Ali Wong wants more women to have a midlife crisis
Ali Wong is not the kind of comedian who just takes the stage. He’s the type who walks up to the mic, standing like a WWE wrestler whose anger fuels his strength – hips forward, shoulders back, chin down, one eyebrow raised. And in Don Wong, her third Netflix special, which is now streaming, she wastes no time flexing her resentment. “You know, I’m very jealous and bittershe says in the first line of her set, uttering the words with enough anger that even those sitting in nosebleeds can see the steam rising from her head.
Wong is a master of indignant comedy. In his previous specials for the streamer, Baby Cobra and hard banging wife, the comedian’s observations about marriage and motherhood came wrapped in precise fury that resonated. Through gritted teeth, she expressed an identifiable frustration with modern feminism’s philosophy of trying to “bend over” when, as she put it in one of her best punchlines of all time, she would much rather “lie down”. Don Wong covers similar ground, but Wong’s confessions are bolder than before. Instead of trying to keep the audience on her side, she challenges them to look at her differently, and not just because she’s not visibly pregnant this time around. As she tells the crowd at the start of the special, all she wants to do, now that she’s well known, successful, and able to support herself, is to cheat on her husband.
Such an admission marks potentially alienating territory for a comic whose jokes tend to draw heavily on his marriage and his desire for rest in a world that encourages endless jostling. And yet, Wong’s hunger for an affair still seems approachable, as it directs her signature irritation at herself. She had spent years railing against the need to “have it all” as a woman, which meant achieving a career, a marriage, and a family. How did she end up with all three? And more importantly, how could she have been naive enough to believe that meeting that definition of “having it all” would leave her completely satisfied?
Over the course of the hour, Wong interrogates that epiphany with some of his most impactful and dirtiest tracks to date. She doesn’t shy away from her fame, instead kissing it to emphasize the difference, for women, between being successful and feeling successful. She co-wrote and starred in the romantic comedy Always be my maybe, but this experience stressed her so much that she didn’t relieve herself properly for weeks, leading to gross (and hilarious) colon-related difficulties. She’s more popular than ever, but unlike her male colleagues who attract “models, actresses and pop singers,” she only gets creepy DMs. She challenges men to feel more honored to be with women who have gained a dominant influence so that women feel more gratified by their accomplishments, emphasizing her annoyance with cheeky puns. “Sure you got the head, but did you ejaculate on a big American mind?” Wong teases. “Did your sperm swim in the eyes of an icon? Have you been deep throated by a voice of a generation? I do not think so !
Those are harsh words for her audience, but she keeps the most critical ones to herself. While recounting how easy cheating is supposed to be for the famous, Wong professes a particularly lewd and vivid fantasy involving the entire cast of The Avengers. Immediately afterwards, she stops walking, closes her eyes and rubs her forehead in obvious exasperation. “I think I’m going through a midlife crisis,” she laughs. “Having two c-sections and being the breadwinner for my family made me a 50-year-old man.”
Don Wong, in other words, is not a total victory lap. It’s partly an elegy for Wong’s younger self, the self in her first two specials who believed that by wanting less she could avoid ever feeling like she wanted more. It’s also partly a plea for women to have their midlife crises, because, for Wong, being expected to constantly celebrate “having it all” is exhausting. Ventilation should be seen as necessary to express gratitude, she explains, and equal pleasure should be as important as equal pay. Although her fame has made her experiences less universal, Wong’s honesty reinforces the relevance of those sentiments. Her confession, including one about how she almost cheated on her husband with the diet consultant on Always be my maybe– tumble cathartically, as if they were secrets she had kept hidden until this moment, on this stage, so that her audience could understand the power of recognizing and perhaps even indulging in such inclinations.
Towards the end of the special, Wong assures her viewers that she’s in a healthy marriage in a moment that feels a bit rushed, like an afterthought meant to bring them back to her side. But for the most part, Don Wong gives her a space to express her naughtiest thoughts and to encourage more women to do the same. Midway through her set, Wong deepens her voice and speaks in a dark tone, as if she’s about to launch into a TED talk. “For women, no matter how much money or power or respect you earn, you’re never allowed to misbehave and get away with it,” she says. And then she stops and widens her eyes. “But it’s all I want do.” If she can admit it, so can you.