Laugh and the world starts changing around you
As a fierce Chinese mother of three struggling to adjust to life in an all-white neighbourhood, Constance Wu is winning raves — and award nominations — for her role in the fish-out-ofwater comedy Fresh Off the Boat.
But more satisfying than that, Wu says, is that she’s discovered she’s kickstarting conversations about the important role of cultural diversity on TV.
Fresh Off the Boat is the first American sitcom to star an Asian-American family as protagonists since Margaret Cho’s ill-fated one-season only All American Girl in 1994.
However, the 33-year old actor says that until she landed the role of Jessica Huang, she’d never realised how much of a barrier her ethnicity was to her profession.
“I know that I must have unconsciously been aware of it because growing up I watched shows like Friends where there were never Asian people as regulars,” she says.
“I guess I just always knew what I wanted to do since I was a kid so I never thought of it as a barrier. But it is. It’s a strong barrier that needs to be broken though and a lot of us are doing the best we can.”
As a comedy, Fresh Off the Boat may seem an unlikely vehicle for cultural change. Set in the 1990s and based on food personality Eddie Huang’s autobiographical novel Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir, the show takes in Huang’s often hilarious struggles as a hip-hop loving kid from multicultural Washington who moves to an all-white suburban enclave in Orlando, Florida.
But Wu believes that the lightness of the material actually makes it a good way to start an effective conversation.
“I think that the comedy makes it easier to relate to,” she says. “It’s the same thing with news shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. They’re legitimately talking about important issues but doing it with comedy which makes it more accessible.”
For her part, Wu says she’s hoping the trend continues — and that she’ll one day see a show that she can relate to from her own experiences growing up in the ‘90s.
“One thing that I would like another show to do is explore what it’s like to be a teenage girl with immigrant parents,” she says. “Because a part of the reason our show doesn’t really have as many of my experiences is because it’s about a boy. And a boy who’s into hip hop … when I was a teenager in the ’90s I was really into musical theatre. Les Miserables was EVERYTHING.”
FRESH OFF THE BOAT, ELEVEN, MONDAY, 8PM