Details About Ali Wong For All Of Her Superfans

Ali Wong's career has been on a gloriously steep ascent for a while. Named by Time as one of 2023's Most Influential People, the comedian rose to fame with her acclaimed Netflix comedy specials, 2016's "Baby Cobra" and 2018's "Hard Knock Wife," both performed while she was pregnant. In 2019, the writer for "Fresh off the Boat" teamed up with series star Randall Park for "Always Be My Maybe," a rom-com they created, and about which Rolling Stone raved, "Sweet, sassy, and laugh-out-loud funny."

In 2022, the "American Housewife" alum appeared in Amazon's sci-fi adventure series, "Paper Girls" based on Brian K. Vaughn's popular comic books. Wong, an Emmy nominee for writing her third Netflix special, "Ali Wong: Don Wong," told Vanity Fair, "Back when 100 million people would watch television, the dream [for a comedian] would be landing a sitcom like Jerry Seinfeld or Ray Romano did," she said. "Now I look at the landscape and I'm like, 'I think I got my dream."

In "Beef," Netflix's hit psychological thriller, Wong took the lead opposite "Nope" actor Steven Yeun, in her first dramatic role — and it definitely won't be her last. The black comedy has been called one of the best shows of the year, and much of the credit goes to the two leads. "Yeun and Wong are so fantastic, they make every scene of the series riveting," wrote USA Today. Here are some of the most fascinating details about Ali Wong for all you superfans — and potential ones.

She comes from a 'really atypical Asian-American family'

Ali Wong hails from San Francisco, the youngest of four children born to Tammy, her Vietnamese mother, and Adolphus, who was Chinese. Her dad became an anesthesiologist but had grown up dirt poor in San Francisco's Chinatown. In an interview with Time, Wong described her clan by stating, "[We are] this really atypical Asian-American family."

Unlike many families like hers, Wong said her parents didn't buy into the concept of the "Asian F" as depicted on a 2011 episode of "Glee. "My parents were not focused on academics. If I got a bad grade, they weren't that upset," the actor explained. Apparently, they were also refreshingly open about sex with their four children. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Asian-American studies, Wong studied language abroad in Vietnam. "It was such a formative part of my life," she told Vanity Fair about connecting to her mother's cultural heritage.

In 2011, Wong mourned the loss of her father to cancer. During a 2019 appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" she shared that her dad always supported her, even when she was having a rough night on stage. "He would come to my not-so-well-attended shows and when I'd announce, 'Oh my dad is here!' after a really filthy joke, he would stand up and go like this [waving her arms in the air] as if he had just won the Indy500 or conquered Mt. Everest," Wong said.

Ali got her start doing stand-up at a laundromat

Ali Wong's on-stage career started in college when she joined UCLA's LCC Theatre Company, co-founded by her friend Randall Park to showcase various forms of Asian-American artistic expression. After finishing her studies, the performer joined the "boomerang" generation in moving back in with her parents in the Bay Area. That's when she first gave stand-up comedy a try. And one of her first gigs was at a San Francisco venue she won't soon forget.

"I think I was 23, and it was at this place called the Brainwash Café — it was very grimy, and it was half café, half laundromat, 100 percent homeless shelter," Wong joked to Vanity Fair, suggesting that the audience on any given night could be counted on one hand. Wong's next move was to New York, where the stakes were higher — as well as the cost of living. The budding comic shared a place in Soho with six loft mates and continued to polish her stand-up material, sometimes performing nine sets in one night. "For the first year I lived in New York, I never ate out," Wong told NBC News. "I literally just ate lentils and brown rice at home." 

Her determination and talent eventually paid off. By 2011, Variety named the rising star one of its "10 Comics to Watch." Speaking to Vanity Fair, Wong's mentor Chris Rock pointed out her appeal is universal. "She plays everywhere," the "Fargo" actor said. "Everybody kind of loves Ali Wong."

Baby Cobra was her breakout performance

When Ali Wong started out in stand-up, people in the industry told her she needed to clean up her raunchy humor to book more gigs. In a 2019 interview with The Guardian, she explained, "Maybe people were half-laughing, half-cringing at my jokes. But if you're successful, people should be too busy laughing to cringe." Clearly, Wong didn't take that advice for her breakout 2016 Netflix special, "Baby Cobra," an unfiltered look at parenting, sex, and even miscarriage, while she was in her third trimester.

"It's very rare and unusual to see a female comic perform pregnant," Wong says in the special, (via Vanity Fair). "Because female comics ... don't get pregnant.... Once they do, they generally disappear." In 1967, Joan Rivers was the first woman to perform pregnant on TV during an appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Critics blasted the sharp-tongued comic for appearing on the small screen while she was expecting. 28 years later, a pregnant Roseanne Barr further helped to pave the way for future mom comics on her titular sitcom. 

