One of TV and movies’ biggest stars has been hitting her sweet spot on both the big and small screen.
In just the last year fans can catch creator, actor and writer Awkwafina in ‘Breaking News in Yuba County,’ Disney’s hit animated film ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ and the soon to premiere upcoming Marvel addition ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.’ But it’s her personal story, the one based on her childhood growing up in Queens that has cemented her as a star—and that was part of the appeal of fellow co-stars BD Wong and Bowen Yang.
Both Wong and Yang have hit strides in the industry: Wong has been acting since the 80s in a slew of hit movies and TV shows such as ‘Law and Order: SVU,’ Disney’s animated film ‘Mulan’ and ‘Mr.Robot,’ while Yang, fairly new to the scene has cemented an Emmy nomination for his breakout work on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in just his sophomore season. For ‘Nora From Queens,’ Wong steps into the role as Nora’s well-meaning and hilarious father, Wally, while Yang takes on the role of her societal, yet charmingly funny cousin Edmund. It’s that dynamic between their family, along with Nora’s grandmother (Lori Tan Chinn) that solidifies just how relatable and comforting a show like this can be.
Both Wong and Yang sat down to discuss the major draw to a show such as this and what it means for them to see some representation on the small screen.
What was it about this series that made you want to get involved in the first place?
BD: I was immediately drawn to the whole brand of Awkwafina. I was asked to do the show and I understood that she was not only the co-creator, but as the center of the whole universe of the show as a character and as an actor. I wanted to be a part of that and I wanted to feel that energy. She’s one of the people that I’m watching to see what happens to her next and just great things seem to continue to be coming from her—I jumped at the chance to do it.
I had [also] been in Margaret Cho’s show ‘All-American Girl’ in the ’90s and I had experienced that being a part of an Asian-American family, there’s a lot of spotlight put on it and a lot of pressure put on it and I have always wanted the opportunity to revisit that cultural event of an Asian-American family on television. It happens very rarely…on one hand you can count the times its happened in our cultural history and I wanted to see if there was a way to revisit it and even improve on what it was before.
Bowen: I had to audition for it, and I really just had to come in and want it—and I did, deeply, also for the same reasons as BD just said as they pertain to Awkwafina being this fresh sort of air. I would consider that the first big job that I booked…I booked the pilot for this before I booked SNL. It just felt like the most thrilling opportunity that came my way, so I was in no position to say no or be picky about it. Even now, if you had presented me with this opportunity given whatever different circumstances, it would be a resounding yes to be part of it again. I’m just very lucky that I get to do it.
With the representation aspect, was the outcome what you expected and what are you hoping viewers, both Asian-American and not, will get from the show?
BD: One thing that I’m excited about or was looking for was the experiment of Asian-American family that doesn’t talk a lot about being Asian-American but just is Asian-American. You see evidence in different ways than normally you would in past media history. I wanted to see how that experiment would fly because I’ve always believed really strongly that people would really love it.
So, I think season 1 being so successful has really given the show a great deal of confidence. The show knew that it was the right way to go and everything, but just to have the validation of these huge demographics of people that we’re really reaching. It was the #1 Freshman [show] in Key demographics—that just gives the show confidence and just allows it to dig into that confidence. We’re not going to over-explain that we’re Asian-American—we know that it works and for the show and to have an opportunity is really great.
What would you tell fans to expect for your character’s journeys from season 1 to season 2?
Bowen: For Edmund, he ends up sort of finding himself paired with Nora in a lot of circumstances again and there are other little sojourns away from Queens that are really interesting. But rather than this purely antagonizing relationship that the two of them have in season 1, I think you’re really going to see this beautiful and emotional core with not only Edmund and Nora, but with every character in the show. It’s an emotional core.
BD: In season 1, Wally begins the arduous task of starting to date again after living so long alone, partly because Nora grew up without her mom and introducing a new woman into the house just didn’t feel right to him. So, he starts dating again and that’s a little step. In season 2, he continues to date one of the women that he met in season 1, Brenda, who the fans really seem to like and who is wonderful. Jennifer Esposito plays her and that relationship creates complexity for Wally and Nora’s relationship and hilarity ensues as a result. But how the characters reach going through something and how that affects their relationship with Nora I’d say is the recurring theme of season 2.
The show touches on identity, career, love and family dynamics. Why is a comedy a great vehicle for these subjects?
Bowen: In the way that you can satirize pretty much anything. The wonderful thing about the show is that it puts all of these seemingly deep, dry concepts through these filters whether it be irony or slapstick or shock or a metaphor or a character-driven comedy—it’s all there. Unlike a lot of comedies right now on TV, it’s just is such a great container for all of those things. So, I would say there’s a prevailing theme of identity to this season and what happens when you take away certain things…what happens when you take away where you come from in terms of Nora being really tied to this upbringing in Queens or with Edmond when you take away his status? Those are all really sort of loaded concepts but then there’s something about being able to bring out some humor from that that I think is really, really special.
BD: I think that as an audience member, [and] the reason why I thought Bowen could answer this so well—as he did—is because as an audience member I really depended on the whole pandemic and the distraughtness that I felt on SNL to really kind of get me through the day. I think I’m not one of the only people.
We were going through a lot of political turmoil and the way that you can lampoon political people that are actually bringing pain to other people is such a release for people, they need to kind of turn things upside down because they feel like they are living in an upside down world. That really gets society through the day. I do think on one level, our show actually created or creates a diversion that touches on things that really mean something to people and that can be successful doing that. Having said all of these things, it is a show of the moment this way.
Bowen: Hopefully it becomes a way for people to cope with whatever.
BD: Yes, there’s no question about the potential for that.
Season 2 of ‘Awkwafina is Nora From Queens’ premieres Aug. 18 on Comedy Central.