You are prohibited from reading this book until you are twenty-one years old. I write about some truly embarrassing shit I did in my youth, and I don’t want you to use these stories against me when you are teenagers. Thanks for understanding, now put this damn book back on the shelf.
Why I’m Writing This Book
I have a secret that I never wanted anyone to know. And no, it’s not that I once slept with a homeless man (everybody already knows about that). Let me explain.
When I got this book deal, soon after the release of my first stand-up special, Baby Cobra, a deep panic set in. I immediately regretted signing the deal because I was terrified of the task at hand. I almost quit, conservatively, eighty times over the course of a year. A month before the first draft was due, I was moments away from giving the advance money back to the editor with a batch of balloons reading:
CONGRATULATIONS! I QUIT! ¯\_(ッ)_/¯
Yes, I’d been scared of the workload of writing a book. But really, I was more concerned that once I wrote it and published it, everyone would find out my secret—one that only my family and closest friends knew.
For three years, I was on the writing staff of the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Every year, a producer-writer named Matt Kuhn would run a quiz before our annual staff trip to Vegas. It was meant to get us all excited about our brief escape from the fluorescent-lit office full of dry-erase boards, PC monitors, and bald white men in cargo shorts. One of my favorite questions was “Bronson Pinchot, the actor who played Balki Bartokomous from Perfect Strangers: dead or alive?” (spoiler: alive). The quiz was a mix of inside jokes and true, hardcore trivia.
One of the final questions in my second year on staff was “How many miles to the moon?” According to Google, it’s about 238,900 miles. Every other staff member guessed somewhere in that ballpark.
My answer was five billion miles.
The looks on my co-workers’ faces when they saw my terrifying guess, written on paper so there could be no mistaking it, are seared into my memory. One person took off her glasses and scream-laughed into an Ikea throw pillow for about five straight minutes. Another person just stared at me, plastered with a look of deep, sincere confusion as to how somebody so dense could have managed to graduate from college and get a job, let alone perform the basic functions of life such as remembering to breathe and wipe from front to back. It was like a bomb had exploded in the room and people suddenly suspected that there was a wizard operating my brain for my entire life and they caught a moment when he was on lunch break.
Some of my peers thought the answer was so ridiculous that I was just trying to be funny. But I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was legitimately trying to win the quiz and get the cash prize of five hundred dollars to spend immediately upon landing in Vegas on buffets and VIP tickets to Magic Mike Live.
That day, my co-workers found out my secret: I’m a fucking idiot.
There are some major and wildly concerning gaps in my knowledge and abilities. I have a very hard time distinguishing an Australian person from a British person unless I get a good look in their mouth. No matter how many times someone explains it to me, I will never understand when to appropriately use “whom” instead of “who”—it’s simply beyond my capabilities, sadly. My nephew beat me at chess in three moves when I was thirty and he was in preschool. Then I beat him in checkers (by cheating), I over-celebrated and gloated, and he gave me a look that said, “Wow, good for you,” and waddled to the child’s potty in his room to go poo. I do not know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator or a turtle and a tortoise or a sandwich and a panini. I believe it sounds like the ocean when you hold certain seashells up to your ear because you can take the seashell out of the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean out of a seashell. I know that’s not scientifically correct, but I’m too lazy to learn the real explanation behind the magic. I’m still not sure if Pluto is a planet or not, and I don’t understand what a secretary of state does or why it’s called a secretary (do they arrange FedEx pickups and have extramarital affairs with the state?). When a friend recently texted me that R. Kelly had been indicted, I had to google “What is the meaning of indicted?”
And so, with this published book, I was understandably afraid of the whole world knowing this. I confessed this to Sarah Dunn, author of The Arrangement and creator of the ABC sitcom American Housewife. She told me, “Just accept that you’re not a genius. Once I told myself that, I was able to finally write.”
I felt so much better after my talk with her and got comfortable with the fact that I’m not Tolstoy. I’m not Salman Rushdie. Then I realized something better: Nobody expects me to be Salman Rushdie, or even Padma Lakshmi. (Hi, Padma, if you’re reading! Love you on Top Chef! Quickfire queen!) And in all honesty, Salman Rushdie is boring and very difficult for the average person (me!) to get through without a teacher to guide one (me again!) through all the dense writing and big words. Also, up until recently, when I’d hear his name, I thought he was a type of fish.
I am not Maya Angelou. I am not Malcolm Gladwell. People shit on Dan Brown, and I’m no Dan Brown. Hell, I’m not even that fat mustache guy who faked his memoir and got yelled at by Oprah. I’m a stand-up comedian that’s famous enough now to receive a free Nike tracksuit and get harassed for pictures when I go out to eat ramen. I’m a five-foot-tall girl from the San Francisco Bay who has always loved making people laugh. I got a 1200 on my SATs. I’m your mother. I don’t write fancy. I don’t use words like “facetious” or “effusive.” I use words like “doo-doo,” “caca,” and “punani.” Once I embraced that, these letters were an absolute pleasure to write.
The idea for this book is inspired mostly by a note from my father that began with “Dear Alexandra.” He had left it for me in a sealed envelope before he passed away. He had been battling cancer and depression for a while, and he knew he was going to die soon. In it, he told me he loved me and promised I would have a great life. He thanked me for exercising with him in the park while he was sick and couldn’t walk so well. I’m very grateful for the letter, but I wish he had written more about himself. There are so many questions I still have for him—about how he overcame all the challenges in his youth and about the person he was before I was born.
And so I wanted to leave something for you girls for when I die, besides a collection of oversized glasses for you to sell on eBay. These letters explore a lot of the topics I wish my father and I had discussed (and some I’m glad we didn’t tbh). Then I figured, well, I should probably make money off them if I’m going to spend all this time writing them. I didn’t want to just leave you with my stand-up specials that feature me, pregnant with you, shouting all of my opinions and grodie stories at strangers.
This book is also meant to address a lot of the questions I get asked by young people. Like, what is it like to be an Asian American woman in entertainment? How do you balance family and career? What is the key to being so tall and fabulous and knowledgeable about distances between planets? Two things: First, do not read this book until you are over twenty-one. You should not be allowed to know these inappropriate things about me if you can’t even buy beer yet. Second, if you have any questions after reading this book, you can always ask me, because I’m your mother and I plan on living until I’m two hundred. Also, because I’m your mother, most of this book will probably horrify you and you won’t want to ask me about it. That might be a catch-22, I’m not googling it.
And if anyone else has questions, you have to wait until I get another book deal. Monetizing answers to FAQs is my new business model.