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Ken Jeong: Doctor By Day, Comedian By Night


We're collecting stories of triumph, big and small - moments when people make great leaps forward in their careers. We call it My Big Break. Here's one from back in April. Before actor and comedian Ken Jeong played Senor Chang in "Community" and the bad guy Mr. Chow in "The Hangover," he was known by his patients as Dr. Jeong.


KEN JEONG: Internal medicine was my specialty - basically general practice with an emphasis on adult medicine. During the day, I was a doctor. At night, you know, I was a comic. And it was really just to let off some steam. It just became my golf, you know, in many ways. Most doctors have golf as a hobby. Mine was doing comedy.


JEONG: I never let on I was a comedian. 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. Once I started to appear on television, one of my first appearances was on BET ComicView.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Give it up for Dr. Ken, y'all.

JEONG: I would just go to wherever they were filming in LA and just - they would just record my set. And it was my kind of introduction to television.


JEONG: I got a day job, just you guys, all right? I'm a doctor. I'm a medical doctor. We've got a talk different at work, right? Hi, I'm Dr. Jeong. I'll be your primary care provider.

One of my patients did see me. She was an elderly lady - elderly white lady in her late 70s. And she said, by the way, me and my husband loved you on BET Comic View. And that kind of blew my mind.


JEONG: Just 'cause I'm a doctor don't mean I'm not a player. Hey.

My first big break was getting the part of Dr. Kuni in "Knocked Up," which was written and directed by Judd Apatow. He was looking for an Asian actor with medical experience.


JEONG: (As Dr. Kuni) Hello, Allison, Ben - interesting night.

SETH ROGEN: (As Ben Stone) We really, really appreciate you coming, man.

JEONG: (As Dr. Kuni) Well, what do I have to do - I mean, besides sleep? Totally kidding.

JEONG: That coincided with me leaving medicine. It was kind of time to - time to go. It was really my wife, who's also a physician. And to her everlasting credit, she said, you know, it's time to pursue this full-time.

The second part of my big break was "The Hangover." I mean, that changed my life overnight. It changed everything for me, in terms of my career. And none of us knew that it would be, like, the biggest R-rated, you know, comedy franchise of all time. You know, I remember telling my wife, filming that, I think I made the funniest movie ever. I just hope people see it.


JEONG: (As Mr. Chow) I want my purse back.

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: (As Alan Garner) This isn't a purse. It's a satchel.

JEONG: (As Mr. Chow) It's a purse, 'K? And you steal from wrong guy.

BRADLEY COOPER: (As Phil Wenneck) Wait a second.

JEONG: You know, I always say "Knocked Up" opened the doors, and "Hangover" just burst it wide open. To this day, it's still surreal. And my wife's a doctor. All our friends are doctors - our close friends. And it's just that I have an odd job now. I think I'm like a doctor who had a detour, and I just have an odd job. (Laughter).

RATH: Actor and comedian Ken Jeong. He'll soon put his medical practice back into practice. ABC recently green-lighted a pilot he'll star in called "Dr. Ken." You don't have to be a doctor-turned-actor to have a big break. Send us your story - mybigbreak@npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.