INTERVIEW: Ronny Chieng

Published in The Music (WA, SA, NSW, VIC, QLD) and on, Feb-Apr 2015


Avoiding Controversy

Loudly dishing out abuse for a living, Ronny Chieng has also copped his fair share. Daniel Cribb finds out what the lawyer-turned-comedian now has in the crosshairs.

If we’re led to believe everything that comedians do and say onstage reflects their beliefs and habits off it, then Ronny Chieng might just be the most frustrated person alive. From Twitter to indecisive friends, it seems there’s very little that doesn’t enrage him, and an interesting Facebook message out of the blue last year almost joined that list. “I was opening for Dave Chappelle at the time, and [Bill Burr] sent me a message on Facebook out of the blue… I didn’t believe it was him; I thought it was another comic friend of mine playing a prank on me but I just went along with it. I was actually going to say, ‘Yeah, go fuck yourself,’ but I went along with it on the off-chance that it was actually him,” a calm and collected Chieng tells. Perhaps he’s not angry all the time.

The message from Burr was legitimate and saw Chieng tour big theatres around the country once again, allowing him to test out material from his new show, You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, once again dealing with conflict, to a wealth of people.

It’s not that he’s trying to resolve the world’s problems, though, rather commenting on how trivial a lot of them are, a heated joke surrounding the iPhone/Android debate being a shining example. “My biggest thing is, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, you shouldn’t talk and that applies to me as well. And that is the irony of the show I guess, because I am calling people out who are calling other people out.

“I don’t think I am a very controversial comedian, I just rant a bit. I try to avoid those more divisive topics. I don’t really talk about politics or anything, so I don’t think I’m near that line, but I appreciate that line and people will draw that line and people who try to not step over that line, and people who do step over it on purpose. Comedy’s weird, man.”

The whole show isn’t just about conflict, though. Only being in the game for six years, Chieng’s had a swift rise into the spotlight, which saw him temporally fill a prime-time slot at triple j. “I thought I liked music until I started working at triple j and then I thought, ‘Apparently I don’t like music,’” he laughs. “I am an undeserving piece of shit with no taste in music, so I really expanded my music horizons on triple j.

“The biggest thing is opening yourself up to that national level of feedback, and criticism on the internet. I learned how to deal with that a lot better. People who listen to triple j have very strong opinions about what should be on it, including what voices should be on it and obviously the music… You’d have to be some kind of terminator to be able to take all this shit directed at you and just really brush it off.”