Singapore or Malaysia? Crazy Rich Asians star and comedian Ronny Chieng sets the record straight
The Daily Show comedian explains it all to CNA Lifestyle over chicken rice at Tiong Bahru, ahead of his stand-up comedy show Tone Issues at the Esplanade Theatre tonight (Nov 29).
Malaysia-born, Singapore-raised, Australia-schooled and now New York-based, Ronny Chieng is quite the international guy.
But the 34-year-old comedian wants you to know something. “Why do I always claim Malaysia and Singapore? Because I’m from both places, mother*******!” he declared, with that now Hollywood-famous smirk. “I’m from Johor Bahru and I’m from Singapore!”
In town to perform his almost sold-out (“There’s a few tickets left, guys!”) stand-up comedy show Tone Issues at the Esplanade Theatre tonight (Nov 29), Chieng earlier sat down with CNA Lifestyle at Tiong Bahru Market to enjoy some of his local hawker favourites.
“You guys don’t understand, man! I was the guy who was taking the Mickey Mouse school bus from JB to Singapore every morning. That was me!” he said. “I travelled between two countries every day. I woke up in JB at 4am, I get on the bus, do the f***ing traffic, get to Fuchun Primary School, do a whole day of school, and then get back on the bus, reach home at 8pm, go to sleep and wake up the next day to do it all over again. I did that for at least three years as a kid.”
Chieng lived in Singapore for ten years where he studied at both Fuchun and Yuhua Primary School, after which he attended Pioneer Secondary School and Pioneer Junior College.
He still has family living in Singapore, including his mother (“I love my mama!”), which is why he comes back to visit at least three times a year.
Indeed, Chieng has more than earned the right to claim both countries as home and it’s obvious the feeling is mutual. And there is so much to be proud of, his steady rise up the comedy big leagues notwithstanding.
A former law student before he turned to comedy, Chieng was a previous winner of both the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Best Newcomer and Director’s Choice Awards, and also won the Sydney Comedy Festival’s Best Show award in 2014.
He then made the move to New York in 2015 when he was hired as a correspondent on The Daily Show alongside host Trevor Noah, where his angsty-angry on-screen persona cemented him as a fan favourite. He also chewed scenery in his role as Eddie Cheng in the 2018 hit rom-com Crazy Rich Asians.
Next on the cards, Chieng's first-ever Netflix standup comedy special to debut next month, titled Asian Comedian Destroys America!
But it seems that none of this “hitting the big time” has gotten to his head. Because for Chieng, good comedy is all about being one's most “authentic” self, wherever you hail from.
And, it turns out, he’s a big fan of the local comedy scene, both here and Malaysia.
“There’s some funny, original, authentically Singaporean, sophisticated comedy being done which is great. Everyone’s doing their own thing,” he said.
“Rishi (Budhrani) and Sharul (Channa), Jinx Yeo… they are all super funny. And in Malaysia, there’s Jason Leong, (Phoon) Chi Ho, (Kuah) Jenhan, Douglas Lim… I can go on listing. I think all these guys are creating funny comedy that is very authentically Singaporean and Malaysian.”
Ronny Chieng's Tone Issues show is tonight (Nov 29), 7pm and 9.30pm, at the Esplanade Theatre.