When Ronny Chieng first came to Melbourne, the Chinese Malaysian had no idea his degrees in commerce and law would send him down the road less travelled, let alone land him a job as a stand-up comedian. He is one of five comedians to be cherry-picked to be part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Comedy Zone this year, as Joyce Ho reports.
“WHEN you first go to university, you really don’t know what you want to do. I knew I wanted to be in something that was challenging, that’s why I did those degrees, but it’s weird, how opportunities open up in the strangest places,” Ronny says.
For Ronny, stand-up seemed like the ultimate challenge. He’d always had an interest in the comedy art form, but it took him a while to work up the courage to get on stage and perform.
He finally managed to swallow his nerves in 2009, when he took his first swing at stand-up comedy in a competition organised by The University of Melbourne.
“I was freaking out the whole time before and during the day of,” he says.
“I had spent two months writing my act and the gig was only five minutes long. I just kind of got up there and even on stage I felt so sick. It came out really well though. Having a good gig is great, but it really doesn’t make or break you, that was just one of the things I had to learn.”
Now hooked on stand-up comedy, Ronny decided to pursue it more seriously. Ironically enough, it was his parents who turned out to be the most supportive.
“My friends told me not to do it, that it would be bad if I did, but I guess that’s one thing you learn – to not let people tell you what you can or cannot do,” he says.
“My parents were strangely supportive as long as I didn’t screw up my life. I still had to get my stuff in order, like I had to get my legal qualifications to practice law.”
But since that fateful first gig, Ronny hasn’t had much time for law. He’s performed at a number of venues and was awarded a special mention at last year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival RAW Comedy Competition.
“That was great! When I managed to get through the national finals, I had a feeling that I had a pretty decent five minute gig. It’s considered quite a prestigious award and it’s a great way to gain exposure in the industry and get gigs.”
Not that Ronny needs any help getting gigs. The young comic recently performed to back-to-back sold out crowds and is preparing for his first solo gig in Sydney on May 3.
Still, pleasing a crowd in no easy feet and Ronny spends a lot of time researching his jokes, drawing inspiration from his own life.
“Most of the time my ideas are just from stuff that has happened to me and you’ve got to find a way to spin it so that it’s funny because there’s a big difference between a funny idea and a funny joke. I mean, funny things happen everyday, but to make that into a joke, that takes skill,” he says.
When he’s not performing, Ronny admits he doesn’t play the ‘class clown’. Instead, he prefers to spend his free time chilling with his friends and staying away from the limelight.
“I’m not the guy who tries to turn everything into a joke. I tend to keep my comedy really separate from my friends. I mean, you crack jokes with your friend and that’s normal, but I try to never perform in front of them. In fact, I really don’t like those guys who do, you can’t have a proper normal conversation with them.”
Ronny insists any aspiring comedian needs to have that sort of self-awareness, as well as pretty good understanding of what jokes are funny.
“It’s pretty important to keep ensure that your material is working,” he says.
“If you’ve got really good friends or comics who can tell you what does and does not work that’s good. If your jokes aren’t good then you acknowledge that and move on. Well, that’s what I think anyway.”
Having far too much fun to end it there, Meld decided to ask Ronny a few personal questions to find out what makes the comedian tick.
What’s your number one guilty pleasure? Playing board games and watching StarQuest II replays on the internet. And I don’t even play the game!
If you woke up tomorrow as Paris Hilton, what would be the first thing you would say to the press? I’m sorry for my nonsense and it won’t happen again.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? People who can’t decide where to eat and then blame everyone else when they end up at some place bad. Oh, and those people who say “anything” when you ask where they’d like to go for dinner.
If you had a superpower for a day what would it be and what would you do with it? Assuming I could freeze time but still be able to move around within that space and not age, I would. I’d take time to read up on everything, practice whatever I like, and pick up a new skill.
First thing you order at a bar? Other comedians are usually surprised that I always drink water when I’m doing a gig. I never drink alcohol when I’m doing a stand-up.
Who is Ronny Chieng aside from being a comedian? A really big geek. And a really big basketball fan.
Meld Magazine has two double passes to The Comedy Zone on Wednesday April 6 to giveaway. For your chance to win, simply email your name, address and contact number to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading “Comedy Fest”.
Deadline for entries is Wednesday March 31, 2011. Winners will be notified by email.