I’ve been a little bit obsessed with Ali Wong since her Netflix comedy special, Baby Cobra, aired in 2016. For an entire hour, Ali, at eight months pregnant, waddles across the stage telling the crudest jokes about childbirth and motherhood, gender and racism, vaginas, pubic hair, and dicks. The experience was like being lashed by violent, cleansing waves screaming don’t be ashamed of that shit! That’s real! That’s human! Never have I felt so clean after watching a comedy set so dirty. I jumped online afterwards and read endless posts in which other fans called Ali their ‘spirit animal,’ and that’s kind of how I felt too. She goes places you thought beyond taboo and you’re so glad she does. Since then, Ali Wong has written and starred in a movie, Always Be My Maybe, that features a stunning cameo by Keanu Reeves as… Keanu Reeves. Her co-star is Randall Park, which should be reason enough to unwind with this feel-good romantic comedy shot through with Wong’s signature brand of humour.
Now Wong has released her first book, Dear Girls, a collection of letters to her daughters that make you both saddened and relieved (so relieved) they’re not written by your own mother. I read Dear Girls over a couple of days, stationed on the couch while my partner moved around the house shooting confused glances at the laughter volcano I had become. I could erupt at any time.
Dear Girls offers tales and advice on sex, culture, pursuing your passions in the face of adversity, on family, money, body hair, and friendship, among other things. There is, mercifully, a balance between hilarity and sincerity, and Wong has some important things to say about origins and celebrating where you come from. She talks about her experience as a female, Asian-American comic at the same time as resenting the fact that this is always the first question she is asked (‘What is it like to be…’) as if everyone can be reduced to such easy categories. Her response to other Asian-American women wanting guidance on making it in comedy is to let go of seeing themselves only in those terms and think about who they are outside of that. I think this is sage, transferrable advice. Wong also gives tips for hosting a ‘cheap-ass’ wedding; for giving birth; and for selecting a genuine Asian restaurant (if, for example, the steamed egg in the banchan is not a gray colour, it’s not real Korean). However, this book is not just for readers who find themselves contemplating weddings or families; it’s for anyone with an appreciation for the less glamorous side of life. It’s for those who acknowledge the power of explosive diarrhoea to bond two people together, for life; or who can admit that reading ‘those dumb-ass first-word board books’ to a baby, where the story-arc is ‘banana, boy, spoon, egg, everybody takes a bath’, is mind-numbingly boring.
I recommend this book for those who need a reality check, or a break from trying to be perfect, or just a long, hard, cathartic laugh. Dear Girls pairs well with an oversized glass of chardonnay, preferably the variety that comes in an aluminium bag, in a cardboard box. Or, as Ali might say, ‘an enormous goblet of cheap-ass wine.’
Reviewed by Charlotte