HOW did a comedian in Britain become a huge YouTube sensation with his parody of a Malaysian Chinese uncle with an Ah Beng accent?
With one lucky strike, that’s how. By now, you might have watched Nigel Ng’s “Uncle Roger DISGUSTED by this Egg Fried Rice Video (BBC Food)” on YouTube, which is wowing netizens around the world.
The video has so far racked up more than 14.5 million views with over 50,800 comments.
Ng, 29, is a Malaysian from Kuala Lumpur who gave up his job as a data scientist to become a full-time stand-up comedian in London. His repertoire plays on his Chinese upbringing, stereotypical Asian attitudes and practices to great effect.
He’s not the first comedian to draw on his ethnicity as laugh fodder, however. Lilly Singh, a Canadian comedian, became one of the world’s highest paid YouTube stars with her humorous takes on her Punjabi heritage, cultural quirks and family relationships, among other topics.
Ng has a long way to catch up with Lilly who has 14 million subscribers, over three billion video views and her own TV talk show. But the way his subscriber base jumped from 9,000 to 903,000 in six weeks following his “disgusted” video, which he posted on July 8, can only be described as phenomenal. That figure has since jumped to 1.44 million subscribers.
Ng acknowledges as much in an interview with South China Morning Post: “As comedians, we work our whole lives hoping for a break. And I feel I am lucky enough to get one.”
And what a break it has been. For that, Ng has his “Uncle Roger” persona to thank. He has explained that “If you grew up in Asia, you would recognise this kind of archetype. This sassy, condescending uncle who complains about everything but ultimately is funny and nice.”
While the name was created by his co-host Evelyn Mok on the comedy podcast Rice to meet you, Ng says everything else was his: the accent, attitude and mannerisms.
All that coalesced perfectly in his Uncle Roger’s reaction to a cooking video on how to make egg fried rice by BBC Food presenter Hersha Patel.
Patel was roundly ridiculed by Ng for the way she cooked what is one of the most beloved dishes for the Chinese. She shocked Ng and subsequently millions of viewers on how she boiled, strained and then ran tap water over her rice. As Ng comically declared, “RIP RICE”.
Not only that, Ng managed to find fault with almost every step of the recipe and decried Patel’s failure to use MSG – “the king of flavour” (Ajinomoto should love him) – and her use of a metal spoon on a non-stick saucepan, an act Ng said his mother would have disowned him for if he had done the same.
Patel, who came under a very global roasting, later claimed she was merely following the recipe given to her by the BBC and insisted she knew how to boil rice the “correct” Asian way.
Whatever the truth, Ng’s disgusted reaction struck a chord with rice-loving people everywhere.
It proved beyond a doubt just how universal the grain is with the near consensus on how to cook it, which is certainly not the BBC (a.k.a. white people’s) way.
Patel turned out to be a good sport, taking the criticism in her stride. Indeed, while she was mocked, it was generally done in good humour.
Malaysian comedians have successfully and affectionately parodied our many Malaysian ways of speaking, and what Ng’s Uncle Roger has done is to bring one of those accents to the world.
It is what we would call the Chinaman way of talking, where plurals do not exist, certain words are mangled and the Cantonese “haiya!” is liberally used to denote disappointment, disgust and displeasure.
Fascinated and amused fans around the world have asked if that is Uncle Roger’s “real way of talking”, and it has inspired a YouTuber by the name of Nina, a mainland Chinese woman who has been living in the United States the last six years, to take on the fictitious persona of Uncle Roger’s ex-wife, Aunty Helen.
But sorry lah, she sounds forced and not authentic. Oi, this aunty can do much better (which is why I am jealous I didn’t think of it first!).
Uncle Roger may not be a classy character: his usual pose of sitting with one foot on the chair is actually not good Chinese manners.
Growing up, if I sat like that, my mum would tick me off, saying I looked like a trishaw puller at rest.
Still, he is much like the opinionated, obnoxious but still lovable Archie Bunker from the 1970s iconic US sitcom All In The Family.
Although Ng/Uncle Roger lives in Britain (in subsequent videos, he makes peace with Patel and visits London’s Chinatown with her), Ng clearly identifies himself as a Malaysian. He was quick to correct a fellow comedian who had mistaken him for a Korean in a show – and that really makes me proud.
Ng is on a roll and has become the unofficial YouTube rice critic, fried or otherwise.
As Nigel Ng, he has berated the West for ruining rice and as Uncle Roger, roasted Jamie Oliver for his olive oil and tofu recipe but praised Gordon Ramsay’s spicy Indonesian nasi goreng version.
His fans keep asking for more of the same but he has nailed bitingly funny monologues on other topics, too. Thus far, he has shown keen wit, astute observation, deft use of stereotypes, risqué sauciness and charming self-deprecation.
Still, fame can come and go. Let’s hope he can continue to build his popularity and influence, and join Malaysia’s best-known international celebrities like Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh and Datuk Jimmy Choo.
He and Patel are collaborating as former nemeses turned best buddies. Cute, but if Uncle Roger needs an authentic Malaysian Chinese aunty as his foil, he need not look further than right here.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.