I watched Ali Wong’s new movie Always Be My Maybe and I loved it so much I rewatched it less than 12 hours later. The second time was to see if I really did enjoy it that much and the results are in – I’m obsessed, I cried both times and I got really hungry.
Eat before you watch Ali Wong (Sasha) and Randall Park’s (Marcus) Netflix film, where the two play childhood sweethearts who reconnect decades later after an awkward incident in the back of a Corolla. Food plays a major role in this movie. All I kept thinking was “The leftovers from this film set would have been amazing. I hope they’re not wasting these meals. Did I just see spam with rice and furikake on mainstream television? I’m hungry.”
When Sasha, who grows up to be a successful Vietnamese-fusion restaurateur, opens one of her new establishments, her reacquainted love Marcus says, “Asian food isn’t supposed to be elevated, it’s supposed to be authentic”, I sighed out loud to nobody “YES, AGREE”. Because we all know that Chinatown has the best to offer for a quarter of the price.
These are plenty of good reasons to be crushing hard on the movie. I loved seeing a lead female role wear glasses for the entire film (Ali Wong definitely would have kept all of them). And the fact that she gets to pash both Daniel Dae Kim and Keanu Reeves. (Again, something she wisely planned on doing.)
Of course, there’s also the diverse representation: white actors are the wait staff, the main cast and writing team is diverse AF, a lesbian couple has a baby, Marcus’s band is called Hello Peril – genius – and his dad who is cool and supportive falls in love with a Diana Ross impersonator. I could go on.
But what struck me at the end of Always Be My Maybe is that I’m an even bigger Ali Wong fan after watching it. You see, I started doing stand-up comedy around the same time her first stand-up special, Baby Cobra, came out in 2016.
Of course, there’s also the diverse representation: white actors are the wait staff, the main cast and writing team is diverse AF, a lesbian couple has a baby, Marcus’s band is called Hello Peril – genius – and his dad who is cool and supportive falls in love with a Diana Ross impersonator.
Back then, nobody knew who she was but now she’s a household name. I remember my friends calling me and saying “Hey, you’ve got to watch this comedy special on Netflix – it’s you.” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – she wears glasses, she’s gross and she’s funny. That is to say, she was a Netflix special version of me.
Since her breakout special, she has filmed another one, written and starred in her own movie, written a book, voiced a television show, and she has had two kids. For that, she’s a straight-up superhero not only for Asian comedians and actors but also for mums and women at large.
Mums, in fact, make up a huge part of her fan base. And for aspiring comedians, she has shown us you can be a comedian, a movie star, an author and a mum all at the same time. It turns out mums and Asians relate to stories about themselves and are a lucrative entertainment market – who would have thought?
In Wong’s second comedy special, Hard Knock Wife, she acknowledges how hard it was to sell tickets to her first Netflix taping and how she resorted to Groupon. Fast forward three years and according to a recent Instagram post she has just added 12 comedy shows in Los Angeles and 12 comedy shows in San Francisco to an already very successful American tour.
Ali Wong’s meteoric rise to fame shows me that there is a demand for people who look like me on television, in movies and on the comedy stage. One of the biggest thrills I get out of stand-up comedy is when someone with an Asian background comes up to me after the show and says how relatable my stand-up was.
Ali Wong’s meteoric rise to fame shows me that there is a demand for people who look like me on television, in movies and on the comedy stage.
What’s not so inspiring, and I joke about this in my stand-up, is how some people at gigs have thought that I am actually Ali Wong. When an audience member asked me once if I was, I said “Do you really think Netflix, sell-out stadium comedian Ali Wong would be playing the Padstow RSL for a $10 drink voucher? I don’t think so”.
Similarly, after one of my shows at Melbourne International Comedy Festival my sister-in-law was describing my show to her hairdresser saying “She’s Asian, she’s kind of feminist” and then he said “Oh, I think I know her – was she pregnant?” Can there be only one Asian female comedian in this world?
Well, let’s hope not. Ali Wong has shown us what’s possible. Watch this space.
Lizzy Hoo is a Sydney based stand-up comedian, writer and actor. She hails from Brisbane and is made from local and imported ingredients.
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_