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Comedian Ronny Chieng lovingly talks sh*t about other sh*t talking Asians.
Not only is he a senior correspondent on The Daily Show, Comedian Ronny Chieng also played the fly a-hole cousin in the summer blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians and recently dropped Ronny Chieng: International Students, a sitcom on Comedy Central based on his experiences as a Malaysian international student studying law in Australia. In an interview with YR Media, he tells Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner about sh*t talking Asians and how his Singaporean/Malaysian accent helped him book his role on Crazy Rich Asians.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 5 – Race ISH).
Merk: You have a segment called Everything Is Stupid on The Daily Show and there is one bit where you rip your shirt open and you have leeches on your chest to show that this might be the new pet fad. Were those real leeches?
Ronny: No, we tried to get real leeches and we got stopped by lawyers...Unfortunately, SAG union rules prevent us from using real animals that draw blood on set.
Merk: Let's talk about this summer in three words: Crazy. Rich. Asians. The first Hollywood film to have all-Asian cast since 1993 -- Joy Luck Club. What kind of feeling does that bring to you knowing that you were part of this monumental point in Asian representation history?
Ronny: Yeah, this is the sequel to Joy Luck Club. (That's a joke, so don't take that seriously.) Obviously, it's awesome to be part of a project that is representing something I really believe in. Telling Asian stories without being
Merk: Yeah, I was able to go watch an advanced screening of it and sitting there in the seat I just had a lot of moments of like, "Dang! I love this movie because I see people who are like, 'Yo! Constance. She's got my side profile!'"
Ronny: Don't underestimate the power of symbols.
Nyge: How did you get involved with Crazy Rich Asians? Did you just go and audition for it?
Ronny: Basically the director, Jon Chu, said he was having trouble casting the movie because he was looking for authentic accents. I was like, "I have a shot here. It's the only accent I can do.” It's a story set in Singapore and I grew up there. My parents live in Singapore. I grew up with these people. I know this story. So I was like, "If you give me an audition, I'm pretty sure I can book this."
Merk: You got it, lah.
Ronny: Nice Singlish attempt there.
Nyge: Your new show, Ronny Chieng: International Student, is based on your real life as a law student in Australia. Can you give us the rundown?
Ronny: It's about Asian international students studying in an Australian University, which is what I did. I thought would be a cool story that hasn't really been told yet. But it's very relevant to everybody in a weird way because I feel like that's how the East and West interact in college a lot of the time. Also, it's a multibillion-dollar industry. I'm sure you both saw international kids at college.
Merk: I did. My college at Washington State University (GO COUGS!) was in a rural town and it was predominately white. But I lived in a dorm where there were mostly international students. It was weird because I'm an American-born Asian versus like Vietnamese-born Asian.
Ronny: It's an obvious distinction, but it hasn't been explored. Not just the differences between Asian-Americans and Asian people from Asia, but even when we say Asian. There are a lot of different types of Asians and they all usually hate each other.
Merk: They talk so much shit! It's crazy.
Ronny: Yeah! But people lump us all together, right? So having a show that even addresses that I think is interesting. We kind of segregate ourselves because culturally we tend to be in our own circles, but we're both actually awful people. If we only got to know each other, we would have bonded over how awful we all are. I feel when white people watch the show, they see an Asian show. But I feel like when younger people watch the show, they just see a college comedy.
Nyge: I feel like you really gave ignorance a voice with the U.S. international student character on your show. That's so important when you're doing any type of educating anybody about your culture.
Ronny: Yeah, I think knowing the fine line difference between ignorance and racism is important. Merk, you are from Vietnam and I feel like Americans don't really know Southeast Asia. That's not me calling anyone out. Like why would Americans know about Southeast Asia? It's on the other side of the planet. You have never watched our TV shows. So in the show, we talk about topics like colonialism in Southeast Asia and we do it in a way that I feel isn't blaming anyone for not knowing.
Nyge: If you could tell your less adult-ish self a piece of advice in a sentence or two, what would it be?
Ronny: Don't be afraid to take your time to grow up. I was too anxious about trying to be an adult when I really wasn't.