Awkwafina is a rapper and actress whose rising star is a force to be reckoned with. In just the first three decades of her life, Awkwafina has managed to show off her immense range with fun fare like Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8 and the dramatic movie The Farewell. But who could forget that her career began with rap songs about private parts?
Learn more with these 42 catchy facts about Awkwafina.
1. Born in the Big Apple
Awkwafina was born into this world on June 2, 1988, in New York City as “Nora Lum.” For the record, that makes her a Gemini (perhaps helping to explain her ability to juggle both comedic and dramatic roles?).
2. Accept No Substitutes
Awkwafina has rejected acting roles that require her to put on an “Asian” accent. She has even walked out of auditions where the director asked for an accent as an afterthought. As the actress clarifies: “I’m OK with having an Asian aspect if it’s done in a genuine way. I’m not OK with someone writing the Asian experience for an Asian character. Like, that’s annoying and I make it very clear, I don’t ever go out for auditions where I feel like I’m making a minstrel out of our people.”
3. The Beat of Her Own Drum is the Best Curriculum
Awkwafina had a musical adolescence. While attending high school, she was trained in jazz, as well as classical music. And like all great artists, she would use her education to write hilarious raps about below-the-belt areas.
4. Look Down Below
Standing at approximately 5’1”, Awkwafina packs a lot of attitude in a little package. That makes her among the shorter of her Ocean’s 8 cast-mates, but also Hollywood in general.
5. Seeing Double
If you’ve watched interviews with Awkwafina, you’ll know that she always seems confident and comfortable in her own skin. But it wasn’t always that way. The rap star alter-ego of “Awkwafina” was something that Nora Lum only decided to embrace at the age of 15. According to the triple threat, Nora Lum was a “quiet and more passive” kind of person well into her college years. Bold and brazen Awkwafina was “definitely a persona [she] repressed”—for a time, at least.
6. A Song Needs Words, After All
Awkwafina is a book nerd. In addition to citing musicians like Tom Waits and Chet Baker as one of her earlier influencers, the rapper also looked up to writers like essayist Joan Didion, novelist Charles Bukowski, and French-Cuban writer Anaïs Nin.
7. Words Are Work
Before she devoted herself to music, Awkwafina worked in the publishing industry. First, she interned for local publications in New York, such as the Times Union newspaper in Albany and the Gotham Gazette. Likewise, she even worked for the Rodale publishing house as a publicity assistant. From writing press releases and editorials to writing raps–talk about a glow up.
8. Not Too Cool for School
Awkwafina was a journalism and women’s studies major at the University of New York at Albany. As you can see, she would need all the media savviness she could get…
9. Home Away from Home? Not Likely
For two years, Awkwafina studied Mandarin at China’s Beijing Language and Culture University. The culture shock was a struggle for the Asian-American student. She described it as like “negotiating two identities in China.”
10. Diversity in Diversity
Awkwafina is of mixed East-Asian heritage. Her mother was a Korean Immigrant and painter; her father is a Chinese-American with roots in New York.
11. Sweet Taste of Success
Awkwafina’s paternal family owned Lum’s, a New York restaurant started by her grandfather. The family eatery was founded in the 1940s.
12. One Voice to Represent Us All?
As an emerging Asian-American star, Awkwafina is self-aware—and even self-conscious—about her “duty” to represent her community. The responsibility can sometimes get to her. To quote Awkwafina, “I’m representing my community in a bigger way than I ever have. There are young Asian girls that really look up to me, and I say that in the most non-cocky way ever.”
“You have to represent them well, and in doing so you can’t be controversial in a way that is ignorant. I’m so scared of saying the wrong thing, or having it be misinterpreted.”
13. We the North
The American rapper is also highly tuned into the Canadian music scene. Among her favorite Canadian acts are Feist, Broken Social Scene and, of course, her fellow rapper Drake.
14. It’ll Pay Off After Puberty
Although her breakout videos didn’t start to gain traction until the early 2010s, Awkwafina has been rapping since she was just 13 years old.
15. Private Parts, Public Success
In 2012, Awkwafina finally broke into the rap scene with her lewd but fun song, “My Vag.” This beat is a clever response to “My Dick” by Mickey Avalon. To date, the music video has over 4.5 million views on YouTube.
16. A Song of Her Own
In 2014, Awkwafina released her debut rap album, Yellow Ranger, named in honor of Trini Kwan from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The album was hailed as a feminist rap hit, with titles including her classic breakout “My Vag” but also irreverent and timely songs like “Mayor Bloomberg (Giant Margarita),” which was inspired by the infamous 2013 New York soda ban.
17. Laughter is the Best Music
As a mistress of music and comedy, Awkwafina was a natural fit for the comedy rock band, Tenacious D. In 2014, she was part of the lineup at Jack Black and Kyle Gass’s Festival Supreme, alongside names like David Cross, Sarah Silverman, and Conan O’Brien.
18. A Hit from Home
In 2016, Awkwafina collaborated with another Asian-American comedy icon: Margaret Cho. The two released “Green Tea,” a comedic rap song that took on stereotypes about Asian-Americans.
19. Hear Me Squawk
Awkwafina began her film career in 2016. One of her earliest roles didn’t even feature her face: she lent her voice to the bird “Quail” in the animated feature, Storks.
20. It’s My Time to Shine
2018 was Awkwafina’s big year for cinematic breakouts. She starred in not one, but two major blockbusters. What’s more, both made headlines for their diverse casting: the all-female led Ocean’s 8 and the all-Asian led Crazy Rich Asians. That women’s study degree seems like it made a big impression on Awkwafina’s film career.
21. A New Kind of Superhero?
In 2019, it was announced Awkwafina would be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Alongside Asian actors like Kim’s Convenience‘s Simi Liu and Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung, Awkwafina will be joining the cast of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first Asian actor-led entry into the Marvel movie franchise.
