We should never badmouth our mothers; after all, without them, none of us would be here. But when it comes to the dark underbelly of motherhood itself, and from a woman’s point of view, American comedian Ali Wong gets ferociously real on why having kids is not all it’s cracked up to be in her second Netflix stand-up special.
Two years after giving birth to her first daughter, the always unapologetic and first-time mum returned to the streamer with Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife this past week on – you guessed it – Mother's Day (May 13).
In her latest performance, which was filmed at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, a fierce and very pregnant Wong holds forth for an hour on the challenges of breastfeeding, juggling family and career post-pregnancy – and also why all women deserve three years of fully paid maternity leave.
Wearing a leopard-spot dress that shows off her baby bump like her due date is minutes away, the 36-year-old taps into a raging maelstrom of maternal hormones as well as a keen storyteller's intellect that has allowed her not only to write for three seasons of Fresh Off The Boat, but also star in the sitcoms American Housewife and Are You There, Chelsea? as well as the medical drama Black Box.
Of Baby Cobra, her first special, which she filmed in 2016 – also while seven-and-a-half months pregnant – New York Magazine gushed: "The special's arrival on Netflix is the sort of star-making moment that unites the tastes of the unlikeliest fans."
Born in Los Angeles to Tam Wong, her Vietnamese immigrant mom, and Adolphus Wong, her American anaesthetist dad, the brilliant, bespectacled comic discovered her love for the stage during her Asian-American studies at UCLA, performing in the LCC Theatre Company at her university. During her junior year, she also studied abroad in Hanoi, Vietnam.
After graduation, she moved to New York City – relentlessly performing up to nine shows a night, crafting her comedy persona – which led to buzz-building appearances on shows such as The Tonight Show, Chelsea Lately and John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show. To promote Hard Knock Wife, Wong appeared in April on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to talk about her life, now that she's the mother of two girls – Mari, now 2, and a four-month-old (no longer a baby bump) – and what it's like giving birth while experiencing the full-blown terrible twos with her eldest daughter.
When her new sister arrived, her toddler “wanted to be a baby all over again”, Wong told DeGeneres. “Mari said: ‘I want to drink milk from you (and breastfeed again)’. And I was, like, the fact that you can complete that entire sentence disqualifies you. That and your full set of teeth.
“Having a two-year-old is very hard. I feel like I’m in a relationship with an emotionally unstable woman, who is also physically abusive and never gets in trouble for it. She kicked me in the neck today for rationing her thin mint intake. So any time you see pictures of us smiling – they’re lies.”
On her husband tagging along
Comedy is very much a family affair for Wong. Her husband, Justin Hakuta, may be the vice-president of a multimillion-dollar tech company, but when Wong’s on tour, he tags along to sell her souvenir merchandise to fans.
“I have to lure him to coming with me,” Wong says. “It’s become this fun, eccentric hobby of his to sell posters after the show. I talk a lot about him in my act, so it’s kind of like this meet-and-greet.”
When Wong, who is now 36, is asked whether she wants to have more kids, however, her face tightens into a frown.
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“No, I’m done. I love being a mom and having two kids. But I’ve had two C-sections and I have suffered enough. That’s my favourite mantra when it comes to motherhood.
“Whenever I feel mom-guilt or I feel pressure to be a better mom – to cook salmon on a bed of quinoa for my kids – I just think to myself: I ... have ... suffered ... enough.
“And then I feel fine about feeding my toddler a bag of chips for dinner.”
Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife is available on Netflix