When you see the R-rated comedy Joy Ride, which follows four Asian American friends who travel to China and get into all sorts of trouble, you might be surprised to learn that it was entirely conceived of and produced by women, who can be just as NSFW as men on the big screen these days.
Joy Ride is the brainchild of writers-producers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, who first worked together on Seth MacFarlane‘s hit animated series Family Guy before reuniting on the live-action TV series Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens. Along the way, they met director Adele Lim, who had co-written Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon, and the three came up with the raunchy, racy story for Joy Ride, a far cry from those comparatively light movies.
Indeed, stars Ashley Park (Emily in Paris), Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All at Once), Sherry Cola (Good Trouble and the upcoming Shortcomings), and rising comic Sabrina Wu lead one of funniest romps in years, one that, sadly, may have to find its audience outside of movie theaters given its opening weekend. But rest assured, there is an audience out there for this kind of R-rated comedy, even if it’s waiting for streaming.
Above the Line recently had a chance to speak with Ms. Chevapravadumrong and Ms. Hsiao about how they were able to deliver what is likely to wind up as the funniest and raunchiest comedy of the year. As you might imagine, talking to them was a ton of fun…
Above the Line: The movie is hilarious but I’m actually surprised it got past the MPA because there’s so much stuff that made me wonder how the movie even managed to get an R-rating.
Cherry Chevapravatdumrong: It didn’t at first. See, that’s the thing. It very much had an NC-17 rating at first, and we made a few tweaks, made a few cuts, and now we’re down to an R, but it did not, at first.
Teresa Hsiao: It’s not that crazy compared to some other R-rated movies out there. We don’t show some things. We show some bottoms, but we don’t show tops.
Chevapravatdumrong: Yeah, so that’s something.
ATL: But you go out of your way to show a lot of bottom…
Chevapravatdumrong: I mean, that’s true, yeah.
Hsiao: There are other movies that show bottoms that…
Chevapravatdumrong: We’re different, you know what I mean? We tried to think differently.
ATL: You both wrote for Family Guy. Do you still write for that show, or is that in the past?
Chevapravatdumrong: Past job for both of us, but yeah, that’s where we met.
ATL: Did you ever write together on Family Guy, or did you just happen to be in the writers’ room together when you decided to start writing this?
Chevapravatdumrong: We weren’t a writing team when we were there, but on a TV show, the writing staff is very collaborative. We were always working with each other the whole time anyway while we were working there.
ATL: How did the idea for Joy Ride come about?
Hsiao: We had been friends on Family Guy, and then we worked together on Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, so we had worked together before on another writing staff as well, and so, we were friends, along with Adele, [and] we thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we wrote a movie together?” We would go over to Adele’s house, [and] we would have tea and drinks and just kind of put together beats on a board as to, like, “Hey, it would be really fun to write a movie that we would have wanted to see when we were growing up.”
And then Cherry and I went off and actually wrote the thing, again, kind of for ourselves, not thinking that anyone was ever going to make it or see it. Luckily, we found some producers who were really excited about the project. Point Grey — Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — along with their partners, James Weaver and Josh Fagen, were like, ‘Yeah, let’s try and make this into a movie. Let’s try and sell it to Lionsgate.’ Working with them was a really great process in terms of actually making sure we got the movie made.
Chevapravatdumrong: Just echoing what Teresa said, it was basically for fun. We wrote a script on spec, and then it was like, “What are the odds that any spec script eventually becomes an actual movie?” We were really excited that we got lucky, and [that] it did [get made].
ATL: And Adele was involved very, very early on while you were coming up with ideas?
Chevapravatdumrong: Yeah, the three of us broke the story together. We came up with the bare-bones outline of the story, all three of us, and then Teresa and I, as the comedy writers, were the ones who sort of took the story and then typey-typed it into an actual script. [Hsiao pretends to type.] It looked exactly like that.
Hsiao: I type this high.
