It’s safe to say that Ken Jeong possesses something most other actors don’t: a medical degree. After being accepted into both pre-med and drama undergrad programs at Duke U., Jeong was forced to make a difficult decision: Should he earn a living keeping people healthy or making them laugh? The former option won, albeit temporarily.
“I still had the bug to perform,” he explains. “So I pursued it, mostly as a hobby and definitely without any professional aspirations.”
But his “hobby” took an interesting turn in 1995 when he won the Big Easy Laff-Off. His performance grabbed the attention of the event’s judges — NBC’s then-president Brandon Tartikoff and Improv founder Budd Friedman — both of whom encouraged Jeong to leave North Carolina for Hollywood.
Once in Tinseltown, Jeong found himself living a double life: He diagnosed people’s ailments by day and cured their boredom at night with a mix of “goofy Asian stuff” and hip-hop humor (as half of the Million Dollar Strong duo, whose “What’s It Gonna Be” rap video was a YouTube hit in 2006.)
His Dr. Ken/Mr. Jeong dual identity continued until 2007 when Judd Apatow tapped him to play an M.D. in “Knocked Up.” It was a role that proved to be a career changer. “I was still working my day job then,” he recalls. “I took a vacation week off to film, and I would have been very happy to then just go back.”
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, his brief cameo was noticed by other comedy directors looking for quirky character actors, landing him cameos in such films as “Step Brothers,” “Pineapple Express” and “Role Models.”
This summer gave Jeong more bigscreen exposure than he bargained for as Mr. Chow, the slightly effeminate, easily irritable (and stark naked) Asian gangster in “The Hangover.” Going forward, between Todd Phillips’ plans to produce a Million Dollar Strong movie and Jeong’s roles in “Funny People,” “The Goods,” “All About Steve,” “How to Make Love to a Woman” and “Couples Retreat,” auds will be seeing a lot more of the good doctor.
Doing full-frontal nudity in “The Hangover” didn’t come naturally to Jeong, and that’s exactly why he agreed to do it.
“I’m actually, for obvious reasons, very shy about my body,” he admits, “but I thought to myself, ‘What’s the one thing people would never expect me to do, both in life and onscreen?’ It’s like that episode of ‘Seinfeld’ where George Costanza realizes that if you go against your instincts and do the opposite of what you’d usually do, you’ll be successful.”