Awkwafina embraces her ‘awkward’ years in ‘Nora from Queens’
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 22 (UPI) — Awkwafina, aka Nora Lum, has starred in films like Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell and released rap albums. In her new Comedy Central show, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, she is pulling back the curtain on her Nora Lum past.
The sitcom, which premieres Wednesday, is based on her family. She lives with her cousin (Bowen Yang), father (BD Wong) and grandmother (Lori Tan Chin) in the days before she found success in music and acting — and before she renamed herself Awkwafina.
“I was very awkward as a kid,” she said during a Television Critics Association panel. “I feel awkward all the time. That’s been a very constant thread of my life. So, it’s just awkward-fina.”
Nora From Queens might bring more attention to the Lum family name, but Awkwafina says her family never minded that she changed it.
“I think that they know that I’m very proud of that name as well,” she said. “When it comes to my career, it’s always kind of been Awkwafina. To see that on call sheets, on chair backs, on the show title, it’s a name that I invented.”
The show premieres just weeks after her Golden Globe win for The Farewell and one month after the release of her latest blockbuster Jumanji: The Next Level. Awkwafina said it took this long to develop Nora from Queens.
“When I first came in to do the show, it was many years ago, I think five or six years ago,” she said. “I had not ever acted. I was on a show called Girl Code on MTV. I really just had my music videos to go on.”
Since that time, Fresh Off the Boat has run for six seasons and movies like Crazy Rich Asians set box office records. However, Awkwafina still feels the same need for representation on television that she felt growing up in the ’90s.
“I remember the first Asian-American sitcom that premiered,” she said. “It was Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl , and I remember that being an event. 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.”
Awkwafina hopes audiences watch Nora from Queens as a comedy more than a specific Asian-American comedy.
“These shows still kind of stick out as very genre-specific Asian-American shows,” she said. “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 a little bit more broadly.”
Now producing and starring in Nora From Queens as a successful performer, she still relates to her struggling days.
“I’ll always recognize that person because I think [success will] only change you as much as you allow it to change you,” she said. “I talk about how much I hate myself all the time so that always is there.”
The actress said the Lums believed in her and gave her the time to find her voice and craft her Awkwafina persona.
“They define success as being able to take care of yourself,” she said.
Awkwafina can take care of herself now, but she has fond memories of living with her family into adulthood.
“I loved hanging out with my grandma, living with her in my 20s,” she said. “It was great. Great food.”
In addition to making people laugh, Awkwafina hopes her show can show young people there’s no rush to figure everything out.
“I hope that [my story] inspires young kids to not be afraid to be themselves and whoever they are, whether or not people want to see that image or not,” she said. “It’s who they are. So that’s what I really wanted to do with this show.”
Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens airs Wednesday nights at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.