Stand-up comedian and actor Ronny Chieng performed and spoke at Penn Wednesday evening about his experiences as an Asian American in performing arts.
Chieng, a Chinese comedian who was born in Malaysia and studied in Australia, visited as part of this year's Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. He first performed a comedy routine for about 45 minutes, touching on American capitalism, materialism, and Internet culture. After the routine, Chieng took questions from the audience about his experiences working with comedians like Trevor Noah and Hasan Minhaj, his favorite anime shows and Malaysian food dishes, and his pursuit of a creative career.
Chieng currently serves as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, starred in the film "Crazy Rich Asians," and co-wrote and starred in his own television comedy series titled “Ronny Chieng: International Student." He is the recipient of several awards and has performed multiple sold-out stand-up comedy theater tours across the globe, according to his website.
“We wanted to bring Ronny in as a speaker because, obviously, we want to have more representations of Asian Americans in the media," Wharton sophomore and APAHW board member Michelle Xiong said. "He’s a really great comedian, and has been in "Crazy Rich Asians" and Comedy Central, so we thought that it would be [a] really good mixture to hear his perspectives on topics like American politics, and also be entertained by his comedy. We were really happy with the turnout and student support.”
During Chieng's comedy performance, jokes about the Ivy League and the first-world need for Amazon Prime were met with enthusiastic laughter. Later in the event, many students asked questions about Chieng's role as an Asian American in contemporary media.
When asked to give advice to young Asian Americans wanting to pursue creative fields, Chieng said, “What’s holding you back?” He then recounted his experience choosing a career path after college.
“I distinctly remember how everyone was extremely scared about the future," he said. "We didn’t know what jobs we were going to get if any, or where we were going to end up. We were so scared, 10 years into the future, of becoming this unhappy person."
However, Chieng encouraged students to remain optimistic and assured them that navigating uncertainty is a normal part of adult development.
"The only thing I can say is that you don’t know when one opportunity leads to another, leads to another, and leads to another," he added.
Attendees said they enjoyed both Chieng's stand-up and his discussions of Asian American identity. Social Policy master's student Benjamin Oh said he was interested to hear Chieng's perspective since he comes from outside the United States.
"I thought he had a lot of really good thoughts," Oh said. "He provided thoughts about racial identity that weren’t based in the world that many Asian Americans specifically grow up in.”
College freshman Matthew Liu said he came to the show because Chieng is one of his favorite correspondents on The Daily Show.
"I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but like he was probably the funniest stand-up comedian I’ve gotten to hear, and [he] was super relatable because I’m also an Asian male," Liu said. "I think it’s really cool that on a Wednesday night, somebody like this can come to Penn.”