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What you didn’t know about comedian sensation Ronny Chieng

All-round entertainer Ronny Chieng has many strings to his bow. The Malaysian-born comedian and actor made his name as a wise-cracking correspondent on Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show. He also starred in movies such as Crazy Rich Asians and Marvel’s superhero frolic Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. He also has his own stand-up special Asian Comedian Destroys America! All in all, a rather eclectic performer.

Seinfeld and Study

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Ronny Xin Yi Chieng was born in Johor Bahru on 21 November 1985 – a stone’s throw from the Malaysian border with Singapore. He spent his formative years in the US state of New Hampshire before completing his secondary schooling in Singapore. He undertook his tertiary education in Australia, completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Melbourne, followed up by a Diploma in Legal Practice from the Australian National University in Canberra in 2012. So far, so normal.

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But from a very young age, the seed of comedy was planted when he began to soak up the humour from American ’90s sit-coms. “I saw Seinfeld on TV and told my mum that would be something cool to try one day, and she was like, OK, ‘Here is a five-year-old telling me what they want to be when they grow up’ sort of thing, and what would they know, right!” says Chieng.

And then, towards the end of his graduate degree, the transformation began to take place – as his desire to make people laugh began to take hold.
“What happened was, in my final year of university in Australia, there was a campus comedy competition, and I felt like it was something I could do. I won that competition, and I kept doing it, and I couldn’t get a job in law. So, I just kept doing comedy.”

Lucky Bit

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Chieng didn’t have to wait long for his big break, riffing alongside The Daily Show host Trevor Noah at the Australian Comedy Festival in Melbourne in 2013. Chieng subsequently auditioned for the high-rating show and become its roving correspondent. His in-your-face style and quick-witted repartee when he accosted the average Joe in the street – mic in hand – on whatever happens to be the hottest topic of the day made him an instant hit with audiences in the US and internationally. Chieng has been a regular on the show since 2015. Despite the success, Chieng has kept his feet on the ground and is mindful of differences between the character he is portraying as correspondent and his true self.

“I’m made of dead stars, I eat a lot of fruits, and I hate peak period travel, as opposed to my character on The Daily Show, who is made of jello, eats vegan and loves camping,” observes Chieng. His role as a permanent fixture on Trevor Noah’s show prompted Chieng to move to New York with his Vietnamese-Australian sweetheart Hannah Pham, where the couple married on 9 September 2016.

Racist Furore

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His time on The Daily Show was not without scandal. In late 2016, he become embroiled in controversy when he took umbrage with comments from Jesse Watters, who made what he considered disparaging remarks about residents in New York’s Chinatown. Chieng engaged in a strongly worded barrage against the widely watched Fox News conservative political commentator.

Chieng observed on the issue: “I think when people talk about race relations in America, they talk about African-American and white people. Asians are not often brought into the conversation. But there’s a historical legacy of issues between them. It’s hard to be like, ‘What about us?’ But we are a little underrepresented.”

On the Up

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Controversies aside, Chieng quickly established a career in his own right and began to build an impressive list of performances in movies and on television. The first of these to make people sit up and take notice was his role in the critically acclaimed TV comedy, Ronny Chieng International Student (2017), where he essentially plays himself and explores the trials and tribulations of an Asian university student in Australia.

From here, Hollywood beckoned. Chieng scored his first significant major movie role in Crazy Rich Asians (2021), where he plays a precocious – and at times insufferable – cousin to the film’s leads, Nick Young and Astrid Leong. He continued to build his cinematic credentials and broke out with his first action role as Jay Wayne in the mega blockbuster Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).

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This was followed up in the same year with a role in the Marvel superhero extravaganza, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This represented a major breakthrough for Asian representation in the Marvel Comics franchise. The film stars a host of Asian actors in the major roles, including Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Benedict Wong and Michelle Yeoh – of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) fame.

Chieng had a small but important role playing the character of Jon Jon in Shang-Chi and proudly drew on his Singaporean roots to flesh out the part, especially in his combination of Mandarin and English in the dialogue.

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“We didn’t know which (language) would play well so I just did it in both. But isn’t that exactly how we roll in Singapore, right? We just go in and out – sometimes we speak Chinese, sometimes we speak English. We just weave in and out.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Chieng is also slated for the lead role in the soon-to-be released fantasy film, Helvellyn Edge, directed by Joah Jordan. Chieng is also keeping his comedic talons sharpened with his own Netflix stand-up special, Asian Comedian Destroys America!

Bruce Lee Watch

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Away from the big screen, Chieng is a passionate watch collector. It’s a suitable pastime for one who relies on impeccable timing to deliver the perfect punch line. He has accumulated an impressive selection of timepieces, including a 1984 Rolex that he inherited from his late father. But Chieng’s pride and joy are his two rare Seiko 6139 Bruce Lee timepieces – so named because this watch was worn by the legendary martial arts hero in the 1960s.

2022-06-24T18:10:06+00:00 June 24, 2022|Entertainment|