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Sherry Cola on authenticity, queer representation and comedy — and the weirdness along the way

(Photo courtesy of Storm Santos)

Opening a can of Sherry Cola comes with wanting to know her recipe to sweet self-assuredness. Confidence spills out in everything she does. From stand-up comedy to now acting as Alice Kwan in Freeform’s “Good Trouble,” her simple passion for making others laugh has never fizzled out. 

It helps that Cola’s cool and makes even the axis-tilting ability to be funny seem effortless. It’s easy even in Sherry Cola’s world. She’s taken on a life on her own terms. By the end of your tour of her universe, she wants you to smile, and know that it’s ok to feel a little weird, too. 

Born in Shanghai, she later settled in Temple City, Calif., where she found a home in her parents’ restaurant in San Gabriel, cup noodles and the passion to create.

In between the sound of the Shanghainese dialect, there’s the distinct memory of 106 & Park and MTV Jams playing in the background. Performing and putting on shows was natural to her. She would grace her fourth-grade audience with handmade album covers and a Kris Jenner-like managerial spirit, putting together a girl group she dubbed the “Backstreet Girls.” 

“I think I always knew this is what I wanted to do,” Cola said. 

She confesses she was “never” cool, despite already working to always question and dream outside of the 626’s bubble. She realized she had a knack for making people laugh, but wasn’t quite sure how to proceed forward with a far-flung future. 

“I always mention lack of representation. At that time you kind of think, ‘Oh, maybe that’s not for me. Maybe that’s not possible,’” Cola said. “Especially someone who is an immigrant, I kind of had that foreigner feeling. That reminder, in the sense, you know, like, ‘Oh, that’s not my world.’”

Her college journey had taken seven years and at Cal State Fullerton, she turned to campus radio to perform. She covered entertainment news, throwing content at a wall and hoping it would stick and go viral while flitting between dreams of being a rapper or comedian. 

“I didn’t have my sh— together, frankly,” Cola said. 

After graduation, she was working at a local LA radio station, where she was swiveling between managing social media to passing out stickers at a concert. All while finding her footing and feeling like she was on “cloud nine” after performing standup comedy shows.

Then, she went viral as Lil’ Tasty, an outrageous, Laker jersey-wearing character that was created as an homage to her love of hip-hop and Kobe Bryant. 

Her ability to dive from contemplating deeper questions of life to punchy, relatable quips is honed and sharpened to a point. It had impressed morning host Carson Daly, and in a little under a year, she had her own show on Sundays. She was hustling, doing everything at once while undergoing a quiet evolution herself. 

“At a point, I didn’t want to show my face,” Cola said. “But when you realize what’s possible, your dream gets bigger and bigger.” 

Nowadays, acting has stolen her heart. What was formerly a casting email that fit her life’s story to an oddly specific T is now her breakthrough role.

By her estimation, her character Alice Kwan is nothing short of revolutionary. Alice’s strength is beginning to find a second life as a voice to the reality of others’, and that’s what’s important to Cola.  

“I saw the description for Alice, I was so touched that someone wrote this character. Someone wants to see…an Asian-American, lesbian, first-generation (character) who is, like, not out to her parents,” Cola said. “There’s a reason why Asian families or immigrant families, you know, are maybe closed off to this idea. Because we weren’t represented. They didn’t see this. They truly did not see it happening.” 

She has an exhaustive list for the future. People, places, stories she wants to touch someday. She’s already dreamed up and writing elaborate alternate universes where Asian-American girlhood is celebrated. All while holding onto her sense of self, no matter how weird it gets.

“The things that I might have been self-conscious about when I was a teenager…those are the things that truly make me shine today. Those are the things that I embrace,” Cola said. “Those are the things I’m so happy that I never let go of.” 

Ever conscious of the conversations regarding representation, she’s pushing for more to be done. Because, really, are we allowed to laugh when someone’s being left out of the picture? 

Sherry Cola certainly won’t let it happen. Not when it’s saving people to be seen on screen. Even with all that’s on her plate, for now, though, she’s living in the moment. 

“I’m just trying to see the world,” Cola said. “I’m seeing the world, and as much of it as I can.”

Season 3 of Good Trouble premiered on Freeform Feb. 17.

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