What Ali Wong Taught Me | Elle Canada

Onscreen, Asian women are too often portrayed as proper and demure, so Wong’s in-your-face brazenness was extra refreshing. In 2017, I went to see her perform live in Toronto for her next special, Hard Knock Wife, and realized just how much she’d been embraced by Asian communities across North America. People even dressed up like her at her shows, donning tight striped dresses and fake pregnant bellies.

When Wong finally appeared onstage, she was pregnant again, making the show an apt sequel to Baby Cobra and giving each of her children a comedy special. In her signature straight-up style, she started by saying, “I heard a rumour that all the Asians in this city have congregated in this theatre tonight.” Then she delivered the punchline: “Thank you for coming with your white boyfriends.” My friend and I looked around, saw a number of white male faces in the crowd and laughed. Wong may have been bringing up the elephant in the room, but it was also an inside joke between her and the Asians in the crowd.

What I love about Wong’s humour is that she isn’t afraid to make us uncomfortable and challenge us, calling out harmful tropes like the fetishization of Asian women. In Baby Cobra, she points out the number of Asian-woman-white-man couples she sees across America, calling the hipster neighbourhoods where they’re particularly common “Yoko Ono factories.” She later jokes that she understands why Asian women love being with white men: because it makes them feel powerful. “You feel very picturesque when you’re with a white dude, you know—you feel like you’re in a Wes Anderson movie or something,” she says. “White dudes, they teach you about a lot of cool stuff, like voting and recycling and disturbing documentaries.”

I, too, felt some kind of pride when I dated a white guy, my first high school boyfriend. He openly admitted that he liked me because I’m Asian, and I was flattered. It felt edgy to go against my parents’ expectation that I date within my own race, but now I feel a pang of embarrassment for being so obviously fetishized. Watching Wong perform was the first time I’d seen an Asian woman openly proclaim her attraction to Asian men and proudly talk about being married to one. “I don’t know why people don’t go for them!” she says. “Asian men are the sexiest. They got no body hair from the neck down. It’s like making love to a dolphin.”

Even now, I have Asian friends who tell me that they would never date an Asian man because they don’t find them attractive, something that’s a result of our perceptions of Asian men being shaped by how they’re portrayed in the media and movies. They’re often desexualized, playing the quiet nerds, sidekicks, villains or punchlines. As much as I crave seeing Asian actors on TV and in movies, these types of representations trickled into our real lives too.

Wong praising Asian men shouldn’t have been groundbreaking, but it was meaningful for me, especially since I’m now dating an Asian man and realize that our similar backgrounds and cultures helped us develop a healthy relationship that’s free of problematic stereotypes. Wong puts this issue front and centre in the romcom she co-wrote, Always Be My Maybe, in which her character dates three Asian men: a successful restaurateur (Daniel Dae Kim) who doesn’t want to get married, a fictionalized version of Keanu Reeves and an underachiever (Randall Park). In the movie, the men’s races are the least interesting aspects of them. Instead, their personalities, ambitions and love move the story forward and ultimately help bring Wong’s and Park’s characters together.

Always Be My Maybe is also the first romantic comedy I’ve seen that’s centred around Asian characters. I cried after watching it because it portrays our lives as normal: It’s a straightforward romcom about two people falling in love, eating dim sum and going to concerts. Wong breaks down barriers with her simplicity, seeing the importance of poking fun while also upholding us in her work.

Although Asian representation continues to be sparse, Wong has helped fill some of the void. She’s been a particular source of light for me in recent months, a time when the Asian community has experienced anxiety and fear over hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes, I rewatch YouTube videos of her comedy just as a de-stresser. That’s why I’ll always support her, despite the awkwardness of her most recent and third special, Don Wong, from earlier this year.

In Don Wong, she spends a good amount of time exploring the idea of “having it all” and why men don’t like powerful women. She also spends a good amount of time complaining about marriage, describing it as “monogamy jail.”

Now her family’s breadwinner, Wong addresses what her husband thinks of what she says about him in front of huge crowds: “He doesn’t give a shit about what I say onstage because he’s too busy living the life I wanted for myself!” Her jokes, sharp enough to stab, was proof to me as a fan that they had a  strong relationship. Wong ends her special by saying her husband allows her to be herself. It hits differently knowing the reality of their relationship now. But at the same time, I see a woman doing what she feels best for her, and that is admirable in itself.

I’m grateful to Wong because she has made me laugh even during my darkest moments over the past few years. To see a strong and confident Asian woman owning her power onstage is a beautiful thing, and while she may not have strived to become a role model, it’s what she has accidentally done. Whenever her next special may be, I’ll still be tuning in. Divorce will undoubtedly shape Wong’s perspective on life, but I know she’ll still be making me and thousands of her fans laugh with whatever she comes out with next.

Read more:
Cynthia Erivo’s Newest Role in Roar Is for Modern Women
Zoë Kravitz Lives Life on Her Own Terms
Anna Chlumsky Is Asking All the Questions

We want to thank the author of this post for this awesome web content

What Ali Wong Taught Me | Elle Canada