Sherry Cola: “My whole life was kind of an inside conversation”
When The Laugh Factory named her their ‘Fresh Face’ and People magazine declared Sherry Cola as ‘One to Watch,’ this Shanghai-born, LA-raised standup comedienne-turned-actress knew she was onto something.
Cola (30) reprises her role as Alice Kwan, first-generation Asian-American in the third season of Good Trouble, a critically acclaimed series that addresses such subjects as the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ rights, and gender bias in the workplace.
Cola recently wrapped production on the indie film Sick Girl, opposite Nina Dobrev and Wendi McLendon-Covey. She can also be seen in Drake Doremus’ film Endings, Beginnings opposite Shailene Woodley. She will soon begin voicing one of the main characters in Paramount Animation’s upcoming feature The Tiger’s Apprentice, opposite Henry Golding, Sandra Oh, and Michelle Yeoh.
Cola landed her first break in television, in 2017, when she secured a seven-episode arc on Amazon’s I Love Dick opposite Kevin Bacon and Kathryn Hahn. She also appeared in the hit comedy Transparent, as well as the MTV comedy series Safeword, showcasing her comedic skills alongside Kevin Hart, Ludacris, and LaLa Anthony.
Now that we’re about to begin Season 3 of Good Trouble, can you talk about the evolution of Alice Kwan?
It’s an endless discovery of who she is and how comfortable she is in her own skin which is why it’s so cool to be able to portray this character because she’s not someone I saw when I was growing up. She’s finally out of the closet, she was struggling a lot with that in Season One where she was hiding who she is and not feeling 100 percent herself. In Season Two, she steps into the comedy world and finds this new expression. And Season Three we see her going deeper into that comedy world where she is tested on many levels. You’ll see her battling stereotypes. I think that’s a big thing for her in Season Three is realizing what is the line? And that goes hand in hand in real life as well, me being a comedian as Sherry Cola and coming from that Asian Queer lens. I am constantly trying to find my voice as Sherry Cola and Alice is as well.
I read an interview where you said in playing Alice you learned some things about yourself. What were you referring to?
I think that might be referencing my conversation about queerness and that it’s absolutely open. My whole life, whether I was aware of it or not, was kind of an inside conversation because my mom wasn’t aware. My circle of friends knew but I kept it to myself in terms of my family. But my mom, who I am so close to, had no idea that I could also date a woman. So, when I booked Good Trouble and I told my mom I am playing a lesbian character I decided that I also wanted to tell her that I’m part of the queer community. It was eating me up inside for so long but I never felt the need to really have that conversation until I booked Good Trouble, because there was no pressure on anyone besides myself. I thought, if I am going to be playing this character, I might potentially be a role model for other queer Asian girls, so why wouldn’t I live freely in my real life? Why would I lie about who I am in real life?
How did your mom react?
It’s interesting because my mom knows that gay people exist! (laughs)
That’s a start!
At the same time, she’s very sheltered because we came from China. I’m an immigrant, my mom is an immigrant, this lifestyle is not something she thought was an option necessarily. So, basically, she was shocked first and foremost and I was shocked that she was shocked. My mom wasn’t around queerness really ever because the traditions and what she saw on TV just probably didn’t allow it. My mom had no problem with queerness, but she just never thought that her daughter would be queer. It’s so interesting because I’m so obviously queer, but what does that even mean?
What were her aspirations when she came to America?
All she wanted to do was work hard for her daughter, me, and provide a comfortable happy life for her daughter, raise a family and have a wholesome family. My parents were divorced and my mom has always been a little shaken by the fact that our family was broken. So, she didn’t expect to have this conversation with her own daughter. But now I am also teaching her a lot of things, like, what LBGTQ plus stands for. My mom is so proud of me and she would do anything for me.
When did you know you could make people laugh?
Well, I feel like when I was a kid, I was actually more shy. My dad was always really outgoing and that almost put a lot of pressure on me because he always wanted me to talk more and so that in a sense kind of dimmed my light. But I would throw out some zingers here and there. I’ve always said the darnedest things and my classmates always thought I was weird. I wasn’t like anyone else. I always felt like a fish out of water and I would always say the darnedest things and they’d be entertained. At school, I hosted the talent show, which was essentially just writing a monologue, and it was then that I absolutely knew I had the passion for comedy without a doubt. The high that you get when you make someone laugh is irreplaceable. But because of the lack of representation, it made me think Hollywood wasn’t for me. I remember thinking at a point in my life that Hollywood was for Americans and I wasn’t only Asian, but I was an immigrant, right? The foreign feeling is forever, in a messed up way. Even to this day, I can tell when someone is surprised that my English is good.
Who did you see on TV or film that helped change your mind? Margaret Cho?
Yes, of course, the queen. She just was so outspoken and she broke the stereotype of ‘what an Asian woman should act like.’ So that was definitely inspiring but in that moment, it just felt so rare. And now I am so freaking thrilled that I get to be a part of the impact and the movement and the progress for Asian representation. These days I am inspired by lots of people, like Randall Parks. And I am going to be in a freaking animated movie with Sandra Oh and Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh, it’s just so cool! (laughs)
What can you tell me about The Tiger’s Apprentice? What role do you play?
It’s actually based on a trilogy of books written by Laurence Yep. And there’s The Tiger’s Apprentice, Tiger’s Blood, and Tiger Magic, if I am remembering the order of it. And I can’t disclose what character I’m playing, but it’s super fun and I’m definitely going to be able to use my comedy chops. I can’t wait for that red carpet photo, I am going to bring my mom and we are going to take pictures with Sandra [Oh] and Michelle [Yeoh]. (laughs)
You did I Love Dick as well as Transparent. It looks like Joey Soloway was instrumental in getting your career off the ground?
I think in a sense yeah, because it just set the tone so beautifully. To be honest, a show like I Love Dick as the first TV show to be a part of is a blessing. I Love Dick, goodness gracious, it was so well done and obviously, Joey Soloway is a genius. And now, with Good Trouble, it’s really changed my life in many ways. I am not the same person I was before this show in that I am constantly learning about important issues and because I am on Good Trouble, because of the stories we tell, I can’t be all talk and no action. I definitely talk the talk and I walk the walk in real life and being a part of the fight because there’s so much more to fight for. This show has really just put a fire under all of our asses in the best way possible. I’m here to represent for my people.