Things are going well for Ronny Chieng.
The Johor-born funnyman, who got his start in comedy after joining a small competition during his final year at Melbourne University in 2009, has been making waves in the international comedy scene.
Chieng, 30, got his biggest break yet when he was asked to join the cast of The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.
“It’s an honour to be a part of the show; it’s a real validation for what I do,” he said during a phone interview from New York.
The American late night news satirical show is now hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah, with Chieng and two other newly-minted correspondents Desi Lydic and Roy Wood Jr helping him out.
“They contacted me through my website, asking me to submit a self-taped audition. I taped myself in my house in Melbourne where I did a piece from an old episode (of the show) that they gave me and I had to write a new piece and perform it,” Chieng said.
Chieng was then asked to fly to New York to audition again in July with Noah for the producers and showrunners.
“They told me a few days later they really liked it and they wanted me to come back for a final audition some time in September. In September, instead of telling me the date of the final audition, they just hired me outright.”
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah premieres Sept 30 at 12.30am on Comedy Central HD (HyppTV Ch 609).
1. Tell us about your childhood.
I lived in Johor Baru for three years and then I moved to the United States for four years. After I came back, I used to do the Johor Baru-Singapore thing. I lived in JB and then went to Singapore for school every day. Then I moved to Singapore and after high school, I left to Australia for university.
2. What’s your typical day on The Daily Show like?
One thing about The Daily Show is that it’s the daily show, so everything you write that day, you can’t use it the next day, with some exceptions. We’re getting used to that kind of work ethic. Everyone meets up at 9.15am and we talk about the day’s stories.
The writers show what stories have been happening and then the head writer picks which stories to do.
We break up and start writing segments and throughout the day, there are various meetings happening to figure out what to do for that night.
The show films around 6pm or 7pm, it is very well-structured. They’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. They are very established. The processes in place mean that when new people come in, they can plug in easily.
3. What does it feel like being a part of an established show?
I’m used to doing my own thing whenever I want and performing my shows at night. But this is … there’s an office, there’s a lot of people involved. One thing I found is everyone here is very good at their jobs, not just in terms of their skill level but also their demeanour.
It’s a very encouraging environment, even though it’s high-pressured as you have to produce content within a short span of time, but it’s so welcoming and open that it’s easy to be creative.
4. You’ve said you want to be known as a funny comedian instead of a funny Chinese comedian.
I have to do the comedy that I do, which is informed by my race – I’m Chinese, I’m born in Malaysia and I lived in Singapore and Australia. That’s where my personal experiences come from, that’s why I sound like this, that’s why I look like this. I don’t want to run or hide from who I am.
At the same time, I don’t want to do racial jokes for the sake of it. I don’t think that’s the kind of comedy I want to do. My thing is to do funny comedy, if it happens to talk about race so be it.
With the show, I’m the only Chinese correspondent on it. So when there’s a Chinese story, obviously I’m the first guy who gets assigned to it.
If it’s a funny, worthwhile story about Chinese people, I’ll talk about it because I’m the only guy on the show that can give that perspective on it.
5. Why are you so angry all the time during your stand-up?
That’s how I go about doing comedy. If something irritates me, I talk about it. I find comedy in the frustration of things.