Witty student stuck in world of halfwits
Malaysian-born, Aussie comedian Ronny Chieng has embedded a heartfelt message in his new ABC comedy pilot, International Student, about his experiences at Melbourne Uni.
“I’m not trying to make white people the bad guys,” he explains. “In fact, hopefully it came through in the show is that everyone is an idiot. That’s really my main message: everyone is stupid and no one is more stupid than the rest.”
Before his stratospheric rise as a stand-up comedian and his coup last year joining US TV’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Chieng was a “know it all” 19-year-old “trying to figure out stuff” as an international commerce/law student residing at Trinity College.
The original plan for the show was his attempts to juggle study with stand-up but: “I quickly realised no one gives a f about stand up-comedy” and that Seinfeld and Louis CK had already done it better.
But he felt uniquely qualified to tell the story of “international students coming to Australia which I lived through, and all my friends”.
“I was trying to capture that moment when you’re 19 years old, you think you know everything but you don’t and you’re making important life decisions for the first time and trying to fit in, but you don’t know who you are,” he says.
The pilot — one of six in the ABC Comedy Showroom — sees Chieng face off against a snooty upper-class stereotype in a drinking contest — despite the fact the comedian doesn’t drink. Anthony Morgan guests as his lecturer.
His overbearing Tiger Mum keeps tabs on him via Skype, which isn’t too far from what the truth.
“I get my temper from her,” says Chieng of his own mother. “She can be very intense but I love her very much.”
“I don’t think she understands what I’m doing (for a career) but she understands I’m doing at a high enough level where I’m making a living.”
Chieng has been developing the pilot and series with the ABC since 2014 and had a week’s filming time written into his Daily Show contract.
While he found it tough as a first-time screenwriter setting up the situation and characters in the pilot, he believes the premise has a lot of potential.
“The beauty of the university world is that you can use it as a microcosm to parody anything in the ‘real’ world,” he says.
If the ABC picks up the series, Chieng says he’ll frantically film “fill pieces” for the Daily Show to screen while he’s in Melbourne making it, so “it was like I never left”, he says.
“Everyone is stupid and no one is more stupid than the rest”
RONNY CHIENG’ S MAIN MESSAGE
COMEDY SHOWROOM, ABC WEDNESDAY, 9PM