Comedian’s joke about MH370 ‘appalling’, says Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan
Comedian Jocelyn Chia’s comments about a missing Malaysia Airlines plane have been criticised by Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and the Republic’s High Commissioner to Malaysia.
She was born in the United States and raised in Singapore.
In a tweet posted on Thursday, Dr Balakrishnan said: “I am appalled by her horrendous statements. She certainly does not speak for Singaporeans. We treasure our ties with family and friends in Malaysia and are sorry for the offence and hurt caused to all Malaysians.”
Dr Balakrishnan’s comments were in response to a tweet by Malaysian politician Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who said that Chia turning a tragedy into a source of entertainment is “just in bad taste”.
Chia, who is no longer Singaporean, had joked about the MH370 tragedy during a recent stand-up comedy show in the United States that poked fun at the rivalry between Singapore and Malaysia.
The aircraft left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing in March 2014 but never arrived. To date, it has not been located.
In an 89-second video clip of her set posted on Instagram, Chia said: “Now, Malaysia, you all are trying to come around, like, ‘Hey Singapore, you’re looking good lah’. And we’re like, ‘I know, but why haven’t you visited me in 40 years?’”
“And (Malaysia’s) like, ‘Yeah I tried, but you know, my airplanes cannot fly,” Chia said to laughter and audible gasps from the crowd.
Chia added: “Why, Malaysia Airlines going missing not funny huh? Some jokes don’t land.”
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir said in a statement on Wednesday that Chia showed a “total lack of sensitivity and empathy towards Malaysians and victims’ families.
“This video also clearly depicts behaviour that is contrary to the values of Asian countries that are known for their manners and morals,” he said. “I believe this is not a stance or action accepted by any country, let alone (one that reflects) the official stance of any government.”
I must say that turning a tragedy into a source of entertainment is just in bad taste.— Syed Saddiq (@SyedSaddiq) June 7, 2023
But I have good faith in my fellow Singaporean friends, and I'm sure all of us deeply cherish our close relations as countries.
Whatever it is, let's not allow one bad seed to tarnish our… https://t.co/Nj41f0LxpB
Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia, Mr Vanu Gopala Menon, was sorry for Chia’s “hurtful remarks” and “gratuitously offensive comments”.
In a statement on Thursday, he said: “The Singapore Government does not condone words or actions that cause harm or hurt to others and Chia does not in any way reflect our views.
“As our closest neighbour, Singapore and Malaysia enjoy a strong and multifaceted relationship, with deep and cross-cutting ties... Comments such as those made by Chia are unhelpful and undermine the close trust and friendship that both our countries and peoples enjoy.”
Chia deactivated her Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts following the backlash. Her Instagram page, in particular, had been flooded with comments condemning her choice of joke material.
The Comedy Cellar in New York City, where Chia had performed her stand-up routine, saw a spike in one-star ratings on Google.
The clip of Chia’s set drew the ire of many Malaysians shortly after it was posted.
Radio broadcaster Kudsia Kahar was one Malaysian who took offence, writing on Twitter that she drew the line at turning MH370 into a joke.
“Not acceptable. A good stand-up never turns tragedy and deaths into a joke,” she said.
Renowned Malaysian stand-up comedian and actor Harith Iskander also weighed in on Wednesday, remarking that Chia’s joke displayed “insensitivity” towards the MH370 tragedy.
“I respect the freedom of expression that we comedians require to do our job,” he said in a video he posted on Twitter.
“But it is equally important to exercise some level of sensitivity and empathy when doing certain material, especially topics that are deeply personal or tragic.”
My response to Jocelyn Chia's clip which has riled up Malaysians pic.twitter.com/dbP1GBz1As— Harith Iskander (@HarithIskander) June 7, 2023
Others said Chia’s set would upset the family members of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members who were aboard the missing plane.
Responding to a critic on her Instagram page, Chia wrote: “Tragedy plus time = comedy. It’s been long enough man.”
The American added that the criterion for comedy is whether a topic or material can be made funny.
Chia’s set did earn the approval of at least one Malaysian, with comedian Jason Leong leaving a comment saying “I love this bit”.
Chia has previously performed comedy sets with jokes comparing the varying states of development of Singapore and Malaysia.