A Hassle-Free Holiday with Comedian Ronny Chieng
Ronny Chieng sounds like a New Yorker. Which is to say: He’s talk-shouting into his phone over the sounds of traffic, then the screeching of trains, then an implacable rumble and boom. The call drops, then he’s back!
“I actually had an opportunity recently to move to Los Angeles,” he says — at a normal volume, now, having apparently hit a rare quiet pocket on the street. “It made me realize how much I love New York.”
Chieng, 34, moved to New York in 2015, the year he made his first appearance on American television, on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and was hired as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. With the move, Chieng felt like he was starting from scratch. “In New York it can go either way, I think: It can either demoralize you and take you backwards, or it can inspire you, and the creative energy here can reinvigorate you. I’m lucky I went the forward way,” he laughs. He stepped up his game work-wise and style-wise. (“Everyone around you looks like they stepped off a photoshoot,” he says, mere days after his own fashion shoot.) Chieng started wearing suits a lot more often.
Now New York is a home. Chieng’s family lives in Malaysia and Singapore, but he and his wife Hannah, whom he met in law school in Australia, save themselves a 20-hour flight by staying in New York over the holidays. “We’ve never been holiday people. We just grew up not really needing to celebrate holidays like that,” Chieng says. He left for school in Australia when he was 18, so he’s used to spending the holidays away from home. He loves seeing his family, he adds, but not in the midst of holiday chaos. “There are too many humans for us all to be trying to do the same thing at the same time.” Anyone who has been stuck in La Guardia traffic in a surge-priced Uber two days before Christmas can relate.
Besides which, Chieng likes it when New Yorkers start to decamp for home. For a few precious days during the holiday season, the city has a pleasant 28 Days Later vibe, empty except for its omnipresent tourists. Then, it’s like the city has been reserved for Chieng and his wife. Chieng rides his bike on the West Side Highway path — usually clogged with gorgeous bespandexed joggers — and on Governors Island.
They are also devout brunchers. Chieng prefers an Australian brunch, the defining characteristic of which is: no booze. “I know!” Chieng says when I balk. “It’s not boozy. It’s more about the food than the alcohol — usually there’s no alcohol at all, and you just go have coffee. It’s a delicious, healthy brunch.”
Chieng has a rotation of Australian spots in the city: restaurants with California-esque, avocado-heavy dishes. Good, healthy, Hemsworthian fare. Where ordinarily one would have to endure a severe wait time, over the holidays he and his wife are seated right away. “That’s how we do it. Then, after, you go for a nice massage in Chinatown. You just have to chill all day, man.”
They stay at home on New Year’s Eve, and they definitely stay at home on Valentine’s Day. “It’s just everyone squeezing in to celebrate this arbitrary date,” Chieng says, echoing every boyfriend I’ve ever had. He has an existential knee-jerk reaction against battling for a reservation for overpriced food, and Hannah agrees. “Me and my wife have this thing where I give her two Valentine’s Days, a week before and a week after, in exchange for one on Valentine’s Day. So we can just stay at home and not do anything. It’s the best. I encourage everyone to do a two-for-one.”
Twice the romance, half the hassle.
Lauren Larson is a writer and editor in New York City, aspiring to be a writer and editor in Bali.