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September 05, 2018

Flying Start

A stand-up guy finds a new challenge.

Christine Champagne
  • Phil Provencio

Ronny Chieng is best known as a stand-up comedian and a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, but he’s also developing a career as an actor.

“I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis-ing anytime soon, but as I get more roles, hopefully I will get better at it,” says Chieng, who had two major projects come out this August.

First up is the U.S. debut of Ronny Chieng: International Student, available on the Comedy Central app. A half-hour scripted series loosely based on Chieng’s real-life experience as a Chinese law student in Australia, the show finds the fictional Ronny at a university populated by both hard-partying Australians and Asian students who think he’s not Asian enough.

Chieng, who cowrote the series, aimed to make a “funny, silly show, because that’s the kind of show I like.” At the same time, he thought it was important to depict what life is like for Asian students in Western countries.

“In Asia, we send our kids overseas to study. This has been happening for generations,” says Chieng, who is of Chinese descent and was born in Malaysia, then raised mostly in Singapore and New Hampshire. “It’s a story that has never really been told.”

While shooting in Australia, Chieng read that director Jon M. Chu was casting for Crazy Rich Asians. The feature is based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel about an Asian-American woman who discovers that her boyfriend is from one of Singapore’s wealthiest families — and among the most eligible bachelors in Asia.

According to the trade article, Chu was having trouble finding actors who could do Singaporean accents. “When I read that,” Chieng says, “I told my agent, ‘If you can get me an audition, I know I can book this. I spent 10 years in Singapore. My parents still live there. This is the only accent I can do.’”

Chieng got the audition and was cast as Eddie, a member of the obscenely rich family at the center of the film, which opened August 15.

While his acting career is on the rise, Chieng still considers himself a stand-up. “I started in stand-up, I still do it, and I will always think of that as my main profession,” he says. “Everything good that has happened to me — other than marrying my wife, which is the best thing ever — has come out of stand-up.” 

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2018

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