Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens looks to put a new kind of Asian-American family on screen
This scene has everything: puking. A horror movie reference. Tough love. B.D. Wong.
In an exclusive clip from Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, we see Wong’s Wally comfort his almost-30-year-old daughter, Nora (played by Awkwafina, whose real name is Nora Lum), as she realizes she’s not ready to move out of his house. He does so with a hilariously gross anecdote involving Nora’s mom giving birth.
“You clung on to her uterus like the Thing,” he says. “It was so gross, man. I threw up on the nurse.”
He goes on to say that it’s okay if she still wants to cling on to her family, and that if she’s not equipped to move on, “I’m always here.”
Still, there’s a line. When Nora asks to borrow money to bail her car out of “car jail,” Wally replies, “Abso-f—ing-lutely not.”
This breakout moment from the comedy, based on Awkwafina’s real life, embodies the ethos of the new Comedy Central show. Nora From Queens aims to represent a new kind of family — at least, new to mainstream TV — one that’s sweet, emotionally open, a little TMI, and happens to be Asian-American.
Plenty of white families have gotten to be unfiltered on screen over the years, so why can’t another type of clan get a shot at it? That’s where Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens comes in, with its guns (and weed) blazing, and sexual innuendos and vibrators on deck. Some of the raunchiest lines come from Nora’s grandmother, played by Orange Is the New Black star Lori Tan Chinn.
Executive producer Teresa Hsiao tells EW that it was always the plan to do “no holds barred” comedy.
“We were just like, let’s push it as much as we can,” she says. “A lot of people get to do comedy and they just get to be crazy and wild and weird. And we wanted to have that as well.”
Hsiao recognizes that the series might be breaking unspoken rules in Asian culture, but that made it more exciting for many of the actors to play personalities they’d never had the chance to do before, given that so many Asian-American characters are depicted as buttoned-up and traditional.
“Especially in the Asian-American culture, I suppose, there are things that you don’t talk about with your parents or things that you don’t talk about — like, sex is a really taboo subject,” she says. “We had such great actors, and they were all really excited. They’re like, ‘We’re playing against type.’ … It’s never been written for them before, to play these other roles, like a lot of the Asian-American characters that they’ve played before might have been what people thought Asian-Americans were.”
Much of the plot involves Nora smoking and goofing around instead of getting a job, and while her father and grandma tease her endlessly, they never make her feel ashamed for not knowing what she wants. Indeed, Hsiao says, “The heart of the show is just Nora and her family.”
Audiences may not have seen such a supportive and open Asian family before on TV, but for Awkwafina, that was just how she grew up. Her real dad (also named Wally) and grandma got to advise the actors who play them on the show and inform their characters.
“It literally happened to me,” the actress said recently at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “[My family], they define success as like, you being able to take care of yourself. And that, if I, tomorrow, something happens to me, I don’t have to worry about you. And I think that was where that love came from.”
Similarly, Hsiao says the wacky Nora you see on TV is true to Awkwafina herself. The pair had been developing the show since 2016, and Hsiao says she knew right away the now-superstar — then known for music videos like “My Vag” — was the real deal.
“When you meet Nora and you get to know her, she’s just an open book,” she says. “The greatest thing about her is that she’s just genuinely and unapologetically herself all the time. And that’s so refreshing.”
As explicit and off-the-walls as the comedy can be, it finds its rhythm in sincere moments that get to the core of what it’s like to be a young woman trying to find her purpose in life while staying true to herself. Hsiao says a lot of that is thanks to the program’s all-female writing staff (which included Awkwafina), who had a deep understanding of the protagonist’s voice.
Ahead of its debut, Nora From Queens has already been renewed for a second season, and Hsiao says the writers have already mapped out some things they want to explore for the upcoming installment, including getting guest stars like Ali Wong, Sandra Oh, and Daniel Dae Kim. It’s hard to top season 1 cameos such as Laverne Cox and Natasha Lyonne (who also directed an episode), but these Asian-American “power players” might just do it.
Ultimately, Hsiao says she wants audiences to feel they’re seeing something “wholly new,” that’s taken from Awkwafina’s perspective. Additionally, she hopes they see that the series is only presenting one type of Asian-American family, and shows like All-American Girl, Fresh Off the Boat, and Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens can all co-exist.
“We don’t want to have to have that burden of being like, ‘Oh, my God, all Asian people,’” Hsiao says. “But we definitely realized, we hope that this show can can make it so that there are more; there should be more stories of Asian-Americans.”
She adds, “Hopefully, this will kick off networks to do more shows featuring more families or more people of color in general, because these stories are important. And these stories should be told. And we haven’t traditionally and historically gotten the chance to tell these stories, and we’re really excited to hopefully break open the doors a little bit more.”
Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, which also features Bowen Yang and Chris Gethard, premieres Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 10:30 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.