Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens continues to broaden comedy horizons

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens returns for its second season on Comedy Central tonight, after a breakout first season that put its own spin on single-camera comedy and on Asian-American representation on TV. But how is the show going to build on that in season 2? How will the Nora From Queens universe get bigger? And what’s the secret to Grandma’s scene-stealing success?

To answer those questions and others, I spoke with series co-creator Teresa Hsiao and star Lori Tan Chinn, who portrays Grandma. Here’s what they had to tell me about the second season before the season premiere tonight at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.

Brittany Frederick: What does it mean to you just to come back for a second season, and know that the TV audience has embraced the story you’re telling?

Lori Tan Chinn: I am so excited that we can continue to tell stories. I’m very happy that we’re back working. You’ll get to see how we progress.

Teresa Hsiao: It’s always so fun working with this cast. We’re just really lucky and happy to be able to continue on with the adventures of Nora and Grandma and everyone else.

BF: The joy of a second season is you’ve done all the exposition and you get to expand the world more. What can we expect in terms of world-building in Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens season 2?

TH: I feel like in season two we really did level up in terms of, we figured out what the show was. We now know what we’re doing and really getting more into the deep, emotional side of the characters. We still have some of the wacky, fun, irreverent stuff from season one, but then we’re able to go a little bit deeper with some of our characters while still retaining all the fun that we had from last season.

BF: Lori, what does that mean for your character? Since Grandma pretty much stole every scene she was in last season. What comes next for her?

LTC: Love. You’ll see more love. I’m not giving it away, but it’s kinky love. (laughs)

BF: That’s what’s so great about Grandma, is she’s not the “grandma” stereotype. She has the most full life of anyone on the show! So what do you think makes her so awesome?

LTC: The writers. I have to thank the writers because I can’t utter a word without the writers, and Nora and Teresa pruning things and letting me have this runway. I get to run away with anything I want within the script. You’re not restricted to a few baby steps. I can fly.

BF: Since the show’s now been out for a while, have you had people recognizing you as Grandma or quoting some of her hilarious lines back to you? What’s the reception been?

LTC: Not necessarily lines, but when I was doing musicals and plays, people who came to see the show for the second time would say my lines. Before I even stepped on stage, before even opened my mouth, they would say my lines. It’s a form of affection that they are with me. That’s a pure joy.

BF: Teresa, you’ve worked on other comedies about quirky families like Family Guy and American Dad, but those are animated shows with different backgrounds than Nora From Queens. How much did your past experience help developing this series?

TH: I think on all my other shows, the nice thing was just being able to learn the process, learn how to write jokes, learn how to do that quickly, and just understand how being in a writer’s room works and how being on a show works. But I was never able to take my own life experiences and apply them to the show I was working on because they were all other families. They were all different families. This was really the first show in which I was able to ask my parents, “Hey, that thing that happened in your life, can you tell me more about it because I want to put it in the show?” That never ever happened to me before.

That was really, really one of the nice things of [Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens] just being able to have the freedom to include people that really weren’t included in storytelling before and have them share their stories. In season one, with the “Grandma and Chill” episode, Grandma’s backstory episode, a lot of that came from a lot of the writers talking to their families and saying, “Oh, we’ve heard stories about this. Can you tell us more?” We actually interviewed a woman who went through all this stuff. She was caught in a mudslide. She swam into Hong Kong and all these things. We put them all in the show. That’s been the really exciting thing, just being able to mine people who haven’t necessarily been able to tell these stories in the past.

BF: TV is still working on better Asian-American representation and writing better characters for Asian-Americans. Based on your experience with this show, is there specific advice you would give to other creatives on that subject?

TH: We just try to write the characters as authentically as possible. There is sometimes that feeling of responsibility of, “I don’t want to write this character stereotypically because then that will bring in bad stereotypes, and that’ll put them in a bad light.” But at the same time, you’re dodging all these landmines that other people don’t really have to dodge because they haven’t been forced to view their characters under the same stereotype microscope.

Obviously, we take a lot of care with our characters, but we also want to make them as authentic as possible because these are real people. Lori, representing Nora’s grandma. There are elements of reality that we want to include, that we’re not trying to veer away [from] “Oh, no character can never be bad just because they’re Asian-American.” We’re just trying to be as authentic to the story as possible.

LTC: In the 52 years that I’ve been in show business, I have to tell my colleagues who are Asian or of other non-white races, be your true self. Be as honest as possible. Don’t do anything that 10 years down the line you’re going to cringe at. For me, personally, because I’m born in America, I do not speak the language. Very little. I would prefer to just speak English and just be a regular person. It doesn’t matter if I’m a grandmother or whatever. There are plenty of Asian grandmothers who do not speak the language. Let’s just be real. I’m hoping that there will be a time when we won’t be forced to speak a foreign language to be in a show.

BF: Another really great aspect of Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens is that some of the humor comes from improvisation, particularly from you, Lori. How do you pull that off?

LTC: It just happened one day. I just opened my mouth. (laughs) I talk about that, “Hey, the Chinese man was befriended by the white man, and the Chinese guy taught him how to do this noodle dish. The white guy put tomato sauce and some anchovies, and all of a sudden, it becomes a national dish.” That’s a long-held myth. I just put that in, and then all of a sudden, they said, “Oh, she can improvise.” It has given me the freedom to improvise even more. There are long things that I know they cut out.

TH: Lori, you have so many great improvised lines that are just off the cuff and amazing. That’s the great thing about the actors that we have. Lori, BD [Wong], Bowen [Yang], and obviously Nora, they’re just so funny. They play off each other. It’s just like we put them in the spot, then we kind of let them go.

TLC: Nobody’s the straight man. You just say something, and they all fall in. They’re quite comfortable with improvisation. I might say something, and then it’ll snowball and snowball. That’s the joy of our craft.

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens season 2 premieres tonight; episodes air at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.

Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.

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