In the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy, it’s not often that you hear a woman’s perspective on sex and STDs. Ali Wong is the exception. Wong, who is most known for performing two Netflix specials while seven months pregnant, is a rising star who doesn’t shy away from taboo or sex-related topics. Wong speaks boldly and unapologetically about her past, her husband, and their future, so it’s not a shock that she also voices her opinion about HPV. But what is surprising is how relatable she makes HPV out to be, and how comfortable the audience becomes laughing about it.
In her first stand-up special, Baby Cobra, the brazen, five-foot-three heroine stands tall, wearing an animal-print dress and boasting a belly full of a woman’s sexual perspective. Wong doesn’t waste much time getting to the cold, hard HPV Facts. Within five minutes of the show, she references the virus at the end of a long list of things that she envies about the youth: “18-year-olds… they don’t have HPV yet.”
Ah yes, just one of the many fleeting aspects of youth: energy, fast metabolism, and a lack of HPV.
As soon as Ali mentions the fact that 18-year-olds haven’t encountered HPV yet, her audience responds with hesitant laughter. At this point, Ali could have backed away from the subject, but instead, she digs in: “Everybody has HPV, okay? Everybody has it. It’s okay. Come out already. Everybody has it.”
With this line, her audience loosens up a bit. Once they see she’s not pulling back, the discomfort in their laughter turns into more of an acknowledgment.
Ali then follows up her sentiment about the sheer amount of people with HPV with the following: “If you don’t have it yet, you gon’ get it. You gon’ get it. It’s coming”
Yes, Ali! Yes, girl! Go and sing it to from the mountain tops because if you don’t have HPV yet, guess what? You’re probably going to get HPV at some point in your life.
Wong continues her stand up with: “If you don’t have HPV yet, you’re a f*cking loser, all right? That’s what that says about you.”
And while we may not necessarily agree with that, we do get it. She’s saying that HPV is so widespread that, if you’re sexually active, you’re almost certainly going to get HPV. In fact, not getting HPV is atypical. She’s promoting sex positivity and destigmatizing HPV in one sentence.
At this point in her stand up, her audience is erupting in laughter. So many people have had or still have HPV, yet there’s a stigma around talking—or even laughing—about it. But Wong breaks through the stigma flawlessly. Within the first few minutes of her stand up, you can feel the audience allowing themselves to release the shame that they maybe didn’t even know they had about their own HPV diagnosis. To her, we say “Brava, Ali!”
She goes on to talk about how there’s no way to test men for HPV: “A lot of men don’t know that they have HPV, because it’s undetectable in men. It’s really f*cked up. HPV is a ghost that lives inside men’s bodies and says ‘Boo!’ in women’s bodies.”
Providing this tidbit of information helps to further destigmatize the virus. Because men can’t tell if they are carrying the virus, even if they get tested for STIs regularly, they can pass it on to other men or women without knowing.
She ends her HPV rant with a reference to her heroism: “My doctor told me I have one of two strains of HPV. Either I have the kind that’s gonna turn into cervical cancer… or I have the kind where my body will heal itself. Very helpful, this doctor, right? So, basically, either I’m gonna die… or you’re in the presence of Wolverine, bitches. We’ll find out.”
Wong’s ability to tackle this “taboo” topic is astounding. Through a few minutes of stand-up comedy, she’s able to destigmatize HPV, spread information about detection, and teach people about treatment—all in a humorous way. Ali Wong is a wonderful ally and advocate, and we’re thankful to have her on our side.
And if you’re experiencing HPV, just remember Wong’s wise words: “Everybody has HPV.”
- Baby Cobra: Netflix, 2016.