Whether she's Nora from Queens or a ukulele-playing rapper, Awkwafina likes to keep us guessing. Now, she's ready to change the storyline completely.

By Awkwafina, as told to Claire Stern
Jul 13, 2020 @ 9:00 am
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Courtesy Awkwafina

If you’re familiar with the Myers–Briggs personality test, I’m an ENFP, which means I’m an extrovert. But there are lots of different sides to me, and each one is connected by a common thread. Even though being called a “multihyphenate” makes me cringe, at the end of the day, I love everything I do. I’ve never found it frustrating to go back and forth between comedy, writing, acting, rapping, and producing because I’m truly grateful for the work. My brain will gladly contort itself to make sure the job gets done.

Growing up in New York City taught me a ton about creativity. There was a real grit to walking down the street that fed into a hard-core hunger and drive. Something was always just out of reach. I remember begging my dad to take me to 30 Rock when Lucy Liu hosted Saturday Night Live and feeling so inspired just to be standing outside. Charlie’s Angels changed my life — I’d never seen an Asian-American actress kick ass onscreen before. It was a big deal to me.

When I started out in this industry, I was constantly doubting whether I could do anything more than make music videos or be a funny talking head. As a result, I felt the need to prove myself. I wanted to take risks. Why not keep people guessing? I could barely play a ukulele, but I tried it, and I learned it, and now I love it. I never thought I’d be a moneymaking artist, either. As far as acting goes, I get more comfortable with every project, and I try not to attribute my successes to luck. I realize that I work hard, and I know I’m here for a reason.

Being a boss is new to me, though. On the set of my show, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, I make so many jokes that I sometimes wonder if people actually take me seriously. But I’m very proud of our mostly female writers’ room. It feels right to collaborate with women, especially when we’re writing about things like queefing. My main goal is for the people around me to be happy and have fun. Whenever I achieve that equilibrium of positivity, I’m satisfied.

In 2020 I’m all about taking control of my own narrative. But I’ve realized that a badass woman doesn’t just play by her own rules. She also admits when she’s wrong and can put her ego aside for a greater purpose. It’s important to have thick skin and take criticism — whether it’s from someone on your team or an Instagram comment — with grace. You’re not going to be loved by everyone, period. The Internet can be a very toxic environment. If you invite that negativity in, you’ll feel like a piece of shit. And when you block it out? Life is beautiful.

There have definitely been times lately [in quarantine] when I’ve been stuck creatively, but I try not to let it get to me. When you don’t go into an office every day or grab drinks with your co-workers, it can feel as if you’ve left the zeitgeist. An easy fix is to put your work down for a bit. Talk to your friends. Let them introduce you to new music. Get the gossip. If you’re not plugged into the outside world, then there’s no regenerating well. Ideas can come from anywhere, even taking a walk. A lot of the time the fear is in your head.

In terms of my career, I hope to keep the momentum going. Winning a Golden Globe this year [for The Farewell] was a reminder that I have more work to do. That’s always where my mind is at. I don’t want to take shortcuts. I want to show up. Once I wrap up [Marvel’s] Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I’ll start working on the second season of my show. I’m also looking forward to getting more experience as a producer. And if I’m ever in a position where I can be an agent of change, I want to be the one ushering someone new in.

As kids, we’re told that when you don’t have a clear vision of your future, it’s bleak. But the truth is that you can change. You can do whatever you want. Literally, look at me!

Awkwafina will star in the upcoming Marvel film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the second season of her Comedy Central show, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens.

For more stories like this, pick up the August issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download July 17.