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.”


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