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Ronny Chieng Goes Hard in His New Netflix Special

The Crazy Rich Asians star sets his sights on America in all its subway-punching glory.
  • Ronny Chieng in his first Netflix comedy special, Asian Comedian Destroys America! (Netflix)
    Ronny Chieng in his first Netflix comedy special, Asian Comedian Destroys America! (Netflix)

    Ronny Chieng decided to title his Netflix stand-up comedy special "Asian Comedian Destroys America," and while his material and aggro form of delivery may line up with that, nobody who loves and respects the heedless New York City practice of shoving limbs between closing doors in order to engage with a deathmatch for entrance onto a subway car could ever truly be out to destroy America. Chieng's well-observed, energetically delivered bit on subway-door warriors is the standout from his new Netflix special, but the Malaysian-born former Daily Show contributor tees off on everything from how the internet is making us dumber, to Japanese toilets, to having to travel across the globe to get married.

    If Ronny Chieng looks familiar to you but you can't quite put your finger on it, you may have been one of the millions of delighted moviegoers who saw Crazy Rich Asians. Chieng played Eddie, the business-focused Hong Kong cousin of devastatingly handsome Nick Young (Henry Golding). Prior to that, Chieng was a Daily Show contributor.

    It would be inaccurate to call Chieng an "angry" comedian, but his energy is definitely aggressive, in a way that really pays off when deployed on the right material. In his best-known Daily Show segment, host Trevor Noah turned to him to explain a Fox News segment where host Bill O'Reilly sent correspondent Jesse Waters to Chinatown in New York in order to ask the people there about Donald Trump's stance towards China. Waters' segment was horribly offensive, leaning on every Chinese stereotype in the book and mocking a handful of elderly Asian people for not being able to understand or respond to his questions. It was an ugly segment that called for a strong response, and Ronny Chieng definitely delivered that, first with a string of jabs at Waters ("why do you look like you carry around a bag of roofies just in case?") before heading back to Chinatown to speak to the people there with a little understanding. There was a righteousness to Chieng's aggression in that segment, and it went viral for good reason.

    It's that kind of thoughtful aggression that permeates "Asian Comedian Destroys America," from a run on U.S. state mottos (New Hampshire's "Live free or die," must have state residents constantly wondering how far they're expected to take that), to a run on the first Asian president. That said, it doesn't all work. It still amazes me how many comedians defiantly trot out their funny "parents should beat their kids" material time and again, despite consistently cold reactions from audiences every time they try it. 

    But truly, Chieng's comedy comes alive during his ode to those foolhardy brawlers trying to fight their way onto subway trains. More than just being well-observed, it seems to exist perfectly in Chieng's wheelhouse, where aggression is both extremely silly yet deeply necessary. It might not be a space you want to stay for too long, but it certainly won't destroy you (or America) to dip into it a little.

    Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America! premieres on Netflix Tuesday Dec 17, 2019.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America!, Netflix, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah