Awkwafina Plans Her Own Funeral

Published July 10, 2019

Photo by Casi Moss. Courtesy A24.

The Farewell is a quiet, powerful contemplation on the intersection of family and cultural differences, intergenerational strife, impending mortality, and how to properly say goodbye to someone you love. Amidst all of this headiness is Nora Lum–maybe you know of her as the rambunctious, smack-talking rapper and actress Awkwafina–whose moving performance as a heartsick granddaughter gives the film’s existential quandaries real grounding. She plays Billi, an American child of Chinese immigrants, who wants to let her grandmother know she has cancer on a visit to China, while the rest of her family adamantly refuses to inform her of her diagnosis. The film is based on “an actual lie,” or rather, writer-director Lulu Wang’s own experience coping with her grandmother’s terminal illness—and the sham wedding that ensued. In light of all this existential dread, Interview asked Lum to plan for her own eventual farewell by describing her ideal funeral. She chose to go out with a bang, complete with Henny Coladas, Steve Buscemi, and of course, Awkwafina merch.

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ETHAN SAPIENZA: This movie reminded me of how my mom has music on her phone that she wants played at her funeral.

NORA LUM: Really?

SAPIENZA: Yeah. She has David Bowie, Todd Rundgren, a few others on her list. I was wondering how you’d want your funeral planned.

LUM: I know that there are some traditions in some places where it’s more about celebration and joy, and they make it a celebration of that person. I think everyone doesn’t want their funeral to be sad, but that’s what funerals are. I want mine to be a celebration of life—of my life. Some things on the playlist: “Pour Some Sugar on Me” [by Def Leppard], “International Players Anthem” [by UGK]. Maybe just those two songs on a loop. Also, the Seussical soundtrack. I want it to be a thing.

SAPIENZA: I know you’ve spoken about the duality of Awkwafina and Nora. Do you think there’d be different processions?

LUM: I think that would be a little crazy. I’ve been Nora most of my life. It’s a celebration of both though.

SAPIENZA: What would you want people to wear? Formal or informal clothing? Awkafina merch?

LUM: Oh my god, yes! They should wear all Awkwafina merch, celebrating Nora! Maybe [they should wear] some color, maybe some things that I liked: Target pants. They have great pants. I love Target pants.

SAPIENZA: Where would you want it held?

LUM: I wouldn’t want people to travel too much, so maybe Queens. 

SAPIENZA: How about anywhere you want? For mine, I’d say the Chrysler Building, because why not?

LUM: Oh my god! We’re going like that? Then Citi Field, dude. Right in the middle.

SAPIENZA: Who would you want to give the eulogy?

LUM: Steve Buscemi, or my dad. He’s a good public speaker.

SAPIENZA: Why Steve Buscemi?

LUM: Oh man, he delivers monologues so well. He’d be very impassioned. Or maybe, I would prerecord a message, or I would do directions for the planners. There’s this Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman movie [My Life], where he has a terminal illness and he records himself to teach his kid lessons since he’ll be gone—like how to play baseball and things like that. This is fun!

SAPIENZA: I was worried it would be a little too morbid.

LUM: It is a little morbid, but it’s fun.

SAPIENZA: Would you want a flower arrangement or something a bit different?

LUM: I want a chocolate fountain, a big buffet. Chinese places have funeral menus. There are specific menus for after funerals, and they’re always very lush with lots of carbs. That’s what I want. I love Asian buffets. I’d have a whole buffet spread, and it’d be laid out all day so you could pick at it later. Nothing’s better than picking at the cold buffet later. 

SAPIENZA: Yeah, like you were full two hours ago, but now you have a second wind.

LUM: Yes. Also an open bar for sure, and an open weed bar. All of it. By that point I’d hope weed was legalized here anyway.

SAPIENZA: Is there a specific restaurant you’d want the food catered from?

LUM: Maybe Dallas BBQ for some of it. I love them.

SAPIENZA: Would there be Henny Coladas?

LUM: Yes, and giant margaritas. I’d do that, and maybe Baohaus could come in and do some crazy Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Baos. [Laughs]. We’re getting really specific, dude.

SAPIENZA: Would you rather burial or cremation?

LUM: I guess cremation. I never thought about that. I would want my ashes divided into different things. One in Queens, one part by mom, one part maybe like in the East River, one part in China and maybe one part in Korea.

SAPIENZA: Do you know what Johnny Depp did with Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes?

LUM: Yeah, he like shot him into space!

SAPIENZA: Yeah, he shot them out of a canon.

LUM: I don’t need to be blasted anywhere. 

SAPIENZA: Is there anyone really special who you’d want to attend the ceremony, and anyone who you particularly don’t want to come?

LUM: Any of the angry drunks I know, I wouldn’t want there. Some of my friends, when they drink they start fights. I would want all of the people that I did truly love —not just lovers but people I really loved. Not fair weather friends, not people I stopped talking to because they were dicks. I’d want my castmates to be there but also like whoever’s left from my family, my high school friends, my college friends, and all my exes.

SAPIENZA: You want them all there?

LUM: Yeah, they can all be there just to see me and celebrate me, against their will. I’d probably get a good DJ, good lighting effects. Maybe people could perform, but their hits. Not sad songs, but like happy songs. Maybe Culture Club. Maybe Fleetwood Mac. It depends on when I die.

SAPIENZA: Would there be a dance floor?

LUM: Yeah, there’d be a dance floor. Actually I don’t really like dancing, so maybe I just have them eat and listen to music. They may have a little PowerPoint of pictures of me—baby pictures, so they don’t forget this is a sad event too. Don’t forget!

SAPIENZA: Who would you want to write your obituary, or would you like to write it yourself? I found out my grandfather did that.

LUM: Really? That’s so cool! I think whoever writes it should have cared about me and known me inside and out. Not someone who knows what’s on Wikipedia, but someone who truly knew me and what I care about.

SAPIENZA: Right, so not Steve Buscemi?

LUM: [Laughs.] It’s never too late. He can get to know me if he wants.

SAPIENZA: Is there anything special you’d want people to do on the anniversary?

LUM: Maybe Pepsi Coke—that game you play at Bar Mitzvahs.

SAPIENZA: I’ve been to so many Bar Mitzvahs and I don’t know this game.

LUM: Half the people split up, and you run across. You know what I’m talking about?

SAPIENZA: Like Red Rover?

LUM: Yes! So I’d want them to play that, and Freeze Tag—all the games I used to play at Bar Mitzvahs I went to. They can get the big glasses and the hula hoops and the lei [necklaces], and gift bags for sure.

SAPIENZA: Anything in the gift bags?

LUM: Just Party City stuff, and weed. At that point I won’t care if it’s legal.

SAPIENZA: How do you think your estate will be handled?

LUM: If I have an estate! I don’t know. Again, everything goes to people that I loved, and people that loved me. I think that at this point if I only had a cat left, it would go to a cat. If there was money left, then a portion of that to go to something that encourages people to have done what I did. Genuinely, if I died right now that’s what I’d want. Educational foundations, New York City-based foundations, ones that do outreach for kids, something of that sort. Those are my children, the next generation. And the rest can go to my grandma, my dad, my lover at that point, we’ll see. 

SAPIENZA: Since you mentioned your cat, there was that woman who gave a bunch of her fortune to her dog. 

LUM: But I would also give it to the person who would take care of the cat, because the cat doesn’t know what to do with the money! The cat will need someone to process all of that for them.