Malaysian comic Ronny Chieng admits feeling pressure to be a part of top-rated US series The Daily Show

New York-based Ronny Chieng, who is Malaysian, is best known for his scathing takedown in October of Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters' racist comments.
New York-based Ronny Chieng, who is Malaysian, is best known for his scathing takedown in October of Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters' racist comments.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Things progress so speedily on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah that comic Ronny Chieng, who writes for it, has no time to dwell on accolades - nor on flak

New York-based Malaysian comic Ronny Chieng says his work as a correspondent for The Daily Show With Trevor Noah is so fast-paced, he has no time to enjoy the success of some of his well-timed strikes.

"You write the show in the morning and you're doing the show at night, every single day.

"So if a show went really well, you just go, 'That's great', and you move on. And if you didn't, then you also just say, 'Oh well', and move on to the next show," he says in an interview with The Straits Times while in Singapore to visit his parents who live here.

Chieng, 30, is currently best known for his scathing takedown of Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters' racist comments.

In the Daily Show clip that went viral after it aired in October last year, Chieng railed against Watters' visit to New York's Chinatown to ask Asian Americans about the United States presidential election, while making side comments filled with Asian stereotypes, such as asking an Asian man if he knew how to do karate.

You write the show in the morning and you're doing the show at night, every single day. So if a show went really well, you just go, 'That's great', and you move on. And if you didn't, then you also just say, 'Oh well', and move on to the next show.

RONNY CHIENG

"If you're going to be racist, at least get your stereotypes right. Karate isn't Chinese, it's Japanese. And you're doing it in a taekwondo studio, which is Korean," said Chieng in the clip, among other things.

He was widely praised for the clip as it made its rounds not just on American social media platforms, but also on China's microblogging site Weibo, thanks to a translated version done by a viewer.

"I knew that it would make a mark, but not on this global scale. When we first saw the original Watters clip, I just thought, 'This is bulls***', so we just had to do something about it.

"Well, we ended up giving Fox News some free publicity. We gave them some viewers."

Chieng, who has been based in New York since he nabbed The Daily Show gig in September 2015, after submitting an audition tape, suddenly blurts out in the middle of this 20-minute interview: "Man, I've missed the food here. Chicken rice. I just need to get some chicken rice this week. I am going to eat as much as I can while I'm here."

Even though he has already been on the show for more than a year, he admits to still feeling a lot of pressure from being a part of a top-rated show.

"What has eased is the fear of performing as you get more experience doing that.

"But the amount of pressure you feel to always put out the best work possible - that will always be there," he says.

Chieng was born in Johor, Malaysia, spent his childhood in New Hampshire in the US, before moving to Singapore to attend secondary school and junior college and then Melbourne, Australia, for his university education.

He studied law at the University of Melbourne, but he knew that comedy was his true calling after winning a college comedy competition in 2009.

Next up for him: writing and starring in the new Comedy Central series International Student, an autobiographical sitcom about his experience of being a Malaysian student in Australia. Comedy Central ordered a full series after he released the pilot last April.

Chieng, who will be playing an "exaggerated version" of himself, says: "You don't have to be an international student to get this story, or be Asian or a student. This story is about that weird period of life when everyone's trying to fit in."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•The Daily Show With Trevor Noah airs on Comedy Central (StarHub TV Channel 516, Singtel TV Channel 324) on weekdays at 11.20pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2017, with the headline 'Moving too fast to enjoy success'. Print Edition | Subscribe