“The Daily Show” correspondent Ronny Chieng was a young boy living in Singapore when “South Park” first debuted in 1997. The country had made headlines by banning the cartoon for being too crude — and that, of course, only made the budding comedian want to see the show even more.
“I was 10 years old and it made the news for being banned,” he said. “We only caught glimpses of it.”
But that also meant that Chieng didn’t get into “South Park” until college, when he fell hard for the show. “I watched one episode, and then started watching backwards. With ‘South Park,’ if you’ve never watched it before or have fallen off it, you reverse binge. Watching it backwards actually gives you an appreciate for how immediate it was.”
Chieng, most recently seen in this summer’s smash film “Crazy Rich Asians,” said he’s inspired by how “South Park” is written. He even took some of those lessons to heart when he co-created his own comedy, “Ronny Chieng: International Student,” now streaming on Comedy Central’s app.
“‘South Park’ is weirdly underrated,” he said. “It’s been going on for so long, its standards are so high, the satirical element is always on the nose. The scripts are very well written.
“If you’re a writing geek and you analyze the episodes, the A/B stories, the resolution, also the humor is very much up my alley. Not just the cringe humor but the deeper layer. The shows where nobody wins — like ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ where in the end everybody loses — ‘South Park’ has that at well. There’s no winner. I appreciate that absurdism and the nihilistic tones of it. And the on-the-nose satirical layers of the series. You know how jaded we are, how much do we laugh out loud and pausing the episode to laugh and process what just happened.”
IndieWire recently sat down with Chieng to discuss his show, “Crazy Rich Asians,” and his favorite episode of TV of all time, the 2006 “South Park” episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft.” Listen below!
Written and directed by series co-creator Trey Parker, “Make Love, Not Warcraft” first aired on October 4, 2006, making it the 147th episode of “South Park.” The episode was heavily promoted at the time as the show’s take on the biggest video game of the moment, “War of Warcraft,” as well as the use of machinima to illustrate game play. The episode ultimately won the Primetime Emmy in 2007 for Outstanding Animated Program (less than one hour).
“I remember the hype for [the episode],” Chieng said. “It appealed to my computer geeky side. I don’t play World of Warcraft. But I remember when it was big when I was at university and I lost a lot of friends to it. They spent money and their lives, so much time in this game. I can’t play first or third person shooters. I get dizzy. So I never got addicted to those kind of games. But ‘South Park’ mixed with video games was right up my alley.
“I remember how on the nose it was dealing with people who were so into the game,” he recalled. “The kids become these disgusting blobs because all they do is play the game.”
Chieng went to law school in Australia, but after earning two degrees from the University of Melbourne, he started doing comedy. When the Australian Broadcasting Company asked Chieng to write a comedy show, he and co-creator Declan Fay decided to turn Chieng’s experience as an international student in Australia into a comedy.
“Ronny Chieng: International Student,” which was niminated for a 2018 Australian Writers Guild award, was recently uploaded on Comedy Central’s app for viewers in the U.S. to watch as well.
“So many of us do it,” he said of Asian students in Australia. “I felt that it’s such a part of the Australia story, and no one has been able to tell that story. The way the East interacts with the West, a lot of it is through the universities and colleges.”
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He’s also currently on the big screen in “Crazy Rich Asians”, playing Eddie Cheng, Nick’s status-obsessed cousin. And of course, he continues to serve as a correspondent on The Daily Show.
“For [‘Crazy Rich Asians’] to have an all-Asian cast, and a Singapore story, hits home for me,” he said. “To see Singapore portrayed as a character in the movie, with dignity and class and a positive place, is fun. It’s given its due as a fully fledged place to live. There are a lot of layers to this movie. It portrays Asian culture without being heavy-handed about it.”
IndieWire’s “TURN IT ON with Michael Schneider” is a weekly dive into what’s new and what’s now on TV — no matter what you’re watching or where you’re watching it. With an enormous amount of choices overwhelming even the most sophisticated viewer, “TURN IT ON” is a must-listen for TV fans looking to make sense of what to watch and where to watch it.