November 06 2017

Three Sheets to the Wind with Awkwafina

New York-Standard Sounds
Rapper-slash-actor Awkwafina, aka Nora Lum, has quite a year ahead of her. Since growing up in Flushing, Queens, going to La Guardia High, breaking out on YouTube with her viral raps like “My Vag,” “Queef,” and “Green Tea,” [the latter with Margaret Cho], and hosting the hilarious web talk show TAWK, she’s about to make the transition over to acting in a big way in next year’s Ocean's 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and a to-be-announced Comedy Central show, working with some casual names like Rihanna, Sandra Bullock, Constance Wu, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway.

When you’re facing a future like that, what do you do? Grab a drink (or three) and try to take it all in. Standard Culture’s Elena Feldman caught up with Awkwafina over three Penny Drops at NYC’s The Standard Grill, and she got candid about life, love, and the time she had a loose...bottom.
DRINK ONE
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THE STANDARD: You grew up in Queens. What’s the grossest thing you’ve seen on the subway?
AWKWAFINA: In brutal winter, there was a man who took off his shoe and sock and his foot was almost sweating from the cold and it was pink, swollen, and very irritated. And also, another time, I saw a piece of shit. A real piece of shit.

What are other names that almost became your rap name?
Neutrogena, Da-ssani (with two s’s), Lil Poopie—but Lil Poopie is taken!
 
Damnit!
He’s a very successful rapper! Look it up. Look it up.
 
Is there a story behind your name Nora?
Yeah, it was a name from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. My mom was a big fan of that. I remember reading it in high school and realizing Nora was an insane ADHD shopaholic. It wasn’t complimentary. I’d like to be named Joan. Or Gloria. But they named me Nora after this shrewd woman.
 
Norah Jones!
She ruined my name. She was the only famous Norah and she had an “h.” I see people all the time trying to go add that “h” and I go, “Ohhhh, no you’re NOT!”
 
You’re set to have a huge breakout year with everything you have coming up.
I hope so!
 
Tell yourself something that you can look back on when you’re looking for some humility.
“You’ll probably always be broke,” or, “The faster it comes in the faster it comes out,” or, “You’ll always dress like Susan Boyle.” No matter how many stylists I go through, I will always look like Susan Boyle. Me and Susan connect!
 
You both got discovered on Britain’s Got Talent.
Yeah, for singing “I Dreamed a Dream.” That’s how I got famous! [Laughs.] Susan, stop copying me! Bitch!
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I’m so excited for the Crazy Rich Asians movie. It’s so secretive. Is there anything you can tell me about it?
Everyone’s hot, so that felt really great being number 17 on the looks list. It was really cool working with an all-Asian cast in Asia. No one really knew what we were filming, so there was an element of solidarity. It’s coming out August 2018. I’m super stoked about it, and it’s going to be so good.
 
Any secrets you can share?
Well, Ken Jeong is in it, but not a lot of people know that he plays my dad.
 
[Gasps.] THAT’S SO GOOD.
Warner Brothers could fire me, they could delete me out of the movie, but yeah, he plays my dad.
 
You’ve worked with some badass women. What’s a nugget of advice given to you by Margaret Cho?
Just the fact that she reached out to me proves that she’s open to new generations. It’s hard for comedians to open up to other comedians in general and I feel like she scouted me, she opened up her home to me, so it taught me that if I see new talent that I believe in, I’ll treat them like my equal, because that’s how she treated me.
 
What about Constance Wu?
I play her best friend in [Crazy Rich Asians] so we had a lot of setups where we would be talking up until we shot something and the director had to yell at us to stop talking. We would get into these really heated political debates. Constance is just incredibly woke. It’s one thing to have Asian women that are prominent that shatter stereotypes, but with her, she will come to our defense. If Hollywood ever makes a mistake, she will speak up, even though she has a lot to lose. That’s what I like about Constance. 
 
