Comedian Ali Wong may have made her name with standup, specifically a couple of standup specials on Netflix (and SFist was recommending her local shows back in 2012), but she's been branching out into acting. And now she's taken on her most dramatic role yet in the Netflix series Beef.
The series centers on Amy, a well-off owner of an upscale plant store chain living in Calabasas, who is on the brink of selling her brand to a national, Home Depot-like chain. She has a random run-in while driving in the store's parking lot with a down-on-his-luck contractor played by Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Minari, Nope) — he nearly backs into her, she flips him off, he then launches into a road-rage chase but never gets a look at her. And this sets off a rage- and revenge-filled, tit-for-tat escalation between the two characters.
You could call the show a thriller or a dramedy, at turns, and it's impossible not to want to hear a punchline come out of Wong's mouth at any second — as she seethes with rage in the first episode, the look on her face alone could get a laugh as her husband suggests she return to her "gratitude journals" and stay positive. Dark humor seems to be at the heart of the series, while also exploring ways in which people can fixate on petty anger to their own detriment.
Wong told The Cut recently that shooting Beef was the longest period in her adult life that she'd ever taken a break from doing standup, but maybe that's a good thing.
"In the beginning, I was so worried about becoming unfunny and that [comedy] muscle atrophying, but there is a point where you’ve done it enough that you know how to do it," Wong said. "But if you keep going and do it too much, after ten years and you’re still doing it every day, then I think you run the risk of saying the same thing over and over again."
This isn't the first time Wong has done something outside the world of comedy. In 2019, she starred in the SF-set romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe, which she co-wrote. And Beef creator/director Lee Sung Jin says he had sensed some of Wong's range in the acclaimed animated series she starred in with Tiffany Haddish, Tuca and Bertie — which Lee also wrote two episodes of.
In an interview with Seth Meyers on Wednesday, Wong talked about a dramatic role she landed in 2014 — playing agoraphobic radiologist Dr. Lina Lark on the one-season ABC drama Black Box, opposite Kelly Reilly and Vanessa Redgrave. She said she overheard one of the show's directors talking to someone about the experience of directing Redgrave, saying it was like "directing a Rolls Royce." And she had to walk away because she assumed the director, if asked what it was like directing Ali, he'd say it's like directing a Toyota Yaris.
Her acting confidence seems to have grown over time, and Wong tells The Cut, "I always come back to instinct and emotion in everything that I do. It’s always an abstraction of the truth. Like with Beef, even though I didn’t write it, all of those emotions are connecting to something real for me, and whatever that is specifically I could never articulate because it all came from some sort of instinct when I read those words."
Also, she and costar Steven Yeun went a little method, and apparently both broke out in hives around the same time while shooting the rage-filled thriller/dramedy.
Says Yeun, in an IMDb interview, "We were just in it. I don't want to break out in hives, but if that's an indicator that we went there, I'm happy for it."
Beef is available to watch now on Netflix. The trailer is below.