If you haven’t already heard of Uncle Roger, now is the time to ‘virtually’ meet him. This Malaysian comedian has been slowly creeping up to his now viral stardom in recent months by posting videos on YouTube where he reviews the rest of the world’s apparently appalling techniques at cooking rice. We dug a little deeper to find out who this Youtuber really is, behind the persona of Uncle Roger.
Uncle Roger’s real name is Nigel Ng, he’s 29 years old and wasn’t always set out to be on the centre stage of comedy. When he moved to the US to study engineering at Northwestern University in Illinois, he began doing stand-up comedy as a hobby and went on to perform in Chicago. After this, he relocated to London to work as a data scientist, which gradually took a seat on the backburner of his life. By 2019, comedy became his full-time job.
Ng started to perform on television and was nominated for the Best Newcomer Award at one of the world’s largest arts festivals, Edinburgh Fringe. This led him to produce content for YouTube and Instagram. In an interview with the South China Morning Post (SCMP) he said that “Uncle Roger came about because I had it as a goal this year  to come up with a character for my social media content. After some improvising and workshopping on the Rice To Meet You Podcast, Uncle Roger was born.”
As he was based in the UK, it came as a surprise to audiences that such contrasting cultures would resonate with what he had to joke about at all. Ng continued “My humour uses Asian culture as subject material, but my experience on the standup circuit in the US and UK has helped me gain the skills of making my comedy accessible to everyone.”
At first, Uncle Roger’s content on his social media platforms consisted of meme-like videos, 40-second clips on TikTok and Instagram, which were slowly gaining traction. For his ‘signature look’, Ng did his research asking his friends to send him pictures of their dads, which inspired his outfit of knee-length shorts, a cell phone holster belt and a bright orange polo shirt.
After his character of an old Chinese ‘ah pek’ (a local term of address for an elderly Chinese gentleman above his 50s, which literally translates as “Uncle”) had firmly established itself within the branding of his online persona, Ng decided to do a reaction video to ‘a lesson on egg fried rice’ that was published on an already heavily streamed channel, BBC Food. The comedian titled it as ‘Uncle Roger DISGUSTED by this Egg Fried Rice Video (BBC Food)’.
In the video, Uncle Roger shows an exaggerated disapproval towards the instructions from the BBC Food clip, and mocks the cook, Hersha Patel, saying things like “You killing me woman! She’s draining rice with colander!”
He told SCMP that “As it started picking up steam, I did get a bit nervous. I hoped she wasn’t under a lot of attack. Ultimately, the video is just comedy, but you know how the internet is. People get angry really easily.” Thankfully, Patel herself found the video hilarious and went on to reach out to Ng, and the two ended up collaborating. They posted a follow-up video a month after the first one, called ‘Uncle Roger Meet Egg Fried Rice Lady’, which has since gained 7.4 million views.
After world renowned chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver committed a multitude of cardinal egg fried rice sins, Uncle Roger aimed for his next target. One of the same calibre, of course: Gordon Ramsay. But “British chefs let Uncle Roger down so many time now. They mess up egg fried rice, so simple dish,” Uncle Roger proclaimed in one of his videos.
However, as the expected video started to unravel and much to everyone’s eager surprise, Ramsay started to do things right. “Okay, okay. First step correct, first step correct,” says Uncle Roger, nodding his head in approval.
Uncle Roger scouts the cooking location, and comments in its likeness to a deserted island by referring to the movie Castaway, but for egg fried rice. This results in Uncle Roger’s praises towards Ramsay for cooking outside, making the connection with how Asians have two kitchens, a wet one (outdoors) and a dry one (indoors). “If you go visit some Asian people house, and they only make food for you with inside kitchen, they don’t like you,” says Uncle Roger. “Go away, they want you to fuck off.” OK, duly noted.
What really seemed to shine through was the fact Ramsay used a wok to fry his rice. “Oh my God. Even Uncle Roger at home, I only have one wok. Uncle Roger faithful to my one wok,” proclaims the critic, “But Gordon Ramsay is wok fuccboi.” Let that sink in for a bit. All in all, Ramsay gets all of our bravados, for doing something right.
Since his first collaboration with Patel, Ng has continued to post a couple more collaborations with other Asian Youtubers, which clearly shows his intention to steadily grow his online brand. He explained that “I don’t really think in terms of ‘making it’. It’s more like if I can do the thing I love doing, which is being funny, and live a decent life while doing it, then I’m happy.”
