Media & Entertainment

Uncle Roger: A Cultural Icon or Overdone Caricature?

Uncle Roger, Caricature, Asian

If you are a) an Asian and b) a person who fancies strolling through YouTube, you cannot not know Uncle Roger, the orange-shirt Internet phenomenon that united the whole of Asia against the crime of messing up egg fried rice. He became a cultural icon overnight: his sassy comments, his hotter-than-hell roasts, and his almost impeccable uncle demeanor took the world by storm during the pandemic, where we were all in need of a nonsensical, hearty laugh. However, as time went by, is Uncle Roger still culturally relevant, or has his comedic essence decayed to a cliched caricature?

But first, who exactly is Uncle Roger? And why did he become a hit?

Although most people know Uncle Roger as a savage orange-polo, shorts-with-phone-case-attached-to-belt middle-aged Asian, this character embodies the alter ego of Nigel Ng, a Malaysian-born stand-up comedian currently based in the UK. As he switched to being a full-time YouTube comedian, he would never expect his channel to blow up over egg fried rice. It all started with his video roasting the BBC Good Food’s egg fried rice recipe, where the cook was using the colander to drain the rice and rinse it afterward. Ng’s video immediately gained traction among the Asian community, as we were horrified, appalled, and aghast by the methods demonstrated in the video. 

As the response for this video (or as Uncle Roger calls it, “weejio”) was so wildly successful, Uncle Roger officially took form as the mascot of Ng’s YouTube channel. While he ventured out to other content formats, with Uncle Roger roasting restaurant visitors or reviewing fans’ Halloween costumes, his most noteworthy series remains the white-washed egg fried rice reviews. From being disgusted by Jamie Oliver’s version (seriously though, chili jam?) to being utterly delighted with Gordon Ramsay’s Indonesian nasi goreng, Uncle Roger has conquered the world with his savage yet alluring charms.

How Uncle Roger united Asians?

As Asians are often considered minorities anywhere besides Asia, many negative narratives are targeted against them, especially when the pandemic broke out. However, Uncle Roger is so hilariously and unequivocally Asian, it makes him hard to ignore. The egg fried rice recipes were so ridiculous that it got white folks involved, where we all connect over the horrid debacle. Ng is proud of his achievements, as he shared how “when people come [to] see Uncle Roger […] and learn even more about Asian culture, I think that’s a plus for everybody.” He also made way for more Asian representation in comedy, a field so desperately desiring more minority talents. 

However, the ultimate cohesive that truly bonded the Asians is Uncle Roger’s open, public detest of white-washed egg fried rice. Making fun of and getting outraged over Westernized Asian cooking have always been a staple in any Asian-based Internet community and an inherent, almost genetic trait of Asian humor. Footage of people messing up Asian food is no longer new to the Asian community; for instance, Bon Appetit’s not-an-ode to the Filipino halo-halo and the NYT’s atrocious quinoa and broccoli Pho. Yet, it is incredibly refreshing and relatable to see someone like Uncle Roger so adamantly and hilariously dismantle anyone that “shame” his culture. 

Uncle Roger offers this sense of familiarity that people resonate with and connect to because there’s always that uncle in all of our Asian families: “a sassy loudmouth, but ultimately [a] kind individual.” This sentiment is perfectly described by no other than Ng himself:

“This character is rooted in my life experience. It is molded after the people I knew growing up.”

His ambassadorial promotion of MSG, his exaggerated phrases “Haiyah” (frustration and disappointment) and “Fuiyoh” (shock and wonder), and his obsession with woks blend perfectly together to create the alter-ego of Uncle Roger. 

Even Uncle Roger can’t escape criticism… Is it the end?

While beloved by many, Uncle Roger was also met with some mild criticism from fellow Asians, as some accused his videos of perpetuating negative Asian stereotypes and encouraging xenophobia with his “problematic” faux accent. This concern is valid to some extent: after all, his exaggerated accent and demeanor all point towards a very prototypical Asian uncle. While I do not necessarily think that Uncle Roger is furthering Asian stereotypes and thoroughly enjoy his videos, I notice myself becoming gradually bored with this character. Don’t get me wrong, I still burst out laughing at Uncle Roger’s witty roasts in his more recent videos, but the same enjoyment is gone as he tends to recycle the same old tropes, jokes, and punchlines. Does this repetition render his persona to a caricature or cliché that is no longer entertaining? Well, not necessarily, his character still emphasizes the traits that are so stereotypically Asian, providing no new, inspiring material into an unapologetic yet uni-dimensional figure. As an audience, Ng’s ideas for the beloved Uncle Roger are slowly depleting and it won’t be soon before long until this series becomes irrelevant to me, where my clicks will be directed elsewhere.

As for Ng himself, he directly addressed these concerns as he understood how many people “grew up being the only Asian person in a white neighborhood where nobody understood their culture.” However, he defended his character, stating that Uncle Roger is an homage to his childhood memories. He also affirmed that he never aimed to reinforce Asian stereotypes, such as eating dogs or being good at math. He further underlined: “If you’re only looking at the accent, you’re ignoring everything else about Uncle Roger,” where his persona does not undermine Asian culture but rather to connect both Asian and non-Asian audiences. Regardless, fans of Uncle Roger should not be worried about the comedian putting a halt to this persona anytime soon because he will continue until he’s “sick of it.”

 

Cover: Nigel Ng via Vulcan Post

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Quynh (Stephanie) Bui
Quynh (or Stephanie) is a first-year student from Vietnam who enjoys writing magazine articles instead of essays for her classes. She loves eating good food, traveling to places with good food or scenery, and listening to good music. Her biggest aspiration at the moment is to get a bike in Amsterdam.

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