From The Straits Times    |

If you’ve seen Tiktok clips of Chiou Huey boldly serenading mega popstar Jackson Wang in front of a crowd, or photos of her looking glammed up at red carpet events, you may be surprised to learn that the Singapore comedian once thought she was too ugly to become a performer.

“I used to look down on the floor all the time when I was in primary school, because I was so ashamed of how I looked,” says Chiou Huey. “When I was in secondary school, I prayed to God, saying, ‘Can you make me funny so that I will have friends?’”

One nickname still lingers in her memory: Beethoven. Seeing the baffled look on my face, she explains: “Beethoven in Chinese is bei duo fen (back more points). It means you get more points when people see you from the back.”

Chiou Huey grew to enjoy lighting up a room with her humour and dreamt of becoming an actor, but the years of relentless assault on her self-esteem held her back (“I just felt I wasn’t skinny or pretty enough”).

It was only at age 25, when her mother passed away from illness, that Chiou Huey realised life was too short to not give her dreams a go. She sprang into action, taking up a two-month acting course at the Singapore Media Academy, and freelancing as an actor with Mediacorp for about a year, before she realised that social media was the way to go if she wanted to make her mark on the entertainment world. She created a Youtube channel, Chiou Simi (which has since been replaced by her current channel, @ChiouhueyEe), and began creating and sharing her own comedy content.

“The traditional media industry was like a hierarchy… I felt people might not want to give me chances [because I wasn’t a certain type],” says Chiou Huey. “But because of social media, I was able to showcase my abilities and my talents… [I thought] if people could see that about me, [they might think], ‘Ok, we can give her a chance’.”

A viral breakthrough

Crushed velvet mini dress, Cos

In 2017, that chance arrived. A video she created did well enough to catch the attention of comedy platform SGAG, known for its viral memes. She was offered a job to create content for them, and for three years, she not only starred in SGAG videos, but also learnt to wear multiple hats by scripting, directing and editing videos.

Comedy went from being Chiou Huey’s armour against bullies to her calling card for bigger things: In 2020, she decided to take a break and left SGAG, but within a year, she was signed as an artiste with King Kong Media Production, the entertainment company started by comedian Mark Lee, known for his roles in hit Chinese-language films such as Money No Enough and I Not Stupid.

Since then, Chiou Huey has appeared in Mediacorp drama Soul Doctor (2022), and co-hosted The Free Money Show (2023) with fellow actor-comedian Das DD. Her social media platforms have also continued to flourish: Her followers on Instagram (114,000) and Tiktok (97,800) regularly enjoy sketches of Chiou Huey portraying multiple personas with comedic ease, such as a Starbucks barista mispronouncing names, or a flock of annoying passengers giving a flight attendant a hard time.

Now 34, her hard-won path from comedian to multi-hyphenate reflects her “take charge” personality, and she credits her father for her penchant for “not waiting around for things to happen”. “He’s very traditional and very Asian, so he doesn’t express what he wants or doesn’t express himself very well, but he’s an ‘actions over words’ kind of person. And that’s also my love language.”

Neither does she settle for being pigeon- holed into any one category. “I like to try different things, and that’s how you keep the creativity going, by venturing out,” she says. “I create different types of content that show people what I’m capable of, whether it’s satire, comedy, or short films, like heart- warming stuff.”

Someday, she adds, she would like to direct films or a series, citing as inspiration American social media personality Jimmy Darts, who became a star by carrying out random acts of kindness and capturing people’s reactions. “I have an interest in how humans behave, and it’s very fascinating to me. So I’d like to make a series on [this topic],” says Chiou Huey.

Calling the shots

Knit maxi dress, H&M

Her rise to fame has not been without its dark side; she still attracts occasional negative comments about her appearance, but Chiou Huey says she will never apologise for her looks again, as she once did.

Playing “unglam” characters helped her realise it “wasn’t so bad” to appear “ugly” in videos, and her followers have also stood up for her when people made unkind comments about her looks. But it was therapy that marked a turning point, by helping her unlock her ability to love and accept herself.

“I’ve realised that other people can only love you as much as you love yourself,” says Chiou Huey, who turned to therapy to help her process the grief and unresolved feelings from losing her mother. “Something I learnt in therapy was to never say bad things about yourself [when you look into the mirror], because your brain registers that… your brain becomes conditioned to think that’s the truth. And that’s how I stopped saying negative things about myself.”

In the past, she would “self-sabotage”. “I would get very stressed and very nervous whenever my videos went viral. I was afraid of the backlash and I would hide,” reveals Chiou Huey. “My husband would tell me my content had gone viral and I should do more, [make use of ] the algorithm, get more eyeballs… but I didn’t want to.” But over time, as she worked on herself, she became more comfortable with creating content without worrying about how it was received. “If people are sick of my content, they can drop off,” says Chiou Huey. “After I changed my mindset, I started to grow in numbers on my Instagram.”

ON FARAH: Gabardine cotton- lined blazer, Longchamp. Wide-legged trousers, Cos ON CHIOU HUEY: Cotton cropped hoodie sweatshirt and high-waisted denim jeans, Longchamp ON NICOLE: Cropped jacket, Longchamp. Recycled nylon wide-legged pants, PH5 at SocietyA

The journey, she stresses, is not a linear one, and she has her ups and downs, but she feels she is on the right track. “This year I’m continuing to work on loving myself, working on my self worth and self doubt… I know that this is how I can manifest more things for myself. With self-confidence, I can work and hustle, put in the hours, and anything is possible for me.”

Someday, she would like to run her own business, citing her boss Mark Lee and actor-comedian-businesswoman Irene Ang as inspiration. “I admire people who are forward- thinking, people who get there before the crowd… they see the potential in things even before people realise it is something they need. And they’re like, ‘If I want to do it, I will do it, I will pull the investors in, I will get the right team.’ They are confident risk-takers.”

She has no doubt that naysayers will remain part and parcel of being a public persona, which is why she believes in the importance of surrounding herself with the right people whom she can trust, such as her husband and friends. And of course, she can count on her hard-won self-confidence to ground her convictions.

“Don’t apologise for taking up space in this world, and don’t apologise for being yourself,” she declares. “Seek love from yourself first, then you can love others, and accept other people’s love for you too.”

PHOTOGRAPHY JOEL LOW
CREATIVE DIRECTION & STYLING LENA KAMARUDIN
ART DIRECTION RAY TICSAY
STYLING ASSISTANTS JEON JAE WON & SAW YONE YONE
COORDINATION CHERYL LAI-LIM
HAIR GREGO, USING KEUNE HAIR COSMETICS
MAKEUP LASALLE LEE & RINA SIM, USING DIOR BEAUTY
COVER IMAGE OUTFITS LONGCHAMP

Her World’s March 2024 cover features three new-gen comedians making Singapore laugh: Farah Lola, Nicole Liel, and Chiou Huey.