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Ken Jeong Says He’ll Never Leave ‘Community,’ No Matter What

Aside from playing the crazy Señor Chang, Ken Jeong is known for being, as he calls it, a “lifer” on “Community,” sticking with the show from its beginning to its current state, in season six on Yahoo Screen. Jeong spoke to Variety about dealing with the show’s cancellation on NBC, cast changes and why he’ll never leave the cult favorite.

You’re six seasons in. Are you still enjoying it?
This has honestly been my favorite season out of all them because there’s a new lease on life. There’s a new freshness to it. We still have most importantly Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna and all the great writers from last year. Table reads are my favorite part of this whole experience for me. We get to read the scripts for the first time. It’s fun going to a Dan Harmon table read, to discover the words for the first time. The quality is still so sharp, after six seasons, after over 100 episodes. I’m just in awe of how Dan and the whole writing staff work. I’ve never been part of anything so consistently brilliant.

Does it feel different on Yahoo?
It doesn’t feel like because we’re on Yahoo now, I can do “Hangover” stuff and be nude. But we don’t have the same constraints. I’m not privy to any notes, but for me it feels like the respect of the vision of the show appears to be stronger than ever. I can’t say enough great things about Yahoo and (chief marketing officer) Kathy Savitt. She deserves all the credit for giving us more love than we have ever had, ever.

How did you feel when the show was cancelled?
I was devastated. Not being able to be with your friends — that was the first thing that came to my mind. Words can’t express my love for everybody. When you’re working with your friends it doesn’t feel like it’s work. Of course in TV all things end, but I felt the show had gotten better last year. There were more quality stories to tell, and I’ve been proved right. We still have a lot more to offer. I’ve already had several moments this season personally for my character that are my favorite of the series.

And when you were picked up?
I was ecstatic. I didn’t think it could be a possibility. You hear all the time, of course, the studio will shop it around. But as time went by, I assumed they’re passing. For us to come back is another miracle.

The show is full of miracles. I feel like we’re bucking the rules of television just by existing. I feel like we’re defying the rules of conventional TV. Any TV expert or agent or manager, no one would have predicted this. We’re a complete anomaly. It’s inspiring to me because nothing ever feels phoned in on this show, from the writing to the performances, as well as to our props department and our set decorator. I don’t think they get enough credit.

Have you ever been asked to do something that you felt was too outrageous?
You’re talking to the guy from “The Hangover,” so that pretty much answers that question. It’s been an amazing ride of how the Chang character still stays fresh to me as an actor. That’s what I love the most.

It’s always exciting. You never know what’s going to happen. It’s exactly what I feel I’m about as a comedian. It’s rare for a TV show to do that, the amount of care they give to the lines of dialogue to all the characters.

Do you always get all the jokes?

At the table read, there was a point where I whispered to someone, “What does that mean?” and I missed my beat. A lot of people in comedy don’t give up their egos to ask what does this joke mean. There’s a lot of ego involved where you don’t want to look dumb. I have no problem as does every one in the cast asking, “Where are you trying to land with this joke?” and admitting I’m sorry I’ve been saying it wrong. Some of us are Oscar winners. Some of us are Emmy winners. Some of us are movie stars. But we all let go of our egos and have a good time. We all grew up together. You can only develop this level of trust and camaraderie after being together for six years through the highs and lows. We’ve survived so much.

How do you feel about the cast changes?
There’s always a character vacuum, absolutely. I definitely have missed them all. At the same time you’re also happy for them because they’re doing what makes them happy. Keith David and Paget Brewster have fit in like a glove from day one. There are some lines he says, he just has that gravitas. And Paget shot something yesterday that has been one of the funniest things I’ve seen all season.

Will you stay with the show?
I’ll never leave “Community,” no matter what. You’re either a lifer or you’re not. I’ve just learned so much. If we come back, I’ve got so much to learn. This show has been a huge influence on me and what I’ve done in my other projects. On set on the second “Hangover” movie, Todd Phillips looked at me and said, “I don’t know what happened between the first two ‘Hangover’ movies, but you’ve just gotten better. You were kind of a newbie and you’re a pro now.” I’ve had no formal training in acting. This has been my school.

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