“The Internet is making people so f**king stupid,” is one of the most memorable lines from Ronny Chieng’s 2019 Netflix comedy special, Asian Comedian Destroys America! It perfectly captures the Malaysian stand-up comic’s distinct comedy style: aggressive, incisive and incredibly entertaining to watch.
Sitting down with Tatler for a virtual interview, Chieng is a lot more reserved as he reflects on his illustrious career in comedy, which began two decades ago with a stand-up gig in Melbourne, Australia. “I don’t like talking about myself,” he says.
However, there are glimpses of his outspoken on-stage persona as we discuss his biggest career milestones, from his viral segments as senior correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to his involvement in blockbuster films, Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings and Crazy Rich Asians.
Did you grow up watching a lot of comedy?
Not more than anyone else. I remember watching a lot of Jack Neo on Gao Xiao Xing Dong and we watched Seinfeld as a family. I would say seeing Jerry Seinfeld in action was one of my first experiences of stand-up comedy.
What made you decide to try your hand at stand-up comedy?
I don't know. I just thought it was something I could do and I confirmed it. It was my final year at Melbourne University and I had a chance to enter a comedy competition.
At the time, you were studying law and finance. Was there a point where you had decide to choose between a career in law or comedy?
I wouldn't say that I had to choose between the two. Sure, I went on to do an internship at a law firm and study for the Victorian bar exam, which is not as intense as the New York bar exam by the way. But that was mostly so that I could tell my parents that I was doing something. I was pursuing comedy throughout, with mini-wins that kept me going. I was doing shows around town, building a local fanbase. I won Best Newcomer at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I ended up passing the bar but I was already doing quite well in comedy, so I continued.