Ronny Chieng, Margaret Cho talk about Asian comics in mainstream comedy

Ronny Chieng, pictured in an undated publicity photo. Handout

MONTREAL – Ronny Chieng has lived a jet-setter life ever since he was young.

He describes himself as a “Chinese guy born in Malaysia, raised in the USA and Singapore who lives in Melbourne, Australia and will soon be moving to New York.”

Chieng has degrees in commerce and law that he received from the University of Melbourne in 2009.

READ MORE: 5 reasons this year’s Just For Laughs festival will be the greatest yet

Coincidentally, that’s the same year he started doing stand-up.

“I had no intention of doing comedy. I started doing it in the final year of university and I just kept going,” he told Global News.

“From there, I got to the point where I didn’t actually get a real job.”

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Ronny Chieng on tour in Asia. Ronny Chieng/Facebook

Now, Chieng is part of the coveted group taking over Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival as part of The Ethnic Show.

“For comedians, especially international comedians, it’s this really super cool event. You can’t just come, you have to be invited, but they could invite me to drive people around and I’d be excited,” he said.

“It’s a big deal for me. From an artistic point of view it’s a completely different beats.”

Ronny Chieng on tour in Sydney, Australia. Ronny Chieng/Facebook
Ronny Chieng as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2014. Ronny Chieng/Facebook
Ronny Chieng as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2014. Ronny Chieng/Facebook
Ronny Chieng as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2014. Ronny Chieng/Facebook

But more than that, he’s part of the new wave of Asian comics who have taken over the main stage.

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“We’re going onto a new kind of “post-modern-Asian comedy” where it’s not the stereotypes, it’s explaining the stereotypes,” he said.

“That’s what I’m trying to do. I hope to be part of that bigger movement. I don’t think I’m there yet.”

WATCH: Ronny Chieng passes by #amMTL to talk about The Ethnic Show

Chieng’s hoping to put his name next to famous names like the cast of Fresh Off The Boat, The Hangover‘s Ken Jeong (with a medical degree he, like Chieng, wasn’t always a comic.) and of course, the outspoken Margaret Cho.

“I see more and more comedians of different backgrounds – different ethnic backgrounds and that’s really important,” Cho told Global News.

“I like to feel I had a hand in that and I would like to think that I inspired people to do this.”

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Margaret Cho. Just For Laughs

She pointed out there’s still a long way to go, and pinpointed movies like Aloha, in which Emma Stone played an Asian-American.

“You can’t even cast an Asian person in an Asian person role. In general, we’re not even able to be in movies,” Cho said.

“I’d rather see people who look like me in movies and TV out there. I wonder if it means that people think we don’t matter?”

But she admitted, it’s not all dark days.

“At least there is a token [ethnic person in TV shows]. It’s better than invisibility,” she said.
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“I don’t mind a ‘token’ anything because at least it’s a token rather than being short-changed.”

A comedic veteran, Cho vaguely remembers her first Just for Laughs show in 1991 – one of very few famous Asian comics at the time.

Margaret Cho. Margaret Cho/Facebook
Margaret Cho. Margaret Cho/Facebook
Margaret Cho at the Golden Globes. Margaret Cho/Facebook
Margaret Cho with Tina Fey at the Golden Globes. Margaret Cho/Facebook
Margaret Cho. Margaret Cho/Facebook
Margaret Cho. Margaret Cho/Facebook

“It’s one of those rare occasions where comedians get to see each other and hang out,” she said, adding that she’s excited to test out her new material on a Montreal audience at her July 24 show at the Olympia.

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“It’s going to be good. I love doing shows there. It’s a very different kind of place. It’s as close as you can get to being in Europe.”

Chieng told Global News he’s not necessarily trying to be the “next big Asian comic,” he’s just trying to make it in a world where minorities have yet to truly start sharing the spotlight.

“I hope that people like it. I’ve never really been the kind of guy who complains about stuff I don’t get,” he said.

“I try to do the best comedy that I can do. As Asians, we still have a lot of perspective to give and I’m hoping to add to that.”

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