What about someone from the cast of Ocean's 8?
There’s that stereotype that the more famous you are, the bitchier you are, and that’s totally not it. You get what you give. They treated me with such respect and such equality that they almost convinced me that I was their equal. I think everyone that’s in the spotlight just wants to be treated like a regular person, even by fans. There were a couple times where I was so nervous, and this is one of the bigger acting debuts I’ve had, so Sandra Bullock would give me advice on what to do, and Anne Hathaway would give me advice.
 
What did they say?
There was this one scene that was difficult and Anne Hathaway would just pull me aside and be like, “I’ve been there. For this, you just have to have confidence. Just do it.” And it helped me. It was hard. I couldn’t believe I was in that cast, but we all became a little family, so that was cool.
 
What’s one thing that would surprise people about Rihanna?
She’s extremely generous. Like extremely generous. I have all the Fenty slippers at my house, which is so dope. Yeah, she’s great. I think what you have to take from women like that is that if they were bitches, I would know that they were. They weren’t, they were completely normal, like in every way. There were articles that said we were fighting—that said we had an on-set therapist, and it’s just so far from the truth it’s ridiculous.
 
You’ve joked before that YouTube is Asian Hollywood. Who’s someone we’re sleeping on that we should know?
Well, the thing about Asian Hollywood is that no one sleeps on them because they get so many goddamn views! They get more views than the entire last season of Family Guy! Asian people don’t need views right now! They don’t need more fame! They don’t need more attention! They’re transforming YouTube. It’s even more Hollywood than I thought it was. 
DRINK TWO
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Okay, drink two.
Drink twooo!
 
How many drinks does it take you to get sauced?
One or two. I’m going to be completely honest. 
 
Oh, shit! So we can’t finish this interview!
One full flavored drink, I’m done. She’s trying to kill me out here! [She waves for help to a random person on the street.]
 
What’s the most hardcore drug you’ve ever done?
Probably snorting marijuana. In Canada, I broke open a horny goat weed kind of pill and I just snorted that shit up. I’ve also done poppers. You ever done poppers? It makes your asshole loosen. So, obviously I did it. And let me tell you, I had a loose asshole. [Laughs.] My asshole has never been looser.
 
What did you do with that loose asshole!?
I mean, probably nothing. Probably just watched Stranger Things 2.
 
What’s your relaysh status these days?
I was single for a minute. I was in a four-and-a-half year relationship and no one knew I had a boyfriend for four-and-a-half years.
 
Why’d you keep it so secret?
I don’t know! I like to keep my personal life secret, but also I wasn’t trying to keep it secret, but I mean, people were pissed when they found out I had a boyfriend because people thought I was gay for a long time—maybe because of the content of my videos. And I feel like I let people down, so…they don’t know! Maybe I do date women. Maybe I do.
 
What’s the weirdest make out you’ve ever had?
Probably in the back of my video store. I used to work in a video store when I was like 17. When you’re making out, you close your eyes and sometimes you can smell what’s around you. And if you smell the office, that’s weird.
 
What was your first kiss like?
My first kiss was with this guy named Eric when I was 11 and before we made out I was like, “Wait, so how do we do it?” And I remember him doing it in the air and I was like, “Ew, OK, don’t do that anymore. Let’s just do it. You’re gross.” I just remember it being so wet, like when a floor’s wet and you just do a full split. That’s how wet the floor was. Terrible! Isn’t that gross?
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Have you ever hooked up with a fan?
No! So that’s the thing—I haven’t really been single as Awkwafina. I really wanted to have a night like that.
 
Tonight could be that night, Nora!
No, because there aren’t any Awkwafina fans here! Except for you [points to the photographer] and I don’t even know if she’s an Awkwafina fan! That waiter was cute…
 
He’s totally cute! His name’s Harrison.
Ooo, that’s cute.
 
How did you meet your current thing?
Instagram.
 
Did he DM you?
Kind of. I thirst-trapped him. It was nice.
 
