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”



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