By Kat Wolseley
Following Uncle Roger’s breakout video, I subscribed, followed, and looked forward to every upcoming clip with giddy anticipation. Uncle Roger’s content required no grey matter: it was the perfect side dish to a bucket of KFC.
You can rely on Uncle Roger to roast white folks week in, week out with his broken English and Asian dad demeanour. Uncle Roger is a fresh off the boat character from the 70s living in the modern Western world. He works in a takeaway and speaks with a Chinglish accent in sentences with more grammatical mistakes than vocabulary. But, of course, Uncle Roger is not a real person: he is a on-screen persona created by the Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng.
British comedians David Walliams and Matt Lucas are also creators of comedy characters, as is John Cleese. A little while ago their highly-rated shows, Little Britain, Come Fly With Me and Fawlty Towers were under fire for allegedly perpetuating racial stereotypes in the wake of Black Lives Matter.
In Come Fly with Me, Mr Walliams played a Japanese fan girl who adored Martin Clunes. Matt Lucas played a black barista whose café was always closed. And as for Basil Fawlty: “Don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”
So how come an East Asian comedian like Nigel Ng can get away with it and escape scrutiny for stirring up racial disharmony and cultural misunderstanding?
Based in London, Nigel Ng is the vision of a globalised Asian citizen: he’s fluent in English and dresses stylishly. Fit and cerebral. By contrast, his character Uncle Roger tucks an orange polo shirt into jeans and speaks in broken sentences laden with deliberate grammatical errors typical of Asians who are not well-versed in English.
Nigel Ng’s material stereotypes – the Asian experience in the West – sets back racial discussions by decades, let alone going against the spirit of diversity and inclusion. And yet Nigel was given a platform on British national television to peddle his toxic East Asian stereotype.
Nigel appeared on the topical quiz show Mock The Week (Series 19, Episode 1) to deliver a monologue on rice. He explained to the audience that a rice cooker “isn’t a Chinese chef who cooks your rice.” The punchline, which infers that the Chinese are robotic, mechanical servants, is completely unacceptable, and would have been edited out had Nigel not been of East Asian descent.
I have supported every episode of Mock the Week for nearly a decade. Over the years there have been welcome social changes: the panel is more diverse with more female panellists. But by including Nigel Ng on the panel while approving his racist material, is this not an example of the BBC’s hypocrisy in fulfilling the ethnic minority on-screen portrayal quota, while at the same time allowing Mr Ng to perpetuate racism to his own race?
Not only is Mr Ng’s material steeped in now-obsolete 70s Chinese stereotypes, Uncle Roger also openly insults and mocks Westerners too. In a recent video on Nigel Ng’s YouTube channel, Uncle Roger labelled a white woman’s failed attempt at cooking egg fried rice as “child abuse.” In another video, Uncle Roger called a peanut allergy sufferer “weak” before telling him that the nearest hospital is “very close.”
But far more damagingly, Mr Ng’s comedy diminishes and belittles the Asian experience in the West.
With Uncle Roger’s exclusive interest in woks and rice, Asians are painted as one-dimensional beings who live in a parallel cultural bubble. Consider this: the next time a dimwit walks up to an East Asian chanting “rice cooker” and “haiyaa” and asks for a bowl of rice, it is going to be acceptable because a yellow person validated this on his viral videos seen by tens of millions of people.
As an East Asian who lives in a largely liberal town in England, I am sorry to report that I continue to suffer racial abuse from time to time. Not just discrimination but unprovoked abuse. Sitting outside an Italian restaurant one afternoon, minding my own lunch, a dog walker strolled past, doubled back, looked at me, and with theatrical exaggeration she shouted while pointing at her dog: “You cannot eat this.”
I had youths chanting “Ching Chong Ching” in front of my house. I was chased out of a bicycle park by a gang of children yelling “Go back to your own country”. This is the cliché, boring reality that East Asians still to have to contend with. I cannot imagine what life is like in less tolerant parts of the world.
The cruel irony is that while Mr Ng monetises the Asian stereotype, he himself fell victim to an allegedly racial motivated assault in 2020 – someone punched his face on the streets of London. There are material consequences to encouraging racial bigotry and fostering cultural misunderstandings.
By fuelling a stereotype that East Asians can only talk about rice and speak in a specific way, Mr Ng is reinforcing the perception that they are unsympathetic, emotionless, and one-dimensional – so unrelatable that it is unfathomable they should roam free in town centres, eat at an Italian restaurant or ride a bike in a park.
Perhaps even crueller, if you are Asian and enjoying Nigel Ng/Uncle Roger’s content, know that while Nigel is getting richer and yielding more soft power by milking your every view and share, you are directly funding casual racism.
Nigel Ng knows as well as we do that MSG isn’t the king of flavour. Umami is. Nigel Ng knows as well as we do that there are material consequences to throwaway racism, especially when he was the victim of his own making. Yet he is more than happy to accept money from an MSG manufacturer and continues to manufacture cheap laughs for personal gain.
Before you click play, think about the poor Singaporean student who was savagely attacked on the streets of London for “spreading Covid.” Educators and activists have tried in vain for years to eradicate throwaway racism. And it only takes a mindless creator and their purposeless content to undo all their good work, reigniting the embers of racial bigotry and hate.
Kat Wolseley is a pseudonymous Hong Kong writer and ex-reporter for the Washington Post, Time Out and the South China Morning Post. She is now based in the UK.
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