As fallback plans go, comedian Ken Jeong is set up better than most.
Before he was a ubiquitous film and TV comedy presence, starting two years ago as the jerk delivery-room doc in Judd Apatow’s ‘Knocked Up’ and leading up to his current regular role as the wacky, multi-cultural Spanish teacher Senor Chang in NBC’s new Thursday comedy ‘Community,’ Jeong was a Duke University med school-trained general practitioner.
In fact, the 40-year-old son of Korean immigrants, and husband to a wife who still practices medicine, Jeong still keeps up his accreditations.
However, with ‘Community’ just re-upped by NBC for the entire season, and roles in no less than half-a-dozen upcoming features, it doesn’t appear that Jeong will be putting the scrubs back on anytime soon.
Fancast recently caught up with this busy multi-talent.
So how does one go from doing a residency at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans to doing Apatow movies and NBC comedies?
I was working as a physician and just doing standup on the side – it was really just a hobby. I had done theater in college before I went to medical school, but it was really like my golf to do standup. I’d do it once a month when there’d be an open mic night. Then, one night Bud Friedman, who founded the Improv Comedy Club here in L.A., saw my act and flew me out to L.A. I ended up getting a spot on a Comedy I never expected it to be full time like this.
So what kind of doctor were you?
I was in internal medicine – general practice.
Do you miss it?
I do miss my patients a lot. My wife is a physician, too, and the majority of my friends are physicians and doctors. There’s definitely things I miss about medicine. But I think of acting as just another chapter in my life, another series of moments. And right now, the priority is acting. I’m still gathering continuing education credits, and I try to keep up my hours by going to medical conferences when I can.
What’s it like to work with Judd Apatow?
He gave me my big break, so I can’t say enough great things about Judd. I auditioned for the (‘Knocked Up’) three years ago. H really brought out a performance in me that was so real; he helped me channel that character. He’s just a master of making real-life situations funny.
You came off so real as Dr. Kuni in ‘Knocked Up.’ Did being a doctor in real life help?
Shooting that scene was probably the greatest day of my acting career. I didn’t know Judd or Seth (Rogen) or any of those guys prior to filming, but once we got on the set, the chemistry and everything just fit together like a glove. We did like 10 minutes of improve with myself and Seth and Katherine Heigl, and we quickly established a relationship – a truly great moment. Judd has this uncanny way of giving all of his characters a weird well-rounded appeal. I look at Dr. Kuni as someone who has had a long day, who’s a little burned out, and who has this chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t chosen to be the attending physician.
‘Community’s’ Senor Chang seems to have a chip on his shoulder, too.
My character is very defensive about being possibly the only Asian at the college teaching Spanish (laughs). He feels like the college is judging him, and that gets in the way of him teaching the class. But I can’t say enough great things about the cast and the crew of this show. I just watched the pilot again for the fifth time.
Who are your biggest influences as a comedian?
I do remember in college watching Letterman all the time. But my list is big – everyone from Richard Pryor to Dave Attell is on it. I really just love comedy.