Post-“Baby Cobra,” Wong seemingly exploded into A-list status — you know, the old “overnight” success story of someone who pounded the pavement outside freeway-adjacent motels for years. So for come-lately fans wondering, Where did this tiny filthy phenom come from?!, “Dear Girls” fills in the gaps. Wong’s study abroad program to her mom’s native Vietnam, for example, proved culturally and ideologically formative, leaving her with a taste both for exploring the outer limits of her comfort zone — so crucial to her brand of comedy — and for eating fertilized duck embryos. “It was practically still alive,” she writes of first ingesting the delicacy, “but after that moment I became really intolerant of anybody who got grossed out by something other people in the world ate for breakfast every day. Just shut the [expletive] up and eat a duck baby.”
Wong’s skyrocketing success of late — from selling out mega venues on her Milk & Money tour, to starring in, co-writing and producing the hit Netflix rom-com “Always Be My Maybe” — gets lassoed down to earth with humbling, early-years anecdotes about fearing for her life on seedy tours, trying out material in clubs that doubled as laundromats and bombing in front of Eddie Murphy. “I knew Eddie Murphy specifically wasn’t laughing,” Wong writes, “because everyone knows when Eddie Murphy is or isn’t laughing. You could recognize his signature ‘HANH-HANH-HANH’ goose honk anywhere. And that night, there were no geese.”
“Dear Girls” can be crude and flippant, LOL-dense and breezy — so breezy, in fact, you will be desensitized to the grossest of Wong’s gross-outs by chapter one, at which point you have already learned how to hold in a fart during yoga. But as with her stage comedy, she is also sneakily thoughtful about the public roles she occupies — Asian American, working mom, woman on comedy stages — and the come-from-behind grind they necessarily demand. “Convincing an audience that a person who looks like me could be funny,” she writes, “and proving to them that I belonged onstage, was a steep uphill battle.” She even offers surprisingly tender takes on her immigrant-minded parents, her sensitive husband (who contributes his own chapter as an afterword) and motherhood, the match that lit her career on fire.
Wong’s daughters should consider themselves lucky to have a self-made, cultural touchstone for a mother, let alone one doling out personalized advice about dating rappers, the importance of travel and surefire signifiers of a worthy Chinese restaurant: “The pork and shrimp will arrive right away, but it takes an hour to get a glass of water.” But if they indeed tuck into this memoir, they will learn more than they ever cared to — in vibrant technicolor, yikes — about mom’s sex life. “Dear Girls,” and all readers it may concern: In print, Wong is every inch the crass-master she plays on TV, so gird your gag reflex.
Rachel Rosenblit is a freelance writer and editor in New York.
Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life
By Ali Wong
Random House. 240 pp. $27