May 24, 2024

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Jocelyn Chia: Comedian in New York jokes about Malaysia, sparks backlash diplomatic backlash

Hong Kong

A comedian in New York who joked about the safety of Malaysian planes in an apparent reference to the disappearance of flight MH370 has sparked a heated backlash in Malaysia and Singapore.

Controversy over the joke by lawyer-turned comedian Jocelyn Chia at Manhattan’s Comedy Cellar erupted soon after a short clip of her stand-up performance was posted online earlier this week.

Chia’s bit had centered on the uneasy past between Singapore and Malaysia, which were once part of the same country. She led off with a suggestion that since the two had separated in 1965, Singapore had risen to become a first-world country while Malaysia had allegedly remained a “developing” one.

She then went on to take aim at Malaysian airplanes by suggesting they “can’t fly,” before making what many have taken as a reference to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Beijing-bound flight which went missing along with 239 passengers and crew after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014.

What happened to the flight has never been conclusively established, though pieces of debris suspected of belonging to it have occasionally been discovered.

“What? Malaysia Airlines going missing not funny, huh?” she quipped to laughter, before delivering her punchline: “Some jokes don’t land.”

Police carry debris from an unidentified aircraft found in the coastal area of Saint-Andre de la Reunion, in the east of the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, on July 29, 2015. An air safety expert did not exclude it could be a part of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The joke has caused a wave of controversy in both Malaysia and Singapore. In Malaysia, the youth wing of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) – one of the biggest political parties in the country – marched to the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur on Friday to protest what they see as an insult.

About 100 protesters and representatives handed a memorandum to the US diplomatic outpost, according to the youth group’s chief Dr Muhamad Akmal Saleh.

“This is something that is unacceptable for the whole nation and we are here,” he said, adding, “freedom of speech must come with sensitivity.”

Singapore meanwhile has distanced itself from Chia, who according to her website is originally from the Asian city state, and apologized to Malaysia.

“The Singapore government does not condone words or actions that cause harm or hurt to others and Chia,” said Vanu Gopala Menon, Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia in a statement online. “(Chia) does not in any way reflect our views,” he added.

Menon said Chia’s joke contained “gratuitously offensive comments,” adding, “I sincerely apologize to all Malaysians for her hurtful remarks.”

In a tweet, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Chia “certainly does not speak for Singaporeans” and he was “appalled by her horrendous statements.”

“We treasure our ties with family and friends in Malaysia, and are sorry for the offense and hurt caused to all Malaysians,” he added.

His Malaysian counterpart, Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, accused the comedian of lacking sensitivity and empathy toward Malaysians and the families of the victims.

“This video also clearly depicts behavior that is contrary to the values of an Asian country that is known for its manners and morals,” he said, according to state-run news agency Bernama.

CNN has reached out to Jocelyn Chia, her agent and the Comedy Cellar for comment.

As of Sunday, Chia’s Facebook and Instagram accounts were no longer available to view.