Risqué stand-up explores taboo subjects

First-year students and seniors mingle on the residential quad after the Sept. 10 Serenading event. This year, seniors gave the first-years flowers in Vassar colors to thank them for their songs. Courtesy of Netflix
First-year students and seniors mingle on the residential quad after the Sept. 10 Serenading event. This year, seniors gave the first-years flowers in Vassar colors to thank them for their songs. Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

Ali Wong, writer for breakout comedy series “Fresh Off the Boat” and long-time stand-up comedian, released a Netflix stand-up spe­cial that has since galvanized a devout following and won her acclaim from viewers and fellow comics alike. Indeed, there is something about the sight of a tiny, incredibly pregnant woman gleefully cracking raunchy jokes that seems to have appealed to a massive audience. Wong’s special “Baby Cobra,” released on Mother’s Day this year, was filmed when she was seven and a half months pregnant—a feat relatively unheard of, save for Joan River’s “Ed Sullivan Show” per­formance while expecting in the late ’60s, mak­ing Wong’s widely-acclaimed comedy special the first of its kind.

“I don’t know if you guys can tell, but I’m seven and a half months pregnant,” Wong quips sarcas­tically in her set. “It’s very rare and unusual to see a female comic perform pregnant…because female comics don’t get pregnant.” If they do become pregnant, Wong laments, they fade into anonym­ity, while male comics experience a rise in popu­larity after having a child: “They’ve become this relatable family funny man all of a sudden; mean­while, the mom is at home, chapping her nipples.”

While certainly adding to the spectacle of her routine, Wong’s massive baby bump is neither a crutch nor the sole appeal of her comedy. Instead, she speaks frankly about aging, sex, race, work and marriage in an incredibly refreshing manner. In his Monday Morning Podcast, Bill Burr exclaimed, “Everybody is making a big…deal that she was pregnant…But there should be more questions about how great the material was … It was one of the best [specials] I’ve seen in awhile.”

Wong begins her set by bemoaning the wide­spread success of Facebook Chief Operating Of­ficer Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” which encourages women to assert themselves in the workplace. “I don’t want to lean in,” Wong yells. “I want to lie down!” While joking when she says that feminism is the worst thing to happen to women—“Our job used to be no job!”—Wong’s show cleverly subverts the narrative that women’s success can only be attained by mimicking their male peers. Instead, she revels in womanhood’s less-glorified facets, waxing poetic about bow­el movements and joyfully describing the havoc wreaked on her body by age.

In fact, Wong successfully works to normalize a good number of things usually considered too ta­boo to speak about, whether that’s speaking trium­phantly about looking forward to the less-pleasant parts of childbirth or eating Plan B “like skittles” throughout her twenties. Efforts by female comics to normalize women’s sexuality aren’t necessarily new, but Wong’s astoundingly vulgar language and theatrical pantomimes are strikingly fresh.

Wong also discusses family and culture through­out her set, ranging from explaining how she got her hoarding habits from her mother—“You nev­er know when a dictator’s going to overtake the country and snatch all of your wealth, so you bet­ter hang on to that retainer from the third grade because it might come in handy as a shovel when you’re…running away from the communists”—to joking about her husband who is also Asian-Amer­ican—“Usually, Asian-American women who wear these kinds of glasses and have lots of opin­ions, they like to date white dudes…You feel like you’re in a Wes Anderson movie or something.”

In one of the few moments that a hush falls over the audience, Wong mentions that prior to her pregnancy, she had had a miscarriage. “I wish more women would talk about it so they wouldn’t feel so bad when they go through it,” she says. Immediate­ly following the somber moment, however, Wong returns to cracking jokes: “Don’t feel bad—they were the size of poppy seeds. I’ve picked boogers bigger than the twins I lost.” Wong’s propensity for humorously navigating such difficult topics is not lost on the audience, and they return instanta­neously to laughing.

Shortly put, “Baby Cobra”’s acclaim is well-de­served. Wong is an acutely intelligent and clever comic, and it seems highly unlikely she’ll be dis­appearing from the comedy scene any time soon.

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