Comedian Nigel Ng, aka Uncle Roger, thinks Singapore food is a 'less good' version of Malaysian fare
Nigel Ng, the Malaysian comedian behind popular YouTube persona Uncle Roger, has no doubts that Malaysia has better food than Singapore.
His first YouTube video as Uncle Roger went viral in 2020 for criticising a BBC Food video on how to make egg fried rice. It has since drawn 30 million views.
The London-based 31-year-old is a former data scientist who has been doing stand-up comedy since 2011. He quit his day job in 2019 to pursue comedy full-time.
Ng was in town for the sold-out Singapore leg of his comedy tour Haiyaa (a Cantonese term to express frustration and Uncle Roger’s catchphrase) at Capitol Theatre on June 15. He will return with another show on Aug 17 at The Theatre at Mediacorp.
He sat down with The Straits Times over Zoom ahead of his show.
You found fame critiquing and commenting on food videos. Tell us more about your relationship with food.
I love food, I love talking about it, I love tasting it. It's given me a really cool career.
I think most Asians from this part of the world care about food a lot. But then you move abroad, and there's a lot of frustration with how badly people in the West mess up Asian food.
Do you cook?
I do, but not as much as I'd like to. I live alone in London and it's harder to cook for yourself. Good Asian food, especially anything with a broth, requires hours of work.
I have friends who send me pho or ramen kits and I'll use those. I don't have the time to make a broth over 24 hours. And anyway, people in restaurants make it better, so why not eat out?
What sort of research do you do ahead of a food reaction video?
I have friends in the food business, so I book an hour of their time, jump on a call with them and go: "So this Thai green curry dish, what did they do wrong? What did they do right?"
Hopefully, all the cooking techniques I mention are correct, but first and foremost, I want my videos to be comedy-based. I love getting things right, but that's more of a bonus.
What do you think of Singapore food?
You guys just do a weird, less good version of what we do (in Malaysia), to be honest. Your bak kut teh is pale, it's transparent.
I think there are more similarities than differences, but Malaysia has better food, especially in Penang. I don't think any region here can touch Penang - it's too good.
How did Uncle Roger come about?
During the pandemic lockdown, I lost all my live stand-up work. I had 13 months of savings to figure out what to do or I'd have to go back and get a day job, which I had no problem with.
I have a podcast and, on it, I riffed on this character of a Chinese-Malaysian uncle with some Hong Kong-sounding inflections in his accent. He's a grumpy middle-aged man and fans of the podcast really liked it, so I thought of trying it in a video.
Uncle Roger's first video was reacting to the BBC Food video of egg fried rice and that just blew up.
There have been criticisms that the Uncle Roger character plays into stereotypes and caricature with his accent, which some say is harmful to the Asian community. How do you respond to that?
Firstly, I don't think an accent is a stereotype. My mum has an accent. Is she a stereotype?
I think accents have been used to mock and belittle Asians abroad. But Uncle Roger is not mocking his own people. He's championing the food and mocking Western culture for getting it wrong.
Do you have plans to evolve Uncle Roger?
I have my stand-up, podcast and some television stuff in development. As a creator, that's how I'm evolving. But I love Uncle Roger and people love him too, so I'll keep making those videos.
How is your stand-up comedy different from your Uncle Roger persona?
Uncle Roger opens the show. He comes out and does 20 minutes, then I come out and do an hour.
Uncle Roger's the Asian boomer. He mimics our parents' generation; he's harsher and less forgiving. For example, Uncle Roger might say to someone with a food allergy: Why so weak?
But I'm a little kinder, a little younger and more contemporary. Uncle Roger is more like your parents trying stand-up comedy.
Speaking of your parents, how have they responded to Uncle Roger? Were they supportive when you quit your job to do comedy full-time?
My parents like it. It's the only thing they laugh at because they can understand that accent. When I'm speaking normally, I'm too fast. My accent is more neutral and too Westernised so that makes it harder for them to understand.
They were a bit worried (when I quit my job). YouTube is very public, you can see my number of subscribers and views. I think they're more calm now. They're happy for me.
You have courted controversy in the past making jokes that people found inappropriate. Are there things you won't joke about?
I've learnt a lot from my past controversies and I think if the intention is to be funny with it, then everything goes. And you also have to accept the comments.
I like going close to the line and seeing if I can make it funny. I like making riskier jokes - there are a few in my show I'm very proud of - and I'll take whatever comes with it.
I think the more serious something is, the more you should joke about it. It breaks the tension. If you can make something very contentious funny, that's very rewarding.
Book It/ Nigel Ng The Haiyaa World Tour
Where: The Theatre at Mediacorp, 1 Stars Avenue
When: Aug 17, 8pm
Admission: $98 to $128 via Ticketmaster's website and hotline (tel: 3158-8588) and SingPost outlets