, butthole) or tried to make her single sex life funny (it’s just graphic). Had she the courage to let go of her “one of the dudes” persona and just be Ali, her comedy could have a wider appeal. That is not to say you shouldn’t read Dear Girls. Just keep in mind that it’s for audiences who don’t mind graphic language.