Chevapravatdumrong: And that fast. We don’t brag, but we both can type pretty fast.
Hsiao: I type faster.
Chevapravatdumrong: Actually, there was a typing game that we played on set because we were on set the entire time. We were producers on the movie as well, and sometimes you have a little bit of time between setups to set up a friendly competition with the other people in video village to see who can type the fastest.
Hsiao: We’re all very fast. I’m just very competitive.
Chevapravatdumrong: It’s true. She’s also a black belt in Taekwondo.
ATL: Was there anything in this movie that happened to either of you, or to Adele? Did any of you actually go back to China?
Hsiao: Should we show you our tattoos now or later?
ATL: Hey, we try to be a family-friendly outlet!
Chevapravatdumrong: Oh, wow… should have said that. I guess the answer is “yes” and “no.” We definitely drew from our own lives, from our experiences. We both grew up in small towns where we were either by ourselves or one of, like, two Asian people in the entire town. That was something we drew on, and then, a lot of the shenanigans, we were basically drawing on our own lives or stories we’d heard from friends, like mishmash compositing a lot of those things together — character traits of our friends as well, just basing everything in a little bit of fact, and then just taking that to the most extreme, funniest version possible.
ATL: How was it decided that Adele was going to make her feature directorial debut with this film?
Hsiao: That was actually something that Point Grey came to us with. We had the script out there, and they have had a great track record in terms of turning writers who had never directed before into directors. They came to us with the idea. Obviously, all of us being friends, we thought, “Great. Not only are we producers, we’re gonna be there the whole time on set as well.” [So] it was her first time directing, [but] that was definitely from them.
ATL: How did you go about finding the four actors? I actually saw Sabrina [who uses they/them pronouns] do stand-up a few nights ago. They were so funny that a woman in the audience fell out of her chair from laughing too hard. They had some great jokes about doing press for this movie, as well.
Chevapravatdumrong: We heard them do that part last night at a comedy show, and yeah, they slayed as usual, as always. They’re so funny. All credit to our amazing casting director, Rich Delia, for finding Sabrina. At one point, he was like, ‘Oh, there’s a stand-up comic out of New York that you should really see.’ We saw their tape, and we were completely blown away immediately. We were like, ‘Oh, that’s Deadeye. That’s a no-brainer, we’re casting them immediately.’ Teresa had worked with Stephanie before on Nora From Queens.
Hsiao: We had worked together on Nora From Queens. It was an episode that actually was directed by the Daniels, so it was really fun to see her in that role. We were familiar with each other, and I knew it’d be great for her to be part of this movie in some way. Obviously, after Everything Everywhere All at Once, we were extremely excited that she was able to be a part of this movie as well. Ashley Park, we were just fans. We knew her from her work on Broadway [and] from Emily in Paris. It was something where, obviously, we had gone out wide for our lead role. Once Ashley came in and auditioned, it was just like, ‘Oh, that’s Audrey.’
Chevapravatdumrong: Basically, the same thing also happened with Lolo. I feel like we got very lucky with these four actors. Sherry Cola did her audition for Lolo [and] improvised a bunch of stuff that was just so funny that it wound up directly in the movie. It was just one of those things where it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s Lolo, as well.’
All four of them together, when they met, instantly became friends. They had that chemistry right away, so we were very excited to take that into the table read, and onto set. They became friends, and it showed onscreen. Everyone just had a great time together. It was very “work hard, play hard” the entire time.
ATL: I know that Everything Everywhere had finished most of its filming prior to the pandemic, but had the film come out when you cast Stephanie in this? When were you actually in production on Joy Ride?
Hsiao: She had already shot Everything Everywhere, but it was before the movie came out, so we shot this in the Fall of 2021.
ATL: I actually interviewed Randall Park for his upcoming movie Shortcomings right before seeing Joy Ride. That has a lot of connective tissue with your movie, including having Sherry Cola swear a lot.
Chevapravatdumrong: Yeah, that’s what she does, and she’s great at it.
