Ronny Chieng loves America. But as someone who has only been living here for five years, he can poke fun at it in the same way as someone who is invited over to your family for dinner. With his newest Netflix standup special, “Asian Comedian Destroys America!”, the Chinese immigrant, Daily Show correspondent, and star of “Crazy Rich Asians” weaves together a narrative picture that navigates his love/hate relationship with America and much more. I recently spoke with Chieng about the special which is available to stream tomorrow.
The following interview was edited down for space.
In your new special you talk about how Americans have taken a lot of comfort in the convenience of all of this technological innovation and how we make a big deal whenever things don’t go our way in the slightest. Is that something you catch yourself doing on a regular basis?
Ronny Chieng: There is something indulgent about America, for sure. When you come from somewhere else, it’s very striking the amount of services and the amount of stuff here. There’s a lot of stuff, a lot of food, a lot of packaging. I think it’s striking when you first come here. That’s not to say that other countries don’t have the same things. Environmental issues define every country. Not to single out America. But we are in America and we are talking to Americans. I think Americans have a struggle with consumerism. To have the comforts of technology and have everything at your fingertips and to be at the forefront and pinnacle of human innovation in every aspect and every industry. Technology and clothing. Toys, anything you can imagine! We’re kind of at the forefront here and we have to think about the impact it has on the rest of the world. Yeah, that’s something I definitely struggle with. I’m declining free t-shirts and people give me free stuff and I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry I can’t take this free t-shirt, it will just end up in the river.’
In the special, you make a great comparison between America and the NBA. Both strive and expect to be the Global standard but in some ways have some pretty hollow ideals in the process.
Ronny Chieng: I’m a first-generation immigrant so I look at everything in America very hopefully. I’m here because I feel like this is better than everywhere else where I came from. I’m here by choice. I don’t see the hollowness, I see the aspirational aspect. It’s like, ‘This is the best and we say it’s the best so we should have high standards. When standards drop, someone should call it out. Someone should call it out because we expect better because we’re supposed to be the best.’ If it was any other country it would be like, ‘Well, this sucks, because it’s supposed to suck. Because it’s a lower division.’ But it’s like, we’re in the NBA, the jerseys should fit! We should have water ready to go. I can see why it’s a really hollow ideal. It’s two sides of the same coin. It’s a matter of perspective. Where you see hollow ideals, I see it as aspirational. Aspirational means we don’t always achieve it, but we strive for it. Even if we don’t get it, we expect it.
You’ve been living in New York for the past 5 years and talk about how surprised you were that people are just so open to talking about how they really feel at that given moment. Do you think this is a general ‘American’ characteristic?
Ronny Chieng: I do think New York is like that. I think it’s fair to think that New York is basically like a separate country from the rest of America. I don’t think New York speaks for America, but I do think in New York, especially, people express themselves that way.
I think America, as a whole, the idea and the philosophy of freedom of speech and you shouldn’t be scared of saying how you feel. That leads to why outside of America we think of Americans as kind of brash or outspoken. That idea of speaking out I think is a very American thing.