Nobody dared to go where Wong went with "Baby Cobra," and new legions of fans ate it up. "I can't tell you how many selfies I've gotten asked for at the gynecologist and pediatrician office," Wong told The New York Times. "I should sell tickets there." For Vague Visages, TV writer Jacob Oller raved, "There's no other way to take a performance by a seven-month-pregnant comic than as an exuberant celebration of humanity in all of its forms."

She co-created Always Be My Maybe with a college pal

Ali Wong and her college friend Randall Park had talked about developing a romantic comedy à la "When Harry Met Sally" together for years — that set off a chain of events that willed it into existence. The "Fresh Off the Boat" star and Netflix's new comedy queen started getting calls asking if they had a script. The duo decided to co-write the screenplay for "Always Be My Maybe," with the help of Park's longtime collaborator, screenwriter Michael Golamco.

"It's been kind of a charmed process," Golamco told Character Media. "This is the fastest I've ever seen Hollywood work. In my life. All the right pieces came together." In the 2019 film, which was directed by "American Dad!" producer Nahnatchka Khan, Wong plays a celebrity chef who reunites with her childhood friend (Park). In a joint interview with Entertainment Weekly, Park explained the 1992 film "Boomerang" was their jumping-off point. "We wanted to show these Asian-Americans living their lives without much emphasis on the Asian-American," he said.

Asked if the movie was based on her real-life experiences, Wong responded, "The movie is titled 'Always Be My Maybe' because everybody has somebody from their past that they wonder about." Speaking about the female lead's impressive range, Khan told Vanity Fair, "I think people will come into this movie expecting [Wong] to be funny, but then she shows, in my opinion, such a range of emotion as an actress."

Ali Wong scored again with Hard Knock Wife

Two years after Netflix's "Cobra Baby," Ali Wong scored another slam dunk for the streamer with her second comedy special. Like her 2016 debut, the star of 2018's "Hard Knock Wife" was knocked up for her Mother's Day tradition. "Ali is electric," Robbie Praw, director of original stand-up comedy programming at Netflix, told The Hollywood Reporter. "She offers a completely distinct voice in the culture, and audiences all over the world have responded to her raw, unfiltered humor."

In 2019, following the success of her sophomore stand-up show, Wong inked an eight-figure deal with Netflix (after a bidding war with HBO Max) for two future specials. "Hard Knock Wife," like its predecessor, earned a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. In the special, Wong quips (via Vulture), "[Motherhood is] a wack-ass job ... You're in solitary confinement all day long with this human Tamagotchi, so the stakes are extremely high."

She also likens breastfeeding to some type of cruel and unusual punishment. "The nurse promised me I would have a particularly easy time because my nipples look like fingers," she says. In his Vulture review, TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz praised the comedy special but noted that Wong isn't just cracking jokes — she's having an intimate conversation with her audience. "She makes you feel as if it's just the two of you," he wrote. "And she trusts you enough to tell you how she really feels."

Her life revolves around her daughters

There's a thread tying together Ali Wong's recent work, including her TV and movie roles and the material for her comedy specials. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she explained, "I think that everything that I am talking about, even though it's not specifically about my kids, is still rooted in motherhood." Wong and her now ex-husband Justin Hakuta welcomed Mari in 2015 via C-section. In "Dear Girls," Wong's 2019 comic memoir devoted to her daughters, she wrote, "Mari was so easy and chill, and still at the end of the day I was completely exhausted."

She welcomed Nikki in 2017, and during an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," Wong assured the host she won't be performing pregnant anymore. "I love being a mom and I like having two kids. But I've had two C-sections and I've suffered enough." As Vanity Fair noted, Wong worked out her "Milk & Money" tour dates so that the girls could travel with her and Hakuta when they weren't in school.

"It's a really fun family adventure because basically at night I'm performing, and then during the day, we go on adventures to the children's museum or the gardens or we see family friends," Wong told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's really cool that they've seen so much of America." When they're not on the road, Wong is just like any other mom. She packs her daughters' lunches in the morning and picks them up after school in the afternoon.

Ali Wong and Justin Hakuta's 'unconventional divorce'

The character of Ali Wong's husband in "Beef" shares a few similarities with the star's real-life partner. Like George, Jason Hakuta is Japanese American, attends couple's counseling with his wife, and has been more of a stay-at-home dad while she was the primary breadwinner. "He's an Asian unicorn; there's nobody like him," Wong told The New York Times about the former tech exec who managed her tour.

In 2022, People announced the couple was calling it quits after eight years of marriage. "It's amicable and they will continue to co-parent lovingly," a source told the outlet. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Wong explained she never expected the media frenzy that ensued, adding, "By far the hardest part about getting divorced was my mother's reaction. She looked me in the eye and asked, 'Can you just wait until I die?'" As for her relationship with her ex, Wong shared, "We're really, really close; we're best friends ... It's a very unconventional divorce."

Wong and Hakuta planned to travel together with their daughters for her 2023 tour. "This is the first hour I'm doing since I started where I'm single," said Wong, who rekindled her romance with former beau, Bill Hader, that same year. Post-divorce, Wong still upholds the same delicacy when discussing Hakuta in her stand-up act. "He still to this day has ultimate veto power, because my relationship with him even post-divorce is more important than a two-minute bit," she told The Cut.

