Two Drink Minimum is a comedy-based column by Vague Visages staff writer Jacob Oller.
The opening jokes of a stand-up comedian’s set are of dire importance. Comedy is a business of thought and over-thought, each line and delivery carefully scrutinized and languished over (usually in the same bar it’s being performed in). So when the extremely pregnant Ali Wong opens her new Netflix stand-up special Baby Cobra with “We’re gonna need to get this shit over with because I have to pee in like 10 minutes,” the tone becomes settled right away. This is sharp oversharing, writ large and crass, though her pregnancy doesn’t come up until the final portion of the set. Before this, to set the mood, Wong explores everything from the romance of HPV to the horrible bitterness developed towards teenagers when you’re in your thirties.
Wong’s delivery escalates in intensity, getting quieter and angrier as it goes, melding the loathing of Louis C.K. with the hyper-analytic millennial modernity of Aziz Ansari. After some fairly easy gets on racial body hair differences (Jews are hairy!) and the aging process (young girls have thigh gaps!), Wong dips into her more personal material. Discussing how she “trapped” her Harvard-educated husband is an absurd hyper-stereotype that happily transitions into both race and domestic issues that were already bubbling beneath the earlier material. Dating within your own race, she explains, can be a blessing. It’s just easier, socially. When her deconstruction begins, it cracks into the historically-charged world of pan-Asian racism that is simultaneously hilarious and potent. Discussing the difference between classy Asians and “jungle Asians,” Wong peppers in reaction shots so deadpan you wish she’d been on more sitcoms before transitioning to the writer’s room.
Writing for Fresh Off the Boat has honed Wong’s pacing and delivery to a razor’s edge as she gleefully skips (well, hobbles) between brows as high as meaningful commentary on miscarriages in third-world countries to those as low as “blowing ass into a toilet.” I didn’t think there were any more poop jokes to be made, but I’m thankful Ali Wong proved me incorrect. Satirical feminist critique flits lightly between critical analysis of porn consumption, the politics of anal sex and the relationship dynamics that lead to S&M. Her ideas on feminism often err on the side of the contrary. Women can be powerful and desire luxury. Women can be in control and want domination. There’s no right way to empower women, Wong says, as long as it is done.
Over-specificity is used to great effect, as Wong conveys a real sense of her marriage, sex life and ideals buried beneath gross-out gags. Never preachy, Wong finds lots to love in her overwhelming honesty. That honesty often brushes on, but never harps on, daily misogynies faced or industrial double standards. Some may wonder why this isn’t the focus of her set, admonishing the literal potty humor and vulgarity. Wong is clear from the beginning that she is open, gross and extremely human. The only difference between her and the audience, she implies, is that she’s upfront about it. 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.
From AAA TV to Z-movies, Oklahoma City-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.