In my kids' earliest years, the TV mom I think I most often tried to channel was Claire Huxtable. Claire had long served as my totem for motherhood — she was loving but firm, intelligent and strong, and not terribly cutesy or sentimental about motherhood. Minus the healthy, loving relationship (and recent revelations about Bill Cosby aside), she was the only TV mom who reminded me of my own mom and aunts, as both a professional and a present parent. Yes, she cared deeply about her kids, but never allowed herself to be a martyr to motherhood. She represented the mom I aspired to be, though was too put together and too regal to represent the mom I really was.
Enter Ali Wong, one of the brilliant minds behind my current favorite TV mom, the fictional version of Jessica Huang.
It may be because her Netflix stand-up special, Baby Cobra, released this past Mother’s Day, was filmed while she was seven months pregnant, but her comedy is refreshingly unbound by the limitations of how mothers are expected to behave and act. She has some hilariously raunchy jokes — about HPV, freaky sex, and helping men discover their prostate. But she also takes some huge risks in her special by telling jokes about her miscarriage, and how feminism is the worst thing that has ever happened to women.
And those risks pay off, big time.
Wong stands outside the status quo — she is so much of a statistical anomaly that I am officially proposing that she be declared a national treasure. At the time of her special, she is a pregnant stand-up comedian (which, in her words, don’t really exist). She’s also an Asian American woman in the writers' room of a very successful TV show, one of the few sitcoms about an Asian American family that has ever existed -- that is also wildly popular and critically acclaimed!
This gives her a unique perspective glaringly absent from Hollywood or even the usual crop of stand-up specials on Netflix. It’s resulted in a comedy special that subverts the concept of “edgy” and popularized "unpopular opinions." In it, she freely admits that she trapped her husband because of his earning potential, because she wanted to be a housewife and not work anymore — it is a fake act of meninism that hilariously confirms red pill-er’s worst nightmares about women, but also an important comment on “choose my choice” feminism and the patronizing adage that mothering is “the hardest job in the world."
What I love about Wong’s special, and what seems to echo in the TV version of Jessica Huang, is the realness about being a working woman without all of the exhausting politeness expected of mothers. Yes, this is a voice we almost never get to hear in stand-up comedy, but it’s also not generally heard in the motherhood discourse either. She spoke of infertility and miscarriage and of the joy of being pregnant again without being schmaltzy or maudlin. She talks about not wanting to work anymore — not because she has a particular interest in homemaking or because she can’t bear the thought of being away from her precious snowflake-to-be, but because she’s tired of taking “boring, repressed shits” in the office bathroom. And her final joke is a delightful punch to the face to the 1950’s housewife ideal.
Ali Wong's Baby Cobra special is my new totem — it represents both the mother that I already am, and reminds me to be the woman have always been. It has instantly found a place in my own personal motherhood canon.