Ng now has his own small team that helps him to edit and produce his weekly YouTube reaction videos, and shared with Variety that he actually missed being on stage doing stand-up. He hopes to take Uncle Roger on the road one day and is also angling towards a big screen role, he said “I’ll be a janitor in Crazy Rich Asians 2. Let’s do that.”
As for the happiness goal he mentioned earlier? Well, “Have you seen a happy Asian uncle? An Asian parent who’s happy? I think he’ll forever be this complain-y type,” he jokes before adding that what makes him happy will probably make Uncle Roger happy too. “So, good food. Karaoke, which is what I’m doing after this [interview], by the way. Friends, family, doing the things I like doing, being proud of my work—that actually drives me. So, hopefully, that will drive Uncle Roger, too, because I figured, he’s an extension of me.”
The food industry has been undergoing monumental changes in the past few decades—new technologies were implemented, even into the way we cook, produce and buy food. Climate change pushed more and more people to watch out for how much meat they consume, which then made becoming a vegetarian or vegan extremely trendy. This created a growing need for plant-based ‘meats’ and non-dairy products.
Along with these shifts, a new term appeared in the culinary world: ‘digital food’. It’s here, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to vanish anytime soon, so you better get used to it. But what exactly is digital food, and what changes will it inspire in the ever-changing industry that is the food sector?
First of all, let’s start by clarifying something: digital food and new technologies being used in the daily operations of food companies are two different things. New technologies meant that manufacturing processes were upgraded and started producing more food at a faster pace. But digital food is something else entirely. With social media came the recent boom in online food-based media, which completely changed the way we look at food online and seek out new recipes, restaurants and reviews.
We began craving new flavours from different countries, but it went even further than that. From sharing images of food on Instagram to augmented reality (AR) filters that shape our faces into a peach or a tomato or any food you can think of, it seems that the term ‘digital food’ still has many meanings and, therefore, that there is no general consensus on its definition. Why is it not clearer? Because digital food is so recent that it is still in constant change. In other words, digital food is the future but no one can tell what the future holds.
Forget about the Instagram face, the new trend involves face filters that either allow you to look like your favourite food or make photo-realistic 3D food models appear on your camera. Not only can you look like your favourite kind of bubble tea, but you can also help reduce food waste by playing with food digitally. Because, let’s be honest, who hasn’t tried the Greggs face filter that lets you know which Greggs product you are?
Screen Shot spoke to Clay Weishaar, also known as @wrld.space on Instagram, the AR artist specialising in food filters, about our new obsession with food, especially on social media, and why his designs mainly focus on digital food, “Food culture has always been a big subject on Instagram. So has fashion. This has really inspired me to explore the idea of food as fashion. I loved the idea of people wearing their favourite food. With augmented reality technology we have the ability to do this.”
This can explain the kind of feedback that his Instagram filters received: “I am a huge foodie myself. Combining food, fashion and technology was a sweet spot for me. I think the reason my filters have almost 2 billion impressions is that food is something people identify with. It’s a universal subject, and it is what brings people and cultures together.”
Some big food chains have already seen the potential in digital food. For example, Domino’s created a Snapchat filter that would let users see an AR pizza and offer them the possibility of ordering the pizza online, straight from their Snapchat app. Using AR, brands could show us exactly what a specific meal would look like, making it easier for potential customers to make up their minds on what they’d like to order.
Five years ago, people were writing about food online to complain about the trend of people sharing pictures of their meals on Instagram. Now, people are looking, liking and sharing pictures of fake food—digital food.
Among the few who can already see the potential of digital food is Jessica Herrington, who created the Instagram account Fresh Hot Delicious, a completely digital restaurant specialising in digital desserts. She described the concept in OneZero, saying, “Each dessert exists as a freely available AR filter on Instagram. To simulate a real-world restaurant, the desserts ‘sell out’ when the AR filters reach a specific number of views. Users can play with the desserts for free until they are ‘sold out’ and become deactivated. In this way, the digital restaurant gives a life span to previously permanent digital objects.”
Experiencing digital food through AR is an accessible and innovative alternative to engage with an audience. Food brands are trying to sell more than a product—they need to sell an experience, and digital food could help them build a connection with potential customers. The future of the food sector is digital, and we’ve only witnessed a few of the many ways we will consume digital food. As unusual it may seem to many for now, digital food will offer us a new approach to traditional eating experiences, and I don’t know about you, but all this made me hungry.