What’s an Awkwafina? If you have to ask, you simply haven’t been paying attention.
Breakout rapper and comedian Nora Lum is Awkwafina. She stars in the new series Awkwafina is Nora From Queens, premiering Wednesday, Jan. 22 on Comedy Central and in Canada on Much.
In the past year or so she’s been on several magazine covers, including Time. In 2018 she was one of the stars of “Crazy Rich Asians” and recently won a Golden Globe for her work in the film festival favourite “The Farewell.” As a matter of fact, she’s the very first Asian-American to win the Globe as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.
Her new series is loosely based on Lum’s life growing up in outer-borough New York City, and features BD Wong, Bowen Yang and Lori Tan Chinn in the ensemble. Before it even airs, Comedy Central has already renewed it for a second season.
Lum was before reporters earlier this month at the Television Critics Association semi-annual press tour in Pasadena, Calif. Here is a bit of back and forth from the session:
Recent years have seen an explosion of Asian-themed content on American television and film. Do you think we’ve turned some kind of corner in this regard?
NORA LUM: Yeah, I think the landscape is about as noticeable from when I was growing up. I remember the first Asian-American sitcom that premiered. It was Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl and I remember that being an event. And I was probably already in grade school about to go to middle school and that was the representation that I had and it was a big moment. When you look at the progress that we’ve made since then it’s been incredible, but I think that these shows still kind of stick out as very genre-specific Asian-American shows. But I think that slowly and slowly as these shows become more ingrained as American as we are, they’ll start to flow into the genre I think a little bit more broadly.
You are probably familiar with the reported incident where Constance Wu had sort of an expletive reaction to the fact that Fresh Off the Boat got renewed because she was about to embark on this fabulous film career. Could you relate to that now?
I think that at the end of the day we’re all human. We all kind of negotiate with this career in our own ways. And I think for me like I hadn’t been around as long as Constance Wu. And she, in my time, was a very important part of the Asian-American community of our generation. And so, for me, I kind of look up to her in that way. My career is very different and I’m very new to TV, kind of new to movies still. So, for me it’s more of an acid trip. It goes fast and I sometimes don’t know where I’m going, where I am. So, that’s how I deal with it, yeah.
Much to your parents’ consternation, you decided to use this name rather than Nora Lum. Where did Awkwafina come from and why?
NORA LUM: I ask myself that every day. I was very awkward as a kid always. Or maybe — people are like, “You’re awkward?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” So, maybe I feel like sometimes I just call myself awkward. I feel awkward all the time. And that’s been a very constant thread of my life. So, it’s just awkward-fina.
And your parents’ reaction to not using the Lum last name?
I don’t think they mind. And I think that they know that I’m very proud of that name as well. But I think that when it comes to my career, it’s always kind of been Awkwafina. And that was the name that I kind of thought of. And to see that on call sheets, on chair backs, on the show title, it’s a name that I invented, so yeah.
After the Golden Globes, we were really pulling for “The Farewell.” What was your reaction to the Academy overlooking your film when other guilds had seen it? And had you talked to the team since yesterday?
I think we had a couple text message exchanges, but everything just kind of this — how appreciative we all are of how long this run has been. “The Farewell” came out last January at Sundance. And we really didn’t know where it would take us. And to see all the attention that it’s gotten, I feel like that feels like a win. That being said, bottom line there was some amazing performances this year. I think all of them were warranted as they should have been. That’s not also to say that we can’t ignore the fact that there are some incredible movies that women helmed, including mine, “The Farewell.” So me personally, I feel very grateful for where I am, where we’ve come.
I think we see a lot of shows about millennials who are struggling, and parents who are not supportive of that and are trying to push them out into the world, so can you just talk about why you wanted to have supportive parents who are letting you sort of take your time, and grandparent.
Because it literally happened to me, I mean, like the only time crunch I got was just a lecture you know, they weren’t really making any moves, which I think was fine. I think that 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. But yeah, I mean, I loved hanging out with my grandma, living with her in my 20s, you know, it was great, great food.