Recently I have watched two live stand up comic shows by well known American female comediennes who both have Asian ethnicities. I don;t normally enjoy watching full-length stand-up acts. I find them to be very self-indulgent. However, being a lover of anything Asian, I felt I had to give them a try.
Ali Wong is known for being the main writer on the show Fresh off The Boat (which I personally really enjoy watching). The show is notable for being a American to be centred around Asian people. The crossover between Ali and Margaret is that Cho was the very first Asian actress to have had starring role in an American sitcom about the clash of Western and Asian civilisations. (All American Girl ran for one year in 1994).
Ali’s one-hour show was filmed last year for Netflix and released this year as “Baby Cobra.” I started watching and at first I worried that it was going to be deliberately offensive. However I have rewatched it and I found Ali to be a very likeable character who spent much of the show making fun of herself and her ethnicity. There are several jokes at the expensive of her ‘jungle-Asian heritage’ -she is half Chinese and half Vietnamese. She also joked that she has to listen to self-help tapes to stop the endless anxious thoughts that flood her brain.
What makes this performance totally unique is that she gave it while she was 5-months pregnant. It was very physical performance and at one point Wong lay on the floor with her legs in the air as part of a gag about retaining her husband’s semen. Both Ali and Margaret make continual references to their bodies so if you find this offensive you probably won’t enjoy either of their performances.
Maybe people are used to hearing graphic content from male stand-ups but not aren’t so comfortable hearing it from women. Ali was remarkably candid and went in to detail about the ageing process and her difficulties becoming pregnant. Persistent myths were debunked. For example, the idea that couples have sex constantly when they are trying to become pregnant was demolished. In fact, Ali told us that she demanded that her husband save up his sperm for days so that they would be pent up and more likely to procreate.
Common to both Ali and Margaret Cho’s performaces were references between interracial dating between Asian women and White men. Ali mentioned that a previous boyfriend had refused to have anal sex with her and this lead to the punchline “if I advertised on Craigslist as a tiny asian female seeking anal sex the Internet would crash.” the joke was funny because there was so much truth to it.
This idea was mentioned again when Cho said that Asian women were like blondes “except no-one thinks we’re dumb.” One of Cho’s funniest lines was referring to very beautiful Asian women who have very unnatractive partners (‘Come on, I know your eyes aren’t that small’. Exaggeration perhaps, but no-one could say they were unfamiliar with what she was talking about. Cho’s show went on for too long and contained too much celebrity name-dropping (Joan Rivers, Robin Williams) at times.
It was another highly personal show in which she as well talked about her body, in one scene she revealed a chest-covered in tattoos, and explained how shocking these are to Koreans who associate body-art with organised crime. Still, her character came through strongly and the audience truly loved her.
Ali Wong is continuing as a writer on FOTB, and also as a voice artist in several films. Margaret Cho continues to perform, touring as well as acting. She was most recently seen in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.