22. She Hasn’t Forgotten the Value of a Dollar
As someone who didn’t come from money, Awkwafina has found it tough to part with her new but hard-earned fortune. To quote the actress, “I still live in the same apartment that I’ve always lived in. I’m still really, really cheap—like an Asian grandma cheap… The nicest thing I bought was a Gucci fanny pack. I’m scared to spend lumps of money because in the back of my head, I still don’t know what’s going to happen in my future.”
23. Are You Feeling Sponge-worthy?
Awkwafina is quickly becoming an accomplished voice actress. She lent her voice to a cartoon bird (again, after Storks) to The Angry Birds Movie 2. Likewise, she will also be in the upcoming, The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge.
24. A Lady of the World
In 2015, Awkwafina finally put that literary background to good use: a travel guide to New York City was released titled Awkwafina’s NYC. The book carries helpful lists such as, “Five Best Spots for People-Watching” but the also the debatably more helpful, “10 Places to Pee.” Hey, nature calls even in the most intense urban centers. Safe travels!
25. Ice-Cold Stare
Nora Lum has described her “Awkwafina” alter-ego as: “the girl who’s high on sleepover energy, running around and dunking ice cream cones in her eyes.” I want to see that make-up tutorial.
26. Way to Toot Your Own Horn
Awkwafina is still serious about her trumpet training: her right arm still carries a trumpet tattoo.
27. Blondes Have More Fun
Awkwafina’s character in Crazy Rich Asians was supposed to have a running gag where she wore a different wig in every scene. However, the blonde wig she had on was just so good, they decided to scrap the gag and keep her in that hairpiece. This led to the in-movie joke where Ken Jeong’s character refers to her as “Asian [Ellen] DeGeneres.”
28. If Only They Could All Be this Easy
Awkwafina nabbed her role in Ocean’s 8 without an audition. Director Gary Ross was impressed enough by her performance in the 2016 indie comedy Dude. Awkwafina was offered the breakout part over FaceTime.
29. School with the Stars
30. Awkwafina on the Street
In 2017, Jezebel referred to Awkwafina as “America’s Future Favorite Talk Show Host.” The rapper had produced her own online web series, Tawk, where she would take to the street and interview celebrities in strange places, from New York laundromats to diners.
31. A Woman of the People
Awkwafina’s original pitches for a talk show landed on unsympathetic ears. When producers approached her to make her own show, she suggested a program where she would interview people like homeless people and sex workers. Media companies were less than enthusiastic about that idea and the project never gained traction–or at least, not yet.
32. Just Replyin’ With the Gals
Awkwafina became close to her glamorous cast-mates while filming Ocean’s 8. She had expected to come in and simply “worship these women and not really expecting anything more to come out of it than the professional work relationship,” but their onscreen chemistry transformed into an avid group chat that the ladies reportedly still update today.
33. My Kind of Pusher
Raised by her grandmother, Awkwafina grew up close to her roots—and also delicious food. She described being raised by her grandma as “being raised by a drug dealer, like a very giving drug dealer. They raise these insufferable lumps of people that just consume food, kind of like Jabba the Hutt humans.” Sounds like an amazing childhood, to be honest.
34. Make-it-Easy, Please
Despite Awkwafina’s culinary lineage—her grandparents owned a famous Chinese restaurant in New York—the rappy can barely cook for herself. When describing her acumen in the kitchen, she declared “I recently celebrated learning how to cook a chicken breast in a pan.” The rapper mainly subsists on a diet of ramen and other instant food.
35. Crazy Rich Originals
Most of Awkwafina’s lines as the hilarious sidekick Peik Kin in Crazy Rich Asians were improvised.
36. A Code of Her Own
Awkwafina appeared in the third and fourth seasons of Girl Code, an MTV series that—if you didn’t gather from the title—talks about all things womanhood. She was a popular enough host that she was invited back for the 2015 spin-off, Girl Code Live.
37. Welcome to My Neighborhood
Awkwafina hasn’t strayed too far from her New York origins. Today, the superstar remains a resident of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
38. Mother from Another
Awkwafina’s mother, Tia Lum, tragically passed away when her daughter was only four years old. Her father, Wally, brought over his mother to help raise Awkwafina in Queens. Said grandmother, Powah, would be a primary influence in the superstar’s life.
39. Awkwardly Simple
The story behind her stage name isn’t that deep: “I was looking for a pretty stupid name,” she told an interviewer. In another discussion, she continued to be self-deprecating about her moniker, stating, “I just thought it was a funny name. And it was fitting that it had ‘awkward’ in it, because I am awkward.” Hey, there’s genius in simplicity.
40. Comedians Need Not Apply
Not everyone was a fan of Awkwafina’s breakout hit, “My Vag.” For one: her employers. In fact, Awkwarfina was fired from her corporate job after her bosses discovered her the raunchy products of her side-gig.
41. It Took You Long Enough
On October 6, 2018, Awkwafina became only the second Asian-American woman to host Saturday Night Live. Before this, Lucy Liu was the only female Asian-American to hold the honor—and that was 18 years ago, in 2000. Thankfully, SNL has added one more actress to this list since Awkwafina hosted: Sandra Oh, who was born in Canada to Korean parents.
42. Ladies First and Second
Never forget your heroes: Awkwafina cites Lucy Liu’s host gig on SNL as her inspiration. The young rapper was only 11 years old and didn’t have a ticket to get inside the show. But she does remember that, “I just wanted to be near the building. I remember how important that episode was for me, and how it totally it changed what I thought was possible for an Asian-American woman.”
When Liu saw Awkwafina’s touching tribute, she had a lovely message for the rapper: “Shine on, fellow warrior.”