He was doing his articles at a law firm, working on becoming qualified, and although he was already performing stand-up part-time, he was planning to give it away.
“That was the year I won the Best Newcomer Award, so that’s what stopped it from happening. I was going to quit after that, that was going to be my first and last comedy festival season,” he says of the 2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival. “I was going to do it and stop but the show hit off and I started getting more gigs…so I didn’t go in with any expectations and I didn’t feel like anyone owes me anything so it’s been a really cool ride so far,” he says.
Malaysian-born Chieng, who was raised in both the US and Singapore before moving to Australia to study, then followed that win up with a Best Show nomination at the 2013 Sydney Comedy Festival. He has performed twice at the prestigious invitation-only Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, as well as the Sydney Opera House and also sold out a two-week season at London’s SOHO Theatre.
Chieng believes it was law school, and being around highly competitive individuals there, that has given him the foundation to build his comedy career on. “I was kind of trained in that work ethic and figuring out the best way to approach things so I think that has definitely helped in comedy and knowing how to conduct yourself in a professional manner,” he says.
“I think a lot of lawyers don’t make a big a deal of it as I do, where I talk about it onstage a lot. Everyone is pretty low key with it, in fact, most people try to hide it, but I’m the opposite, I keep flaunting it,” he laughs.
All this stand-up success has translated into a television career as well, his credits including Problems, It’s A Date, Dirty Laundry Live and Tractor Monkeys, all on ABC 1, plus SBS1’s Legally Brown. “I’ve been pretty lucky to get acting opportunities or personal appearance opportunities. I really like doing both,” he says.
For this year’s comedy festival, he’s presenting his third solo show, Chieng Reaction. “I usually don’t do theme shows, I just do stand up because I do a lot of touring comedy in clubs and stuff,” he says. “So there’s no real coherent theme but there’s definitely some topics I address in this one. This one I’m going after condescending Apple store employees; I talk a little bit about my parents and what they think about what I do, because that’s a very common question I get. I talk a bit about travelling. I’m kind of in a weird place, because my profile is getting bigger but I’m not famous so it’s that weird in-between where sometimes people recognise you but don’t know who you are, so I talk a little bit about that. And that’s basically the show”.
BY JOANNE BROOKFIELD