In July 2020, UK based Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng debuted his new character, Uncle Roger, on YouTube. In Uncle Roger’s first video, he reacts to a video of BBC TV chef Hersha Patel cooking egg fried rice. He rips into every step of her cooking technique, from the way she measures water with a tea cup to her failure to add MSG. This video was Nigel’s golden egg, catapulting him to internet fame after two years on YouTube. He now releases weekly videos as Uncle Roger, including ones in which he critiques Jamie Oliver’s and Gordon Ramsay’s fried rice.
Videos with Asian humour typically only do the rounds among my Asian friends and family. Sitcoms with “Uncle Roger” type characters have been on Malaysian and Singaporean TV for decades. These sitcoms never found an audience overseas as the humour, language and characters due to their cultural idiosyncrasies. It was therefore surprising to me that Uncle Roger’s debut video broke out. White friends sent me messages about it. They wanted to know what I thought of the video: was funny or problematic? Did they have my permission to laugh at this guy speaking in an exaggerated Asian accent, or should it be condemned?
I would categorise these Uncle Roger videos as problematic. If they made you laugh, you are a terrible person. I hope your rice cooker short circuits on Chinese New Year and your ang pau is only filled with coins.
5 reasons why Uncle Roger is problematic
1) DISRESPECT OF ELDERS
Nigel Ng deserves to get slapped multiple times with a Bata slipper (a Malaysian parent’s weapon of choice) for breaking the number one rule for Chinese people: respecting your elders. Uncle Roger is a parody of a middle-aged Malaysian Chinese man. “Uncle” is a term of respect for Chinese male elders regardless of their relationship to you. Nigel has disrespected older Malaysian Chinese men by playing one for laughs.
Please note that you can’t go around calling every older Chinese man “Uncle.”
Who you can refer to as “Uncle”:
- Your friend’s dad
- Your dad’s friend
- The char kway teow man
- The man selling pirated DVDs at the market
Who you can’t refer to as “Uncle”:
- Doctors (unless they are related to you)
- Teachers (unless they are related to you… actually nah that’s weird)
- Your colleagues and boss (see above)
- The local triad boss – they prefer “Dai lo” (big boss)
- My uncle if he was your colleague or local triad boss
2) UNCLE ROGER’S ACCENT
Malaysia is one of the most multicultural countries in Asia, predominantly made up of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Orang Asli (indigenous people) and creepy white expats with significantly younger Asian girlfriends (literally all of my dad’s friends). Though Bahasa Melayu (Malay) is the official language and the medium of instruction at pubic schools, Malaysians also have the option to be educated at Chinese, English or Tamil schools.
Uncle Roger’s accent likely reflects that of someone who was educated at a Chinese school. English is probably his third or fourth language after Mandarin, one or two other Chinese dialects (e.g. Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese) and Malay. He may also speak a smattering of Tamil. You aren’t really Malaysian if you only speak one language. If you’ve ever made fun of a Malaysian person for saying “tree” instead of “three” (i.e. me up until age 7), you should probably check how many languages you speak in comparison to the average Malaysian. Yeah, probably not as many hey. And drunken slurs don’t count as another language.
Is it okay for Nigel Ng, who is fluent in English, to parody a man who speaks broken English? How would you feel if a white comedian performed in Uncle Roger’s accent? Uncle Roger is the 2020 equivalent of Micky Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
3) EXPLOITING A HARD WORKING MAN
Uncle Roger types can be rich or poor. You will find him driving cabs (sometimes taking a long detour if his passenger does not speak the same language), making Hainanese chicken rice at hawker stalls or developing shopping malls with more shops than people.
Uncle Roger types are usually hard workers, to borrow from another stereotype of Chinese people (it’s true – my mum says so). Nigel Ng reaps YouTube advertising revenue and sponsorship deals from playing Uncle Roger, but do the Uncle Rogers of the world get a cut from being exploited in this way? Uncles everywhere are crying “Haiyah, who is this joker? I am the original. I can make YouTube video talking nonsense also. Don’t need to work 12 hours a day. Haiyah.”
4) #NOTALLCHINESE EAT RICE
Uncle Roger’s obsession with rice reinforces the stereotype that all Chinese people eat rice. In Northern and Western China, rice is secondary to wheat based staples such as noodles, buns, dumplings and pancakes. You will not find GF (Gluten Free) on any menu in those regions, so avoid it if you are a privileged Westerner who has eliminated wheat from your diet just so you can have something to say at a dinner party when the conversation eventually turns to the topic of what foods people have cut out lately.
Personally, I’ve never owned a rice cooker. I go through more potatoes a year than I do bags of rice. It is offensive that people think this is the most shocking thing about me. The more shocking thing is that I need a calculator to do single digit subtractions.
5) COOKING SHAME
Uncle Roger mocks Hersha for telling the audience not to be scared of making egg fried rice. Then he proceeds to shame her at every single cooking step, which will inevitably reinforce the trepidation anyone has towards making fried rice.
A fear of making fried rice is a condition called friedricephobia. It was identified in an 1980s study of first generation children of Chinese immigrants in Australia. Conditions leading to friedricephobia include:
- Having a Tiger Mum who breathes down your neck as you attempt to learn her fried rice technique and constantly tells you it’s not good enough.
- Thinking fried rice is hard to make because your mum won’t give you an exact recipe, since Chinese people don’t use recipes.
- A rejection of eating rice or any other Chinese food because you want to convince your white classmates that you are white as them and only eat ham and cheese sandwiches.
As someone who was diagnosed with friedricephobia at age 11, I found Uncle Roger’s fried rice video extremely triggering. Prior to watching this video I was making steps towards overcoming my friedricephobia by repeatedly watching Kylie Kwong’s Chinese cooking lessons. I even bought a wok. But now the wok is going to remain at the back of my cupboard and I will continue to live my life colonised by European tastes. I will be fucked if there is another potato famine.