Fertile Fun in Ali Wong’s Pregnant Stand-Up Comedy

Curator's Note

Stand-up comedy is a primary site where pregnancy representations are emerging. From live fringe stand-up performances to Netflix stand-up specials, comedians like Hannah Ballou, Josie Long, Monrok, Christina P, Amy Schumer, Ellie Taylor and Ali Wong are performing comedy about pregnancy while pregnant, which we term ‘pregnant stand-up comedy’. Through exploring Ali Wong’s ‘pregnant stand-up comedy’ we consider how these performances allow self-definition of pregnancy, which may collide with, and disrupt, other dominant UK and US cultural pregnancy discourses. 

Wong’s Netflix stand-up comedy special, Hard Knock Wife (2018) offers fertile ground to explore the cultural work of ‘pregnant stand-up comedy’. Wong’s pregnant body is simultaneously used as comedy, content and sociocultural critique. Through Wong’s sophisticated comic performance she covers various themes, including moral policing of pregnancy. In the clips above, Wong endorses social norms dictating that “aspirational” middle-class women must maintain a work-life balance (Rottenberg 2018) through her trajectory and embodies such norms through ‘pregnant stand-up comedy’. Yet, Wong’s performance raises critiques and highlights ambivalent investments around gendered divisions of work, domestic labour and heterosexual relations. As Jensen argues, Wong’s “biting observations…reflect longer-held commonsense assumptions about who will be ‘holding the baby’” (Jensen 2018, 17).

As a sole performer commanding the performance space, Wong self-defines pregnancy, shares lived experiences of becoming, and being, pregnant, moving from endorsing to challenging, and reconstructing, dominant discourses. ‘Pregnant stand-up comedy’ may provide an alternative space where pregnant women control, and dominate, pregnancy representations. This is important as jokes cyclically link micro- and macro-level ideological processes (Bemiller and Zimmer Schneider 2010). However, this is not a simple process; comedy is inherently complex. Comic attempts to critique hierarchical relations and dominant discourses surrounding pregnancy, may, for some audience members, be read as supporting and strengthening those relations and discourses. 


Bemiller, Michelle L, and Rachel Zimmer Schneider. 2010. “IT’S NOT JUST A JOKE.” Sociological Spectrum 30 (4): 459–479.

Jensen, Tracey. 2018. Parenting the Crisis. Bristol: Polity Press.

Rottenberg, Catherine. 2018. The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism. New York: Oxford University Press.

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