42 Unbelievable Facts About Ken Jeong, The Doctor Turned Comedy Star

Christine Tran

Not many Hollywood actors boast a medical degree and several MTV movie awards, but Ken Jeong isn’t like most actors. Best known for his high-strung performances in The Hangover trilogy, Crazy Rich Asians, and Community, Jeong’s path to fame was unconventional, to say the least. So, how did the doctor get here? Call in sick for these 42 wild facts about Ken Jeong.

1. Keeping It Short

The man who would be “Ken Jeong” was actually born “Kendrick Kang-Joh Jeong” to South Korean immigrants in Detroit, Michigan on July 13, 1969, though he grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina.

2. Brains to Match Brawn

As a kid, Jeong didn’t just pursue “nerdy” hobbies—in addition to competing in the Quiz Bowl and playing the violin, he also played high school football and won the State 4A championship. Don’t mess with him, I guess?

3. Gotta Do It Fast

Jeong graduated high school when he was only 16 years old. His extensive extracurricular record won him Greensboro’s Youth of the Month Award.

4. Do Comedians Take House Calls?

Jeong is famously a graduate of the UNC School of Medicine, Class of 1995. He completed his residency in internal medicine in New Orleans…while also doing stand-up comedy in the Big Easy’s entertainment scene.

Ken Jeong FactsWikimedia Commons

5. A Prescription of Laughter

Jeong is still licensed to practice medicine in California. Of course, he has given up practicing (at least off-screen) for his acting career.

6. Exiting the Hospital

While his acting career didn’t take off until the 2000s, Jeong achieved lower-key acclaim in the comedy scene throughout the 1990s. In 1995, he won the Big Easy Laff-Off competition, whose judges included NBC president Brandon Tartikoff and Budd Friedman, the founder of The Improv. Jeong impressed them so much, he was urged to move to LA.

7. Two Stethoscopes, One Heart

Jeong’s wife, Tran Ho, is Vietnamese American. Like Jeong, Ho is also a physician, and she appeared as herself in an episode of Jeong’s sitcom, Dr. Ken.

8. To Ma’am With Love

Jeong dedicated his 2010 MTV Movie Award for “Best WTF Moment” to his wife, Tran Ho. In his speech, he quoted the advice she gave him before he started filming: “life is short…don’t be afraid to take chances.”

9. I Guess Crime Does Pay

In 2010, Jeong was also awarded Best Villain at the MTV Movie Awards, for his role as Mr. Chow.

10. Best Friends for Credits

In 2012, Jeong entered an informal partnership with friend and actor Jamie Foxx. The two agreed to star in films written and produced by the other. Foxx was to star in the Jeong-produced film After Prom, while Jeong was to appear in Foxx’s film All-Star Weekend. As of yet, neither movie has been released—though the latter is currently in post-production.

11. Do Not Resuscitate

After several turns as a TV and cinematic sidekick, Jeong produced and starred in his own sitcom, Dr. Ken. Perhaps taking notes from his own experiences, the ABC show followed the titular doctor as he juggled professional and family life. Unfortunately, the show was critically panned and flatlined out of existence after two seasons.

12. Quirky Runs in the Family

With his wife, Jeong is the father of twin daughters named Zooey and Alexandra. Growing up, both girls were fans of his NBC show, Community. Naturally, he heavily filtered what they could get from the adult show, only allowing them to watch episodes that he’d pre-approved.

13. I Love It When Something Is Missing

According to Jeong, his daughters’ favorite scenes from Community are the ones which don’t feature their dad. When the girls asked Jeong if this was ok, he assured them that he also “likes the scenes that [he’s] not in the most.”

14. Cutthroat Ambition

Ken Jeong improvised jumping onto Bradley Cooper’s neck in The Hangover.

15. Family Is Consistent

Jeong was pressured to cast a white actress as his on-screen wife in Dr. Ken. He resisted for two reasons. First, he was insistent on casting Albert Tsai to play his on-screen son, Dave. To quote Jeong, “There’s no way I can have a white wife if I get Albert.” Second: “I was not doing it for the cause. I was doing it to reflect my family. It had to be real.”

16. Behind the Scenes, Pulling the Strings

When casting the stalker and girlfriend of his on-screen son in Dr. Ken, Jeong chose his own daughter, Zooey Jeong, for the part. Thanks, dad?

17. The More the Merrier

Although Dr. Ken didn’t survive on the airwaves that long, it was still a historic moment for Asian-Americans on television. In 2015, the series’ premiere marked the first time in US history that two shows with Asian-majority casts would air at the same time. Their partner in representation was Fresh Off the Boat, which also premiered that year.

18. A Doctor of a Different Kind

Jeong credits his father for his sense of humor. Said father, D.K. Jeong, was also a professor at North Carolina A&T State University, so it looks like he’s also where Ken inherited his book smarts.

19. Health Needs Laughter

Before he moved to Los Angeles, Jeong’s medical school counsellor reaffirmed that the comedy and medicine parts of Jeong’s personality were not just inseparable, but necessary to each other: “You will be a great doctor because you are a great comedian, and you will be a great comedian because you are a great doctor.”

20. The Doctor Is out, Forever

Ken Jeong made his feature film debut in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, where he took on the supporting role Dr. Kuni. With this role, he was able to transition fully from medicine to acting, going on to star in films like Pineapple Express, Role Models, and, of course, The Hangover franchise.

