The Dear Girls author reveals her writing process, from eating pork rinds to taking hula hoop breaks.
Ali Wong is methodical when it comes to word choice. She’ll labor over a joke, reworking it again and again until she’s satisfied with an exact turn of phrase or finds the punchiest synonym. Take the moment in Wong’s Netflix special Hard Knock Wife when she tells the audience, "That’s when you know you’ve made it. When you’re eating mango that was sliced by a dude named Noah. I want Noah Mango."
"There’s something about the name Noah that’s really funny, but it took me maybe 10 tries before I arrived at it," Wong tells Bustle. "I [tried] Jeffrey Mango, but Jeffrey’s a little bit more amorphous. Noah produces a very specific face."
It’s this hyper-attention to her craft that made Wong so wary of writing a book. After inking a deal to write Dear Girls, her collection of letters to her daughters, the comedian tried to return her advance. An avid reader, Wong kept thinking about her literary heroes — people like Zadie Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates — and second-guessing her own work. Ultimately, she learned to love the rhythm of writing for a reader instead of a live audience. "What I appreciated about the book is that I had this room to breathe. There wasn’t that pressure to get as many laughs per minute," Wong says. "It gave me the real estate for a lot more exploration than what I can do on stage. It was very, very freeing in a way that I didn’t expect."
Wong’s thoughtful (and raunchy) letters about her childhood, losing her virginity, Asian culture, and working women resonated with readers and earned Dear Girls a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. And with the book now available in paperback, Wong’s been pleasantly surprised to watch the collection find a second life among fans. "I get all these messages from people who have seemingly found comfort and joy in it, especially during [quarantine]," she says. "People are finding value in it because every [parent] — whether they like it or not — has gotten so much closer to their children. Myself included."
Below, Wong muses about THC gummies, Craigslist, and The Vanishing Half.
On reading on the toilet:
I just finished The Vanishing Half, which was so good. There was one morning when I started it that I didn’t get off the toilet for like a good hour and a half. There was like a full-on ring around my butt — like the imprint of the toilet seat — because I just couldn’t get off the toilet. Then I stayed up that night until three in the morning just reading it in the living room because I was glued to the pages.
On taking hula hoop breaks from writing:
I have this giant weighted [rainbow] hula hoop and I’ll go in my backyard and hula hoop for like 10 minutes. It’s very meditative and the rainbow [colors] bring me joy. I think it’s the little girly girl inside of me. Also it’s kind of ribbed, like a condom for her pleasure. So it gives me this mini massage on my back too, which is really nice. It also helps my posture because I like to just slump when I’m at the computer all day.
I bought [the hula hoop] on Craigslist. I used to buy everything on Craigslist before I became like semi-famous. I remember one time I was picking up a bicycle helmet and I was haggling with this Japanese woman [over it] and she was like, "I’m sorry, are you Ali Wong?" I hadn’t been asked that before during a transaction on Craigslist. And I was like, "Uh…" Then she was like, "Are you Ali Wong and like fiercely bargaining with me right now on my doorstep over a bicycle helmet?" I think she was truly a little bit delighted and a little bit disgusted.
On dressing for a day of writing:
I like to wear a big, billowy dress. I like those Natalie Martin dresses or ones from 7115 by Szeki. Just a big, fabulous dress where I can lift it up to easily go to the bathroom or sit in different positions at my desk. I like dresses that are very airy and wide, where I can stick my gut out and be comfortable getting sweaty. Sometimes when I get frustrated, I get really sweaty. So I want a lot of ventilation.
On her gassy writing snacks:
I go straight to my kitchen and I’ll eat like 10 tiny bowls of cereal. I’ll tell myself this is the last one… and then I keep eating another tiny bowl of Puffins or chia granola. I also really like pork rinds and I dip them in vinegar. I’m a big fan of kombucha, too. [It gets] so gassy. Sooo gassy.
On her favorite way to unwind after a long day:
With a 10 milligram THC gummy and an episode of Rick and Morty.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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