I’m obsessed with stand-up comedy, but it’s kind of a mine field for feminists, with so many routines still framed around stale gender essentialist notions of how men and women are different. I’m often reminded of the fantastic Onion headline: “Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break from Being Feminist to Enjoy TV Show.” I watch, and sometimes laugh.
Once in a great while, I come across a stand-up special that is, if not overtly feminist, at least thought-provoking in that direction. I wasn’t expecting much in that vein from Ali Wong’s Netflix special, “Baby Cobra,” the summary of which explains that one of the topics Wong delves into is “why feminism is terrible.” I’m glad I gave it a chance.
Wong taped her special in the fall of 2015 while seven-and-a-half months pregnant. Much of “Baby Cobra” focuses on Wong’s transition to marriage and how she “trapped” her husband. She packed his lunch every day for five years, she says, “so he’d become dependent on me. Cause he graduated from Harvard Business School, and I don’t want to work anymore.”
Not wanting to work anymore is a recurring theme throughout the special, the irony of which is palpable, as Wong is not only a female in a male-dominated industry, but seven months pregnant while working the stage. Still, she continues:
I think feminism is the worst thing that ever happened to women. Our job used to be no job. We had it so good. We could have done the smart thing, which would have been to continue playing dumb for the next century… And then all of these women had to show off and say, ‘We can do it, we can do anything!’… They ruined it for us. Now, we’re expected to work … A lot of women get very upset with me about those comments. And they’re like, “Ali, we have so many more options now!” Oh, you don’t think we had a lot of options when our day was free? Unscheduled, unsupervised, and most importantly: sponsored?
Clearly, Wong does want to work. And not just to pay off her husband’s $70,000 in student loans – a burden she bemoaned during the special. In an interview with Paste, Wong, who has had her baby at this point, explained that she took a requisite six-week hiatus from work after her C-section and now performs four nights a week.
She also said that there was some truth to not wanting to work. In her Vogue interview, after saying her antifeminism is ironic, Wong admits: “I do think that desire to not work anymore, even for women who are feminists, is real. I’ve never seen a full episode of Ellen. I want to go to a farmers’ market. I want to bake a pie and knit a scarf every once in a while.”
Wong is feeling the pressure of trying to balance work and life, something she anticipated in her special. After saying that a number of female comics tried to talk her out of having a baby, she explained that women are more affected in her industry than men by the demands of parenthood. She explained further in her interview with Paste:
It’s very rare that stand-up comics have kids, because once they do, they stop doing stand-up. Because it’s so tiring to take care of the kid that at night you don’t want to do a shitty set in front of ten people… But the thing is, you have to do those shitty shows to keep growing your material.
In addition to drawing out the tensions between wanting a successful career, wanting not to work anymore, and being a mom and comedian, “Baby Cobra” features a level of explicit body talk that I consider liberating. Right off the bat, Wong lets us all know that she, like most people, has HPV. She has a segment dedicated to “blowing ass” (sh*tting loudly). She talks about the urgent desire to smell her fingers after scratching her vulva. But most memorable, and meaningful, is her segment on her miscarriage.
Last year, I had a miscarriage. Which is very common. A lot of women who are in their 20s flip out when they hear that… I’m 33. Girl, when you’re 33, you’ll know plenty of women who have had a miscarriage. It’s super common and I wish more women would talk about it so they wouldn’t feel so bad when they go through it.
Not only did Wong speak out about an experience so shrouded in silence, but she joked about it, saying that she actually felt relieved when she found out at her six-week sonogram:
The doctor says to me, “Oh my god, I see two sacks, which means you’re having twins.” And I was like…“Noooooooo!” And then she said, “But what I don’t see is a heartbeat.” And I was like…”Yeeeeeees!”
Wong’s raw honesty concerning pretty much everything you’re not supposed to talk about, from not wanting to work to not wanting those twins, made for a thought-provoking stand-up special.
Oh, and it’s really funny, too.
Ali Wong’s special “Baby Cobra” is currently available to stream on Netflix.