Exclusive Q&A with Sabrina Wu

Sabrina Wu AB '20 is an actor, writer, and stand-up. They star in the upcoming movie JOY RIDE, directed by Adele Lim and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Sabrina has written for the Disney+ show DOOGIE KAMEALOHA M.D. and two other unannounced shows for FX and Netflix. Their stand-up has been featured on the Tonight Show. In 2022, they were named a New Face of Comedy by the prestigious Just For Laughs festival in Montreal. Most recently, Variety listed Sabrina as a Top 10 Comics to Watch of 2023.

Q: Congratulations on Joy Ride! It’s a really exciting and groundbreaking film, as we’ve heard from cast + creative team interviews (and the stellar critical reception thus far– 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!). Can you talk a little bit about why the script resonated with you personally?

Some of my favorite movies growing up were ensemble comedies like Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect. When I read the script, I knew this movie would be special in the way those movies were. Packed with jokes you’ll want to quote to your friends later and populated by characters you genuinely love and root for.

Q: The film has been described as Bridesmaids meets Crazy Rich Asians in this SFGate article. Do you feel like that’s accurate? What are you most excited for audiences to see?

I think Bridesmaids is a great comparison. We are an ensemble R-rated comedy. Crazy Rich Asians is a family-friendly rom-com, so to say they’re similar is a stretch. Crazy Rich Asians would have been an amazing title for our film though. I’m a huge fan of Stephanie Hsu, and I’m really excited for everyone to see Stephanie crush a role so different than the one she had in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Q: A lot of the movie takes place as the four main characters travel throughout Asia. Were you able to film onsite? What was that experience like?

Yes. It was truly so special getting to film in the beautiful parts of Asia like Vancouver, Canada. My immigrant Chinese parents were always telling me about the Cascade Mountains growing up. 

Q: You’ve also written for TV. What similarities or differences did you find between being in a writers room and being on set as an actor? Do you prefer one over the other, or were they both equally collaborative experiences?

For the most part, they’re entirely different experiences. Staffing in a writer’s room is essentially an office job. Because Joy Ride was so uniquely collaborative, the actors were encouraged to  improvise on set and pitch jokes. In that sense, there were some elements of being on set that reminded me of being in a comedy writer’s room.

Q: Before Joy Ride, your performance experience was mostly improv and stand-up comedy (like on The Tonight Show). You mentioned in previous interviews that you filmed over 100 takes for your audition. How exactly did you find yourself auditioning for Joy Ride? What was the process like transitioning from standup comedy to film acting, and was it challenging to adjust to a different medium (recorded versus live performance)?

I auditioned for Joy Ride almost three years ago. I was represented by WME as only a TV writer/comic then, but I was always interested in acting. I had taken acting courses at Harvard and had been in amateur productions while in school and after graduating. I asked my agents to start letting me submit tapes because I thought there was a chance I could do it, and why not? It’s very typical for a stand-up to try their hand at acting. 

Stand-up and film acting are different enough that I didn’t think of myself as “transitioning” from one to the other. I did have to learn while shooting Joy Ride how to keep my energy up as a performer. Doing stand-up requires short bursts of energy and the laughter from a crowd can really fuel you. Film shoots are often 12 hours long and those watching are trying to keep quiet so as to not ruin the footage.

Q: Was it very different playing a “character” who’s not yourself? Or do you find when doing standup you’re also playing a sort of character? Was your “method” of preparing similar? 

That’s interesting. I guess in both mediums I’m playing a character. When I do stand-up, I’m playing a particular version of myself. A version I try to keep as close to the real me as possible. And if I notice myself changing as a person in real life, I try to make appropriate adjustments to my delivery and writing. 

When I’m playing Deadeye or other characters, I do all sorts of nerdy acting homework. I think about their objectives and tactics within a scene. I recall my own memories and emotions that help me tap into their headspace. I think of the characters as versions of myself. But far away versions.

Q: What’s next for you? Would you do more film (or TV!) acting, or are you looking to return to writing and/or stand-up comedy?

I’ll always be trying to juggle stand-up, acting, and writing. In the immediate future, I’m hoping Joy Ride will allow me to take on more acting roles in the film and TV space. Am also working on an hour of stand-up that I want to take on the road. On the writing side, I sold a pilot script to 20th Century a while back. When the strike is over and every single one of the WGA’s demands are met and more, I’m excited to keep working on that project with them.

Q: Finally, what do you like to do in your free time?

All I do is grind.

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