The Daily Show is the best job in comedy: Ronny Chieng

Ronnie Chieng's jokes work because of his international perspective.
Ronnie Chieng's jokes work because of his international perspective.PHOTO: GAVIN BOND
Comedian Ronny Chieng is a correspondent on American news satire programme The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
Comedian Ronny Chieng is a correspondent on American news satire programme The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.PHOTO: COMEDY CENTRAL

As a correspondent on a news satire show, comedian Ronny Chieng has been working relentlessly, covering the United States presidential election

Half a year into his job as a correspondent on top-rated American news satire programme, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, Malaysian comic Ronny Chieng is still feeling the high.

And it is not just because the 30-year-old will have this coveted position on his resume but also that it is election year in the United States, which means the work pace has been non-stop.

"It's crazy. America's presidential elections are so intense and they last for so long, especially with all the cable news channels covering it 24/7. It's the reality show that never stops," he says in a telephone interview from New York.

"And The Daily Show pokes fun at politics in a very important way, so everything we do has to be of that standard. Doing the show is challenging, but it's a privilege to do it. It's the best job in comedy."

On the show, Chieng is one of several correspondents who do parody news segments in the field, before reporting to South African host Trevor Noah in the studio.

His comedy persona is intelligent, but also sarcastic and angsty.

If I were to die tomorrow, I'll definitely feel like I've accomplished some things.

RONNIE CHIENG on his achievements

The gig, which he got after he submitted an audition tape, is certainly the biggest one yet for the Johor Baru native, who had previously been known for working the stand-up comedy circuit in Australia.

After all, The Daily Show is one of the most well-reviewed and popular comedy TV programmes globally, not least because it used to be helmed by the very sharp comic Jon Stewart from 1999 to last year.

Does Chieng think that the new host measures up?

"I think Trevor is doing an amazing job and I'll share with you a story which puts it best. Jon had asked Trevor to put on his size 8 shoes, but Trevor's feet are like size 12, so he couldn't. And Jon said to him, 'That's right, you can't put on my shoes'.

"The point is that they are two completely different hosts. They're separate comics doing comedy from different perspectives. So do you see a Jon Stewart clone in Trevor? No. But does he carry the torch? That's a definite yes."

As for Chieng's own brand of comedy, a big part of what makes his jokes work is the very international - and some would say, confused - perspective he brings to the table.

Although the bachelor was born in Malaysia, he had spent his childhood in New Hampshire in the US, before moving to Singapore for secondary school and junior college and then Melbourne, Australia, for university.

He had moved to the US when his parents went there to pursue master's degrees and followed them to Singapore when they found jobs here.

His retiree father used to be a corporate executive, while his mother is working as a financial controller. They still live in Singapore. Chieng's 33-year-old sister is a doctor in Sydney.

He says: "This comes up as a bit in my stand-up comedy, but I always feel like I belong everywhere, but also nowhere.

"When I was in Singapore, I lived in Jurong East for 10 years and I feel like I know everything there. But I also lived in Australia for 10 years after that and I feel like I know everyone there too. It's the third-culture kid feeling."

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

Since then, he has been racking up numerous comedy awards across Australia, including the Directors' Choice Award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Best Show at the Sydney Comedy Festival, both in 2014.

"I've been very lucky in comedy. I can sell out theatres and I got to open for some of my comedy heroes such as Bill Burr and Dave Chappelle, and I'm on The Daily Show.

"If I were to die tomorrow, I'll definitely feel like I've accomplished some things."

Are his comedian friends jealous of his success?

He laughs and says: "Well, I can't speak for American comics, but I know quite a lot of the comics in Australia and they've all been very good to me. I think there's envy, but not jealousy. No one has messaged me to ask for a job on The Daily Show - not yet, anyway."

•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 weeknights at 11.20pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Milking politics for laughs'. Print Edition | Subscribe