Comedian (and New Author) Ali Wong Talks Writing and Reading
This month her debut book, Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life, arrives in bookstores.
Somehow Wong found the time to answer our questions about writing the hilarious guidebook to her children, her work as a comedian, and why you should never compare yourself to Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Goodreads: As a writer, you’ve found success in TV, film, and stand-up comedy. How was writing a book different from writing a script or a comedy set?
Ali Wong: For me, it was a lot more challenging than stand-up. I couldn’t test out my book on a live audience whenever I wanted. Yes, I send drafts to my editor to get feedback. But I won’t really know how people feel about the book until after it goes on sale. It’s very scary, exciting, and nerve-racking all at once.
GR: How do you write comedy? Is there a specific way you approach crafting a joke? How do you know when you’ve nailed it?
AW: I write onstage and rarely just sit down at my computer to craft jokes. It all comes from instinct, and what I feel like talking about. I know I’ve nailed it when I’ve performed that joke 50 times and it gets consistent laughs with different audiences reflecting a very big diversity of demographics.
GR: Were you influenced by any other comedian’s books while writing Dear Girls? Or, more generally, were there any books you had in the back of your mind while you were planning your book?
Between the World and Me so much while planning my book. I hesitated to even mention it because it’s such an incredible piece of work that I would not want to invite ANY sort of comparison (as I would quickly lose).
And that beautiful afterword of When Breath Becomes Air inspired me to ask my husband, Justin Hakuta, to write the afterword of Dear Girls.
GR: Did you learn anything new about your creative process while writing Dear Girls?
AW: Yes! It’s that I don’t think I could do this again.
GR: Your book is written as a series of letters to your daughters. Why did you choose to write the book this way?
AW: Before my dad passed, he left me a letter that began with “Dear Alexandra.” I love that letter, but I wish he had written more to me about the person he was before I was born, and I wish he addressed all these lingering questions I still have for him.
GR: In the opening chapter, you admit that the book deal brought up what is commonly referred to as “imposter syndrome” for you (which you describe in a much more hilarious way, of course). Do you have advice on how to conquer those self-doubts?
Ta-Nehisi Coates. Nobody can write like Ta-Nehisi Coates, so just give up on that right now. Write what you want to say, that is easy for other people to understand, and make sure you find it interesting.
GR: With chapter titles including “How I Trapped Your Father,” “Hustle and Pho,” and “A Guide to Asian Restaurants,” I was curious if you have a favorite chapter of the book?
AW: “Bringing Up Bebes” is my favorite. It’s about the myths and realities of raising children. It’s the chapter I wish I had read instead of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
GR: Let’s say you suddenly have some serious time to spend curled up with a book. What would you read?
AW: The second I get some free time, I’m gonna read Mary H.K. Choi’s new novel. I loved Emergency Contact and am dying to read Permanent Record.
GR: What are some of your all-time-favorite books?
AW: Homegoing, Americanah, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the Harry Potter series, Locke and Key (a graphic novel series).
GR: And since your book is written to your daughters, what are some of your favorite books you like to read to them?
AW: Yoga Bug, Chrysanthemum, Bread and Jam for Frances, La Catrina, Knuffle Bunny, Cinnamon, Dream Animals, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.
GR: Are there any other books you would recommend for someone who wants to learn more about Hollywood or comedy?
AW: Tina Fey’s Bossypants is freaking amazing.
GR: What’s next for you, and would you consider writing a second book?
AW: I’m on my Milk and Money Stand Up Tour through 2020. But after that, I need to rest for a little bit! Mama is exhausted. I’ll probably focus on children’s books next.
Ali Wong's book Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life will be available in the U.S. on October 15. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews and get more great book recommendations.
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