Chieng has had a different COVID-19 experience than most of us. Unlike most people who found themselves trapped in one place for the duration of 2020, the actor was bound by where his next gig was being shot. As is the case for an increasing number of movie and TV productions, that meant coming back to Australia.
Chieng shot in the Gold Coast for his role in the Young Rock sitcom, Sydney for Aussie film Long Story Short, Hawaii for Doogie Kameāloha, M.D., and back to Sydney for the upcoming Marvel film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. COVID tests aren’t that bad when you compare them to countless hotel quarantines.
Luckily, Chieng is used to basing himself across the world. The Chinese-Malaysian actor grew up in Malaysia before moving to the U.S. to finish his schooling.
Chieng has a history with Australia as well. In the early 2010s, he was living in Melbourne after studying law there when he had the chance to perform with Trevor Noah at a comedy festival. Two years later, he was in New York working as a correspondent on Noah’s critically-acclaimed The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Asian Comedian Destroys America!
Chieng’s big break with Noah was a massive stepping stone that helped launch his career in earnest. As the new correspondent on the show, Chieng went viral for a segment where he eviscerated Fox News for a blatantly racist segment where they sent the spiky-haired and popped-collared reporter, Jesse Watters, to Chinatown to perpetuate ignorant and outdated stereotypes about China.
After five years, it would be great to say that Chieng’s firebrand roast of Fox News isn’t needed anymore, but in light of the recent waves of anti-Asian violence and hate across the US and the world, it’s more vital than ever.
Surprisingly for Hollywood, we have started to see some positive change for Asian representation on the big screen. Chieng has been a part of that too. In 2018, he was in the Crazy Rich Asians cast that made history as the first all-Asian cast and lead for 25 years - a far cry from face-palm worthy casting cock-ups seen in 2015’s Aloha and 2017’s Ghost in the Shell which saw white actors cast to play Asian roles.
Now, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Chieng is set to be a part of Marvel’s first Asian-led film. But, while authentic representation in Hollywood is slowly getting better, Chieng says that it’s still a problem. “I think authentic storytelling is really missing in Hollywood, and Australia, as well, for that matter,” he says soberly.
When authenticity is missing from storytelling, there are two effects. One is that the story is less likely to land with people and the second is that without a relatable story, we are denied awareness of other cultures.
Chieng explains, “authenticity is important because authentic stories will resonate with people more. You don't have to be Asian to relate to a story because if it's told authentically then you can relate to Asian people in storytelling and then your attitude towards them can change.”
It sounds a little highfalutin, but what Chieng says is true, “storytelling changes people's attitudes, which changes society.”
Ronny Chieng has a new love interest - and he’s in his feelings. As a student at the University of Melbourne, Chieng flirted with martial arts, particularly the Chinese close-contact practice of Wing Chun. But, when he tore his labrum practicing in 2018, the injury meant that while Chieng could still lift weights and play basketball, he couldn’t do Wing Chun.
“I asked Matt Serra, who is a UFC champion, what I should do, and he told me to go do Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” Chieng says, “so at one point, I tweeted Joe Rogan and asked him ‘where's a jiu-jitsu school?’ And he recommended one in New York”.
Chieng was hooked after one class. He found jiu-jitsu to be an excellent workout and great for technique but he got the most out of it from a mental aspect. “When you're doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu you have to stay in the moment. You can't be thinking about the future, you can’t be worrying about the past. I just found it very therapeutic and meditative just mentally,” he says passionately.
And he stayed healthy. Chieng was shocked to find out that he was injured more often playing after-work basketball in NYC than doing a combat sport.
“That's my tip to everybody out there, if you're playing after work-sports and you're breaking your ankles because everyone thinks they're playing in game seven of the NBA Finals, go do Brazilian jiu-jitsu because straight-up fighting people, you'll have fewer injuries,” he says.
You can catch Chieng’s fighting moves in Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in September.