On Sunday evening, comedian and The Daily Show senior correspondent Ronny Chieng interacted with a boisterous audience in Statler Auditorium, touching on topics including Asian representation in politics, Internet critics and how his international background has influenced his perspective on American life. The Cornell University Program Board organized the event.
Chieng was born in Malaysia to a Malaysian-Chinese family, raised in Singapore, attended law school in Australia and now lives in New York City, and he drew on experiences from his travels to inform much of his performance.
Chieng said that people from other countries have a romanticized view of America and tend to “think of [America] as a monolith,” but, after emigrating to the US, he learned more about the nation’s cultural diversity and that “every state is like a nation onto itself.”
Chieng delved into the nuances of American culture and weighed in on the East Coast versus West Coast debate, calling the East Coast “intense” and pointing to New Hampshire’s state motto — “Live Free or Die” — as an example. He also asked the audience to shout out some guesses for the state motto of Texas. After receiving a few wrong guesses — “Lone Star State” and “Don’t Mess With Texas” among them — he surprised the audience by revealing that the motto is actually “Friendship.”
That the “state motto of Texas is the opposite of every commonly-held connotation of the state” is a “major failure of the PR department of Texas,” Chieng quipped.
Chieng also shared his thoughts on Asians in American politics: “We are the only objective referees” in society’s ongoing racial tensions, he said, adding that Asians would approach every problem in politics “with no agenda, just pure logic.”
“Imagine the power of Asian people in government,” he continued. “Government shutdown? There’s no government shutdown with Asian people in charge. We don’t shut down for anything. We don’t even shut down for Christmas!”
He went on to discuss the inspirational message that electing an Asian president would send to Asian children in America. Squatting down as if talking to a child, he joked, “Hey, listen buddy. You don’t have to be just a neurosurgeon.”
Antonio Saporito ’21 said of the show, “I thought it poked good fun at lots of different topics, yet at the same time, glossed over many large problems that pervade our society.”
Chieng also said that working as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah “is a dream come true” because his job is to “go out into the world and fuck with people.”
He recounted his interview with Richard Spencer, a leader in the alt-right and white nationalism movements. One of Spencer’s main arguments is comparing the average I.Q. of different races, Chieng recalled, but when Chieng pointed out to Spencer that Asians have the highest average I.Q., Spencer simply agreed. “White supremacists think Asian people are the best,” joked Chieng.
“I’m not trying to defend white supremacists here,” he continued. “But it’s nice to be wanted.”
Returning to the topic of his international background, he compared performing comedy in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. According to Chieng, comedy in the U.S. is relaxed and low-key, whereas in Australia and the U.K., “comedy is serious business” and prone to critique by bloggers who rate comedians with a five-star system. “Ronny Chieng is two stars,” he said.
He refers to these bloggers as amateurs “mining for outrage for clicks” who were enabled by the Internet despite having no qualifications or experience in the subject they are criticizing.
“How can you critique without creating?” Chieng questioned. He also emphasized the importance of taking initiative and actively following one’s goals, especially in an environment like Cornell.
“Don’t get too wrapped up with the bullshit,” he advised the students in attendance. “You guys are at an Ivy League, you’ll be okay.”
“Is this a cool school? This is a good school, right?” he asked the audience. He was answered by a shout from the crowd: “Two stars.”