Luisa Tam
SCMP Columnist
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam
My Hong Kong
by Luisa Tam

Why Asians love YouTube star Uncle Roger – we’ve all got one in the family

  • Uncle Roger’s tone of dismay and disbelief when critiquing a BBC Food cooking tutorial sounded familiar to my ears and probably to many others
  • Most Asian children have to tolerate many Uncle Rogers, but they don’t complain because they accept that it’s part of growing up

I love Uncle Roger and I can safely say that a lot of people, probably millions around the world, feel the same. Strangely, my affection for him also comes with a hint of fear, albeit buried under many layers of respect.

On the off chance you’ve been living in a cave, let me tell you a bit about him.

Uncle Roger is a comedic persona created by Malaysian stand-up comedian Nigel Ng. The persona rose to international fame after a video of him giving a blow-by-blow critique of an egg fried rice cooking tutorial on the BBC Food website by TV presenter Hersha Patel went viral. The video, posted in July, has so far attracted nearly 30 million views on YouTube.

Viewers around the world have been in stitches watching Uncle Roger’s barely concealed disdain of Patel’s rice-cooking technique. But conversely, there were critics who weren’t impressed with Uncle Roger’s no-holds-barred comments against Patel. Some people didn’t really understand or appreciate the humour and felt that his comments were unnecessary, maybe even cruel.

Uncle Roger with Hersha Patel in a follow-up video to his famous viral critique. Image: YouTube / mrnigelng

Triggered by the way Patel cooked the rice, Ng screamed, groaned, cringed and curled up during the video in the manner of a stereotypical middle-aged Asian uncle. Her culinary crimes included draining the cooked rice through a sieve, running it under a tap to remove the starch, measuring the water with a cup instead of her finger and not washing the rice before cooking it.

His critique was not at all mean or racially motivated; he was merely pointing out a glaring cultural gap between the way Chinese people cook rice and how non-Chinese people do it.

His tone of dismay and disbelief sounded familiar to my ears and probably to many other Chinese people. Every Chinese, and on a wider level, Asian family has at least one Uncle Roger who is critical, plain-speaking, unwavering, grumpy and traditional in their outlook. But despite their brash exterior, they often mean well.

‘Rice queen’ J Lou: YouTube star and Uncle Roger’s ‘favourite niece’ on identity, viral hits

When Uncle Roger uttered in the video, “What she doing? Oh my god, you’re killing me,” it reminded me of the countless occasions I have heard these words or similar from my family’s version of Uncle Roger.

Uncle Roger is a universal character who is a part of almost all Asian families, but he is not gender restricted. Your aunts or any other relatives may also share the same candour as Uncle Roger. He can be anyone in the family, as long as he has the Uncle Roger way of thinking, which is rooted in tradition.

These people are very serious about maintaining certain Uncle Roger standards and approaches in life, such as measuring the amount of water required for cooking rice. In the mind of Uncle Roger, there is no other way of doing it but by measuring it with a finger (even if your way works just as well).

Uncle Roger might appear insensitive and harsh but Asian children are often brought up to believe that ‘good advice jars the ear’

And if you disagree or argue with Uncle Roger, the usual responses include “It is for your own good” or “If you don’t listen to me, you will end up begging on the street.” I can say with confidence that nearly all children in Asian households have had these verbal threats hurled at them more than once over the course of their lives.

Most Asian children grow up having to fight against many Uncle Rogers, but they don’t complain because they accept that it’s part of growing up. They also understand that they will have to deal with criticism from within the family on a regular basis, and that people in the real world may be just as critical.

I had many Uncle Rogers in my childhood and despite having to swallow some of the mean comments from them, I knew they meant well, or at least that’s the way I perceived it.

Nigel Ng performing live.

Uncle Roger might appear insensitive and harsh but Asian children are often brought up to believe that “good advice jars the ear”, and with that principle embedded in our minds, there is no Uncle Roger we can’t stomach.

Uncle Roger is certainly an acquired taste and if you can accept him or your own version of Uncle Roger or Auntie Jenny in your life, then maybe you can remain receptive to their advice and the occasional reality check from them.

Luisa Tam is a Post correspondent who also hosts Cantonese-language video tutorials that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Why Asians love grumpy YouTube star Uncle Roger