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve done to impress someone you wanted to boink?
Probably dressed up like I was going to work, but I had no job, so I dressed up in office clothes and had a fake planner and was like, “Uh, gotta run to this meeting, but uhhh can I catch you after?” Now that’s real shit!
 
What’s something you know weirdly a lot about?
Slime. I have a secret slime business.
 
[Dying laughing.] I’m sorry, what?
I have a secret slime account and a secret slime business. I love making slime, so I figured people aren’t going to appreciate the merch if I’m making it, so I want to pretend—I shouldn’t be talking to press—I want to pretend like I’m teaming with a real slimery, so when people buy my slime, it’s not like I’m sitting there, like, making it all day, which I am, but it’s a legit slimery. I haven’t kicked it off yet.
 
What’s the account?
It’s @juke.slime.
 
How many followers does it have?
I have 158, but a business partner was like, “Dude, let’s just buy followers for it.” And I was like, “No! That’s so gross, I don’t want to buy followers.” So someone literally convinced me to do this because I would never do this—we bought 5,000 followers. But you can tell what the real ones are because it’s exactly 5,000, so everything else is real.
 
What’s something you pretended to like for a really long time?
I pretend to like any comedy that comes out. Any comedy series that’s getting critical acclaim. Literally. Name all the big ones.
 
When’s the last time you cried?
Sunday. I have these weird existential life moments where I feel like my life won’t go anywhere and I’ll cry.
 
That’s funny because you have literally the biggest year ahead of you.
People think that, but you never know.
 
What’s the best highdea you’ve ever had?
“Queef.” The song and music video came to me at once.
 
Is there a song that changed your life?
That’s a really good question. It might be “First in the Gang to Die” by Morrisey.
 
Wow, that shit is DARK.
I know, dude! I knowwww, dude!
 
Alright, that’s it for drink two. Let’s down this.
Cheers! I actually will drink number three, so let’s fuckin’ do it.
 
LET’S DO IT. I think I’m going to be more drunk than you.
Oh, you definitely will be! 
DRINK THREE
The Standard
Can men be funny?
There’s something kind of amazing happening where all the dicks from high school are trying so hard to be stand ups right now, but they’re so irrelevant. Like all the hot guys from high school. It’s so great, man. They’re trying so hard. It’s the best karma, because I was brutalized in high school, man. People thought I was a freak. So, like, fuck you! They might have been an extra in Orange Is the New Black—nah, dude. I’m totally further ahead, it’s dope.
 
What keeps you up at night?
Gentrification of New York City. I think about how I should have started earlier. That shit keeps me up.
 
But! You started at…
I started at 23. I shouldn’t have gone to college. That’s my regret. But I soothe that regret by thinking that everything happened for a reason. If I didn’t go to college, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now.
 
What were you for Halloween?
I was a cow. But what made it funny is I walked around and said I was a math teacher.
 
Do you have a secret talent?
I have good pitch. If you tell me a note I could probably guess it. I can also replicate any song quickly. I have a memory for melodies.
 
You know who else can do that? Bob Dylan.
Wow! Also, another famous rapper!
 
What’s your most embarrassing moment?
My first show ever, I forgot all the lyrics to “My Vag.” So it kind of scarred me, because now every time I play a show, I watch this tape and it’s JAY Z forgetting all the lyrics in front of this arena in London, and he just couldn’t nail one song, so it’s like if he can do it to that volume of people, I can do it to like five people at Sarah Lawrence’s Asian Club.
 
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Any terrible show. Real Housewives. I went really deep with New Jersey and Beverly Hills. I love Auntie Kim Richards.
 
And to conclude—your thoughts on aliens.
I believe that if our civilization could have gotten as far as we did just purely on evolution, there is definitely a species out there—it’s not even a conspiracy. There’s definitely life out there. Like 100 percent. And I don’t know if they’re human like. There’s definitely plants out there that are freaky. They definitely have some kind of cat. I love aliens.
 
The Standard
Writer
Elena Feldman
Photographer
Hollyanne Faber