Jason Mantzoukas helped her land Paper Girls

During the COVID-19 lockdown, Ali Wong received a welcome surprise from her friend Jason Mantzoukas. Knowing he and his pal share a love for the works of Brian K. Vaughan, "The League" actor sent her a box of the author's entire "Paper Girls" comic book series, which was about to be turned into an Amazon series. Wong was the perfect age to play Adult Erin in the highly-anticipated sci-fi drama about four time-traveling teens who encounter themselves as grown-up women.

"I think I finished [reading] it in one or two days. I loved it so much. He didn't even tell me that it centered on a young Asian-American girl!' Wong told Entertainment Weekly. She was asked to read for the part. However, prior to her audition, Mantzoukas warned her producers might not see her as a good fit for the character because, "Ali Wong, you are a person whose dreams all came true."' Wong explained nothing could be further from the truth.

"For the longest time, I was a person who was disappointed at how my life had turned out so far ... I was someone who, if I'd met my younger self, they would've been like, 'What are you doing?'" After Wong booked the part, she returned the favor and encouraged Mantzoukas to read for the role of Grand Father, which he landed. "[Jason's] like an A+ human being," Wong told The Wrap. "And it's been so nice to bond over being part of the show together."

She bombed in front of her 'comedy idol' Eddie Murphy

When Ali Wong was expecting her second daughter, she received a last-minute invitation to do a pop-up show opening for Dave Chappelle. As she recounted in her memoir, "Dear Girls," much to her surprise when she took the stage she noticed a man with big black sunglasses in the crowd. "It was Eddie Murphy. My number one comedy idol," she wrote. After delivering 10 minutes of her best material, Wong didn't hear a peep from the "Coming 2 America" star.

"I knew Eddie Murphy specifically wasn't laughing because everyone knows when Eddie Murphy is or isn't laughing," she continued. "You could recognize his signature 'HANH-HANH-HANH' goose honk anywhere." The comedian explained how crashing and burning in front of her comedy hero turned into her aha moment. "If you don't bomb, you'll think you're good and there's no work to do. But there's always work to do," Wong concluded. "A joke is never finished."

On the acting front, there were several failed projects Wong never spoke to her family about. In her 2016 interview with The New Yorker, the "American Housewife" star admitted she had been in a half-dozen TV pilots that went nowhere. The actor also starred in two series — ABC's medical drama "Black Box" and the NBC comedy "Are You There, Chelsea?" that were both canceled after one season. "My mom doesn't understand that I have no control if a project dies," Wong said.

Beef put her on a fresh path

In an interview with The Cut, Ali Wong described "Beef" as the "most interesting" thing she's ever done. Nobody is arguing with that. The limited series quickly climbed to Netflix's top spot, with the lead actors receiving raves for their performances. "Ali Wong and Steven Yeun are outstanding," wrote The Wrap. "'Beef' is the story of a road rage battle between two broken people who become obsessed with destroying each other's lives.

The film relies on the chemistry between the two stars, and Yeun, an Oscar nominee for "Minari" took great pains to make sure Wong felt confident in her first dramatic lead. "Before filming he looked me in the eye and said, 'I don't know anything you don't know.' And either he's a really good actor or he meant it because it really leveled the playing field," she told The Cut. In the dark comedy, Wong plays Amy Lau, a self-made entrepreneur whose personal life falls short of her hopes and dreams.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Wong shared, "For me — and I'll leave it up for interpretation what this means — it was a way to say what I've been wanting to say about relationships and being a working mom that I haven't found a way to talk about onstage." The A24 production instantly became one of the buzziest shows on TV. "Nobody who sees it is going to stop talking about it," wrote Peter Travers for ABC News, who called "Beef" the best show of 2023. 

The one question she really hates

In her book, "Dear Girls," Ali Wong addressed the one question she hates being asked, which is what it's like being an Asian-American woman working in comedy. Speaking to The New York Times, the comedian explained why she objects to the query. "Underlying that question is this assumption that being an Asian-American woman is a weakness. If you see it as a weakness, it will be a weakness." Addressing her frustrations with white, male comics suggesting her cultural identity is a good gimmick, she added, "When they say that to me, it's a reflection of how they're not seeing a precedent ... of someone looking like me succeeding." Her achievements were welcome but entirely unexpected — and certainly not something she felt entitled to. 

As for being labeled a "mom comic," that's a prickly subject for Wong too. "Every male comedian of note who is over the age of 45 has a kid, and they talk about it and don't get grouped as 'dad comics,'" she told The Hollywood Reporter.  Pointing to Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle as examples, the "Big Mouth" voice actor added, "We're just talking about our lives." Indeed, Kevin Hart has four kids and is known for his dad jokes, and people aren't putting him in that category. For now, Wong is focusing on balancing work and personal growth. "The goal is not to have an incredible career, " she said in a separate interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "The goal is to have an incredible life."