Ali Wong is fucking hilarious. Yes, it is simply so. Her comedy is equal parts potty-mouth, fun-loving advice, and balls out demeanor. Her long list of professional recognition includes SF Weekly‘s “Best Comedian of 2009” and the SF Bay Guardian‘s “Best of The Bay.” She recently relocated to New York City, where she has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the FOX series Breaking In, E!’s 50 Super Epic TV Moments, and an upcoming episode of Oliver Stone’s Savages, slated for September 2012. In 2010, Comedy Central listed Ali Wong as one of seven “Comics to Watch,” while Variety Magazine listed her as one of 2011’s “10 Comics to Watch.” Her newest project is as “Olivia” in the new NBC series based on Chelsea Handler’s memoir Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.Persephone Magazine, please welcome the talented and hilarious Ali Wong.
Persephone Magazine: How did you get started doing comedy?
Ali Wong: I was living in Vietnam for a year after college. I returned to my parents’ house in San Francisco, so heartbroken and broke. I always wanted to do stand-up and just started going up at open mics. After doing my first one, I went out to a different cafe/club every night and haven’t stopped performing on the daily since.
PM: Was there a game changer in the way you were approaching stand-up?
AW: Moving to NYC was a big game changer. I quit my comfortable day job as a receptionist at this wonderful small foundation, left my entire immediate family in SF, and in doing so, made this huge declaration about how serious I was. It was tough at first because I didn’t have a lot of friends in NYC, and zero family. But it definitely inspired me to write more, it forced me to toughen up… a lot, and I met so many amazing comics.
PM: There is a certain raunchiness to your comedy that’s pretty awesome. You describe yourself as “Naughty Oprah.” Hooray for mess talking! What about raunchiness do you think works so well in your comedy?
AW: Well I know a lot of people appreciate the fact that I look like Pikachu and then talk about such nasty stuff. I’ve always been such a horndog so it’s generally just what I love to talk about. I try not to think too hard about what works and what doesn’t work. I talk about the things that are on my mind, test them out and then keep what’s funny. Most of it just happens to be dirty.
PM: You’re not only a badass comedian, but also an actress and will be starring in the NBC series based off Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. What’s your role in the show going to be?
AW: I play “Olivia,” Chelsea’s best friend who is also a party girl but really tries to be good.
PM: Now that you have lived and experienced being a comedian in a myriad of places – San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York – what have you learned from each place?
AW: San Francisco was the perfect place to start because it’s a city of freaks. If you don’t believe me, attend the Folsom Street Fair, Bay to Breakers or the Chinese New Year Parade. All of those eccentric characters inspired me to experiment and think out of the box, and it was safe to, because there was never any industry watching me. New York is the comedy capital. All the best headliners live and perform there. Sometimes, I would do six sets in one evening. Performing at that rate allowed me to detach from any “bad set” and generate polished material so much faster. Los Angeles is… well, it’s Los Angeles. All my best friends live there and reuniting with them through all these career changes has been very grounding. It is fun to have more acting opportunities, although I miss the stand-up scene in NYC a lot.
PM: Do you think it’s easier to be a comedian in one city versus another, or is it more complicated than that?
AW: It’s easier to start in San Francisco, it’s best to find your voice in NYC and it’s possible to make a living in LA.
PM: Do you think there have been any setbacks for you in pursuing comedy, whether related to the industry itself or, say, raggedy stereotypes that can accompany being an Asian American woman?
AW: No, any setbacks have been my fault. I don’t even look at them as setbacks, but rather growing pains. I’ve bombed in front of important people and thought I completely blew my career in five minutes. But I always recover as long as I learn and continue to work hard.
PM: Where do you want to go from here?
AW: I’d like to write more for film and TV. I haven’t had the discipline to do that yet but it’s a big itch. The writing really is the lifeblood of all the projects in this business.
PM: Do you see yourself as always being a comedian, or does acting take the lead – or is it just a mixed bag?
AW: Mixed party nuts!
PM: What other work of yours can we look forward to in the not-too-distant future?
AW: You can see me headline Caroline’s on Broadway this weekend in NYC!
To find out more on Ali, as well as tour dates, media and other goodies, check out her website at AliWong.com