Ali Wong puts a raunchy spin on motherhood in her new Netflix special, ‘Hard Knock Wife’

From maternity leave to period sex, Ali Wong gets real this Mother's Day
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 05/11/2018 at 11:30 AM EDT
Ken Woroner/Netflix

Motherhood can make us cry or scream out in frustration—at our kids, our spouses, and even, at times, ourselves. But give me an opportunity to laugh at motherhood and some of its universal truths, and I’m there. Toss in a saucy, snarky, crass attitude and you’ve got Ali Wong’s new Netflix special: “Hard Knock Wife,” out this Mother’s Day, May 13.

Comedian Ali Wong made me laugh with her first Netflix special, “Baby Cobra,” where she delved into her life as a married woman pregnant with her first child. Right off the bat, Wong directs the audience to her huge belly, reminding them that they rarely—if ever—see a pregnant comic on stage. Wong finds the humor in the frustrating realities of working motherhood in America, deftly balancing political commentary with her comedy, and we get a full second serving of this with “Hard Knock Wife.”

Two years after “Baby Cobra” catapulted Wong into the spotlight she’s back, pregnant with child number two, ready to tell us about her experiences with motherhood. Filmed at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theatre, Wong returns with her hilarious nasty self, comparing her newborn to a human Tamagotchi, ranting about moms’ groups, dropping truth bombs about breastfeeding and the reality of being a stay-at-home mom.

Wong subtly makes political calls to action. As she talks about the toll pregnancy and birth take on our bodies, she discusses the lack of federally mandated paid maternity leave in this country. Wong isn’t mad, just matter-of-fact, as she observes this total fail on the part of our government. The scary reality of no mandated maternity leave isn’t something you can easily laugh about (and in fact, makes many moms cry!), yet Wong criticizes this appalling shortcoming in a way that has has giggling at the absurdity of it all.

Wong does the same when it comes to earning disparities between spouses (she now makes more money than her Harvard-educated husband, a fact that she is proud of, while her mother worries for the future of her marriage), work/life balance (aka the dreaded “having it all” topic), the unfair difference in how mothers and fathers are spoken about and praised (like Wong, I’m still waiting for my confetti parade for all the times my son pooped on me as a baby).

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One of my favorite aspects of Ali Wong — and something she delivers in spades in “Hard Knock Wife,” — is the fact that she’s a physical comedian. When we think of physical comedians, there’s a pretty stereotypical image that comes up, and a petite, pregnant Asian American woman in a leopard print bodycon dress and red cateye frame glasses is not it. Yet Wong pushes back against the notion that women, and Asian women in particular, are to be poised, calm, and cute. There is an amazing, hilarious juxtaposition watching Wong discuss period sex, if only because we rarely have representations of pregnant women telling crass, yet wonderfully worded jokes.

So this Mother’s day, give your mom what she really wants: An hour of solitude so she can watch “Hard Knock Wife,” and laugh until there are tears streaming down her face. Or just give her two hours of solitude to do whatever the hell she wants. Ali Wong would approve.

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