Five years ago, the journalism graduate was stuck in a “boring” job in PR when she recorded “My Vag”, a rap video made in response to Mickey Avalon’s song “My Dick”. With lyrics like, “Awkwafina is a genius/and her vag is 50 times better than a penis,” Lum never expected the song to amass 2.6 million YouTube views, let alone for it to be adopted as a feminist mantra. “I was just rapping about my genitalia,” shrugs Lum, who created the stage name Awkwafina because she didn’t want to lose her job. “I didn’t want my boss to recognise me. But I got fired anyway.”
One album, five TV shows, a documentary and five films later, Lum, 29, is sipping tea with marie claire, talking about her childhood. Born to a Chinese-American father and a South Korean mother, she’s been making people laugh ever since her mum died when she was four. “It sounds pretty morbid, I know. A child that age doesn’t really understand social cues, so I learnt to use comedy as a defence mechanism,” she explains.
Lum is at her most confident as a comedian, but being the clown does have its pitfalls: men are intimidated by her. “It’s the voice,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe they think I’ll write a terrible song about them like Taylor Swift. [And] if you get me angry enough, I would!”
Lum is currently single after the end of a three-year relationship (she briefly dated an Australian who shall remain nameless). “He was from Melbourne. He told me he shot kangaroos because they were pests. I didn’t like that at all.”
As an Asian-American, Lum was amazed to discover the sumptuous lifestyles of Singapore’s wealthy elite portrayed in Crazy Rich Asians. She’s quick to admit that she doesn’t fit neatly into Asian stereotypes of overarching parental ambition. “My dad’s dreams for me were always the low-hanging fruits of jobs. It wasn’t a doctor, it was a sonogram technician.”
Unlike the characters in Crazy Rich Asians who live in palaces, Lum still lives in the same house in New York’s Queens. “There’s not a lot of security in this industry, so I don’t want to buy a house, go broke and have to do infomercials,” says Lum, who spent her first big pay cheque on a Gucci purse and some computer software.
Crazy Rich Asians hits cinemas on August 30.