Ken Jeong FactsKnocked Up, ‎Apatow Productions

21. Breakout of This Loss

For his role as “Senor” Ben Chang in NBC’s Community, Ken Jeong was nominated for the 2010 Teen Choice Award for “Male Breakout Star.” He lost to Paul Wesley of The Vampire Diaries.

22. Happy Hourly Ever After

Jeong compares meeting his wife to When Harry Met Sally. Jeong and Tran Ho were both doctors and met during a happy hour event specifically for young physicians. The two felt their chemistry immediately and were married in 2004.

23. Take a Working Break

Jeong filmed all of his scenes for Knocked Up during a vacation week. He had not yet fully let medicine go, but he still nursed ambitions to make acting his full-time gig—looks like it paid off!

Ken Jeong FactsKnocked Up, ‎Apatow Productions

24. Born for the Role

When casting the role of Dr. Kuni in Knocked Up, director Judd Apatow was specifically looking for an Asian actor with real-world medical experience. Luckily, Ken Jeong was available to fit that very particular prescription.

Ken Jeong FactsKnocked Up, ‎Apatow Productions

35. Double the Trouble

Jeong’s character in Community has a sadistic backstory that never made it to air. Building off the canon that Senor Chang ate his twin sister in the womb, the “psychotic breaks” his character experiences would have been explained: said devoured double would appear as a ghost who convinced Jeong’s character to act viciously. Not that Jeong couldn’t have pulled it off, given his track record…

26. Shut Your Yap

Not for the first or last time, Jeong has lent his (voice) acting skills to play a doctor in the FOX animated series Bob’s Burgers. He has a recurring role as Dr. Yap, the Belcher’s family dentist who also moonlights in music and pick-up artistry. When does art stop imitating life?

27. Welcome to the Big Leagues

Jeong joined NBA stars like Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose in a 2010 Adidas marketing campaign, where he played “Slim Chin.”

28. This Has Been a Public Service Announcement

Returning to his healthcare roots for a minute, Jeong also starred in a Hands Only CPR PSA campaign for the American Heart Association in 2011.

29. Back to Monkey Business

Ken Jeong has co-starred alongside Crystal the Monkey in two productions. First, both actors were in The Hangover Part II. Later, they both starred in episodes of Community, respectively as Senor Ben Chang and the gracefully-named Annie’s Boobs.

30. I Sense a Type?

At least he’s consistent: Ken Jeong’s first acting role was in 1997 for a bit part in a short-lived show called The Big Easy. Naturally, he played a doctor.

31. Binge Win

For his guest role in Burning Love in 2013, Ken Jeong won Best Guest Appearance at the third annual Streamy Awards, a ceremony dedicated to the cutting-edge world of webseries (which is what we called it in the pre-Netflix age).

32. The Emperor’s New Groove

In early 2019, it was announced that Jeong would reunite with the author of Crazy Rich Asians to star in The Emperor of Malibu, a sitcom about a Chinese billionaire’s son who becomes engaged to an American woman—much to the chagrin of this family, who swoop back in to win him back.

33. Not That Mad About It

Among his many credits, Jeong also held bit roles in various episodes of MADtv. Later, he would reunite with his MADtv co-star Bobby Lee to play accented Asian assassins in Pineapple Express.

Ken Jeong FactsPineapple Express,Apatow Productions

34. Winged Terror

Every man has his weakness. For Jeong, it’s bees and snakes—he is very afraid of them.

35. Just Sing Along

Jeong is a karaoke enthusiast. The actor even moonlighted as an MC at a karaoke bar while he was a medical student.

36. Don’t You Toy With Me

In 2017, Ken Jeong finally joined the DC universe. He voiced the villain Toyman in one of the animated Justice League Action Shorts, where he squared off against Stargirl, Batman, and Cyborg.

37. Undressed Ambition

Ken Jeong’s iconic nudity in The Hangover was not in the script. It was Jeong who suggested to director Todd Phillips that his character, Mr. Chow, emerge from the car naked. Phillips liked the idea, but he did have Jeong sign a nudity waiver just in case the actor decided to change his mind about exposing all for his breakout role.

38. Nude, Too

When something works for you, just do it. It was Jeong’s idea to get naked for the first Hangover movie, and it was also his decision to be naked again for the mid-credits scene in the franchise’s last installment, The Hangover Part III.

39. No Small Parts, Just Small Actors

Before he got naked for The Hangover, Jeong asked for his wife’s blessing to bare all before American audiences. About her husband’s “assets,” Tran Ho declared, “This will be the feel-good movie of the year. Every guy will go home feeling good about himself.”

40. The ER Is No Place for Fun

If you knew Jeong when he was a doctor, you would barely know he was a comedian on his off-time. He made sure of that: “I never acted out. It was really important to me, like, to not be Patch Adams. I was so super serious as a doctor, I would bark orders to my nurses. I was hard-core. I wanted to make sure I did my job right. I was perfectly trained to be a physician. You know, it wasn’t a fluke. I worked hard at it.”

41. Laughter Is the Best Frontline Medicine

Thank goodness for that medical training: in 2018, a Jeong stand-up set was interrupted by what was initially believed to be a heckler…but it turned out to be a woman in medical distress. Jeong quickly turned off “comedian mode” and turned on “doctor mode” to clear the room and attend to the woman until an ambulance could arrive.

42. Love Doesn’t Need Subtitles

Jeong filmed his breakout role in The Hangover at the same time his wife underwent treatment for breast cancer. In what he described as “the weirdest love letter” to his wife, Jeong snuck Vietnamese phrases into his character’s dialogue, thereby immortalizing their inside jokes forever.

Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

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