“It’s very rare and unusual to see a standup comic perform while pregnant,” Ali Wong notes at one point during her 2016 Netflix special, Baby Cobra. She was six weeks away from the birth of her first child when she shot the special, and during her set, she proudly gestures to the ballooning belly beneath her zebra-striped dress–a meta-punchline to her jokes. One thing decidedly more rare and unusual than a comic performing while pregnant is that same comic performing two years later, just as visibly pregnant again.
In Baby Cobra, the former Fresh Off the Boat writer who now acts in American Housewife, speculated at length on what kind of mother she would be. With the follow-up, Hard Knock Wife, which premieres on Netflix on—when else—Mother’s Day, she definitively answers the question: Wong is the kind of mother who can make the world’s most compelling argument for paid maternity leave—and make it hilarious.
Of all the standup specials in history, Hard Knock Wife may be the first that truly feels like a sequel to its predecessor. It continues not only the story of Wong’s plunge into motherhood, but also her rising fame and fortune following that first special, and her changing dynamic with her husband as a result. Last time, she talked about needing a doula; this time she talks about needing a lactation consultant. She even wears a second animal pattern dress, trading in the zebra stripes for leopard print. More importantly, she also now has firsthand knowledge about a subject of special interest in Baby Cobra: how society has conditioned us to treats dads compared to moms.
Here’s her explanation, from the earlier special, for why you don’t see many new mothers performing standup comedy:
“Once [male comics] have a baby, they’ll get onstage a week afterwards and they’ll be like, ‘Guys, I just had this fucking baby. That baby’s a little piece of shit. It’s so annoying and boring.’ And all these other shitty dads in the audience are like, ‘That’s hilarious. I identify.’ And their fame just swells because they become this relatable family funnyman all of a sudden. Meanwhile, the mom is at home, chapping her nipples, feeding the fucking baby, and wearing a frozen diaper ’cause her pussy needs to heal from the baby’s head shredding it up. She’s busy.”
Much of the power from Wong’s new special comes from the fact that after spending time tending to her newborn, Wong quickly got back out on stage and became a relatable family funnywoman, if not one that should necessarily be heard by the whole family. She may have known in Baby Cobra that a postpartum diaper and chapped nipples were her destiny, but in her new special she now knows the gritty reality of that diaper and those nipples, and everything that comes afterward, along with what it’s like to get back to work, and what it’s like to tell people that the reason you’re back at work is because you’re able to afford a baby nurse. Much like the new Charlize Theron film Tully, Hard Knock Wife uses vivid, no-holds-barred details to prove what a raw deal mothers tend to get with this whole work/life balance thing–especially in America.
Aside from the revolutionary nature of a hard-R comedy special dedicated mostly to motherhood, Wong has an agenda with this special. She’s giving other mothers something to identify with, giving potential mothers a hard-truth brochure on what to expect, giving men a million reasons to adjust their way of thinking, and giving potential policymakers a piece of her mind.
Wong’s previous special generated a lot of catchphrases, some of which she monetized with merchandise. Hard Knock Wife also has its share of standout lines that seem like T-shirts waiting to happen, but if there’s a true catchphrase in the set, it’s: “This is why women need maternity leave.” She points out the common, crucial misconceptions about the topic in a way that transcends the standup special surrounding it and becomes a rousing call to action.
“In every other first world country, women get up to three years off, paid. In the U.S. we get jack shit. In the U.S., there is zero federal policy,” Wong says, glaring, basically challenging the viewer not to believe her. “Maternity leave isn’t just to bond with the baby—fuck the baby! Maternity leave is for moms to hide and heal their demolished-ass bodies.”
Motherhood has clearly changed Wong in some ways, even though she’s sharper and funnier than ever. Mostly it seems to have made her want to change motherhood itself in the U.S.