ATL: I assume this was a fairly tight script, so when you get to set, is there a lot of room to improvise, either in working with the actors to create their characters or just doing a couple of takes where you let them go a little wild?
Chevapravatdumrong: All of the above. The writing and rewriting kept going every single day — while we were on set, on weekends — and we were writing new jokes and new alts, basically, for every single joke scene you see in the movie, and the actors were definitely improvising. It was basically kind of like a mini TV writers’ room on set every single day. We wanted to have a lot of different possibilities for each spot, and they were free to improvise, and they were great at it. They were all really funny.
ATL: I had been wondering whether the TV aspect of your background was brought onto the set as well, and I guess you answered that question.
Chevapravatdumrong: Yeah, group project. Collaborative, that was kind of the mindset. We’re all just used to having a bunch of people just throwing out their ideas and throwing out jokes and just seeing which is the funniest and which sticks.
ATL: What about Point Grey’s involvement as producers? Did they let you go off and do your own thing, effectively huddling up with the studio when needed? What was their level of input and involvement in the production?
Hsiao: Oh yeah, Point Grey was there the whole time. Our producer, Josh Fagen, was there with us the entire time. They were really actively involved and really helpful, not only in terms of being supportive [and] liaising with the studio but also pitching ideas, pitching jokes, [and] just being there the entire time. They were really great to work with the whole time. Obviously, they’ve done this thing before. They’ve made R-rated comedies, [and] they’ve made them really successful.
Not only were they really additive in terms of the filmmaking process, but they were really helpful in terms of guiding us. This is the first time we have been producers on a movie. Obviously, there are a lot of similarities to running a TV show, but also, at the same time, they have a lot more power and sway a little bit with the studio, [so] it was helpful to have them there.
ATL: There’s a lot of story in the movie, as well as a lot of jokes. Was there anything that got cut that completely broke your heart? Stuff that you loved but just had to go in the final edit?
Chevapravatdumrong: I mean, none of the story did. The spine of the entire movie, all that character stuff, Audrey’s journey, that was in there from start to finish. That was always there. I mean, if there’s anything that breaks our hearts, it would be the jokes. A lot of the jokes [and] a lot of the set pieces changed, like, during production. The one that always sticks [out] is that there was a scene where there was a river crossing with a bunch of water buffalo. It turns out, production-wise and budget-wise, it is pretty hard to get stunt water buffalo [that] will willingly cross a bunch of deep water and also get four actors through the same deep water without hurting anyone. So yeah, that scene had to go.
Hsiao: But I don’t think it was necessarily heartbreaking. It was more like, we would have killed an actor, so fortunately, we didn’t shoot that scene.
Chevapravatdumrong: Honestly, it turned out better for the movie. Sometimes, it’s one of those things where it’s like, “We can’t pay for this.” “Okay, great,” and then you just write a solution, and actually, it turns out better.
Hsiao: Yeah, it turned out better than what we had before.
ATL: Even doing it with visual effects would probably have added millions to the budget.
Hsiao: Yeah, it was never gonna look good. It would have been like, “Wow, that terrible water buffalo scene.”
Chevapravatdumrong: Yeah, and they were like, ‘There’s one water buffalo that could do it because they can swim, but it has no horns, and we don’t think it will wear horns.’
Hsiao: ‘So it looks more like a cow.’
Chevapravatdumrong: It wouldn’t have worked out.
ATL: Are you officially a writing team now, and are you going to continue writing more stuff together? Do you think you’ll do more stuff with Adele?
Chevapravatdumrong: The first thing we did when we got back from set was, we wrote another movie together, but we also do our separate projects, so it’s a la carte.
Hsiao: Depending on the project, we’ll work together, if we feel like we want to work together again. But yeah, we’re doing another project, [so] we’ll work together again, but we also have our own separate projects as well.
Joy Ride is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Lionsgate. Click here to read Kim Voynar’s rave review.