Singapore apologises for comedian Jocelyn Chia’s insensitive comments at Comedy Cellar club in New York about Malaysia

Jocelyn Chia (left) and Singapore's Foreign Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan (right).

8th June 2023 – (Singapore) Singapore’s Foreign Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, has apologised to all Malaysians for the offence and hurt caused by comedian Jocelyn Chia’s comments. During a stand-up routine at the Comedy Cellar club in New York, Chia made jokes about Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia, including referencing Malaysia’s missing MH370 flight. Balakrishnan stated that Chia’s comments were “horrendous” and that she “certainly does not speak for Singaporeans”. Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia, Vanu Gopala Menon, also apologised to all Malaysians for Chia’s “hurtful remarks”. Chia is described on her website as a “lawyer turned comedian originally from Singapore” and has performed regularly in New York City.

Chia’s routine began by joking about Malaysia still being a developing country, 40 years after Singapore was “dumped” by Malaysia in 1965. She later crudely referenced the missing MH370 flight in a joke about Malaysia seeking to re-establish ties with Singapore, saying “I tried, but you know, our airplanes can’t fly”, drawing gasps from the audience. While some members of the audience may have found the joke amusing, it was met with severe criticism online. Mohd Hazrin Mohamed Hasnan’s wife, Intan Maizura Othaman, left scathing comments, calling Chia an “incompetent lawyer turned unfunny comedian”. Another user, asyahrazak, described Chia’s attitude as “like garbage” and “not funny at all”.

Malaysian comedian Harith Iskander, who has performed in Singapore, also commented on the situation, stating that while comedians should be free to express themselves, “it is equally important to exercise some level of sensitivity and empathy when doing certain material that is deeply personal or tragic”. He added that “comedy can be a powerful tool for social commentary but it has to be used responsibly”. Iskander also praised the kindness and thoughtfulness of Malaysians, stating that “when it comes to kindness and thoughtfulness, we are definitely first world”.

The comments made by Chia have caused offence and hurt to many Malaysians, particularly those affected by the tragedy of MH370. The apologies issued by Singapore’s Foreign Minister and High Commissioner to Malaysia demonstrate Singapore’s commitment to maintaining good relations with its neighbours, and to promoting sensitivity and respect towards others. While comedians should be free to express themselves, they should also exercise empathy and responsibility in their material, particularly when dealing with topics that are deeply personal or tragic.