The Bad, The Worse, and The Ugly: Ali Wong’s Exploration of Motherhood

Ali Wong

In her latest special Hard Knock Wife, Ali Wong returns several months pregnant with her second child and ready to spew more meditations on life postpartum.  Her decision to film not one but two stand-up specials while visibly with child is in itself a revolutionary act.  In such a male dominated, misogynistic space, Wong takes on the topics of pregnancy, motherhood, and female sexuality by focusing heavily on the embodied aspects of these experiences, oftentimes attempting to take the gross out of grotesque.  In other words, her latest special – much like her first – functions as a sort of x-rated sex-education/feminist theory in-the-quotidian seminar.  Tackling many of the same topics as her first Netflix special, Baby Cobra, Wong manages to cleverly locate and perform the nuance in these common life events.  

One of Wong’s main gripes is the lack of appreciation for mothers, the physical trauma they endure bringing forth life.  In one particular bit she comments on how she stopped breastfeeding her daughter at 8.5 months. She quips that she thought that breastfeeding would be this wonderful bonding experience between her and her newborn daughter, but instead, she describes it as a “savage ritual that reminds you that your body is now a cafeteria.” She even comments on how her  “nipples that look like fingers” and that her milk squirted through fifteen holes, her breasts seeming to mimic “the Bellagio fountain.”

I found myself grinning and laughing profusely when she likened herself to the tree in one of my favorite childhood books, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  She claims that this depressing book is about breastfeeding, and that the tree is a mom who used to have it all and gives it to some freeloader to eventually become “a tree stump with deflated titties:”  These examples pale in comparison to her more explicit bits including one where she describes horribly disfigured lady parts of her friend healing from her birth experience, as two hanging penises, and “meat curtains.” Her willingness to generate laughter by tackling the often taboo topic of women’s health is seemingly unparalleled.  Typically, women’s bodies are reduced to sexualized parts that men then project their fantasies onto in order to enhance their already over-inflated egos. Wong’s approach reclaims the woman’s body for the woman while simultaneously marveling at, and being infuriated by the physicality of birthing and motherhood.

Wong actively demonstrates that one can be a mother and having a successful and fulfilling career by addressing commentary from her colleagues about her return to the stage while raising a two-year-old.  Wong explains that in order to be a good mom, and to not throw her kid in the garbage can, that she needs opportunities to miss her. With this exaggerated declaration, Wong challenges the narrative that in order to be a good mom, you must be totally consumed by and constantly in the presence of your children.  Instead, she promotes the often forgotten concept that moms are women, persons, humans with lives outside of their children, and that is perfectly healthy.

For almost the entire hour, Wong delivers her quips and quibbles about life as a mom and wife with an angry tone.  Generally, I appreciate more of a variety in tonality, as I feel like it allows me to have an even greater appreciation for the transitions between highs and lows.  But Wong is speaking from uncharted territory for me – motherhood. Perhaps Wong is channeling all the anger, anxiety, and frustration that comes with being a woman and a mother in this patriarchal society, something that definitely would warrant the bite in her delivery.  I imagine that I will revisit Hard Knock Wife, after giving birth, and laugh in the ways that only a woman who is “hiding and healing her demolished ass body” can.  

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