'All I wanted to be was a good character actor': Ken Jeong on his unexpected path from doctor to comedian

Ken Jeong joins Tom Power in front of a live audience for a special interview as part of JFL42.

Originally published on October 2, 2018

Many actors and comedians juggle day jobs while they go on auditions, but when Ken Jeong was starting out, his day job was a bit different from that of his peers. "I was practising internal medicine in L.A. for seven years and during that time I was also doing stand up comedy at night and I didn't think there was anything weird about it," he tells Tom Power. 

For years, Jeong was a doctor by day, and actor-comedian by night. In that time he appeared in The Office, Two and A Half Men and Entourage. When he booked a role in Judd Apatow's film Knocked Up in 2007, he finally quit his day job.

Knocked Up was the film that made Jeong take the leap into acting as a career, but it wasn't until he appeared in The Hangover as Mr.Chow that it occurred to him that he could be more than a character actor. 

Ken Jeong and host Tom Power on stage for JFL42 in Toronto, Ont. (Elaine Chau/CBC)

"If you look at my work prior to then, I was kind of known to be more like the subtle character actor who wasn't famous. I thought I was older and I felt like I had that character look and I just wanted to be a character. I had no desire to be lead in anything," he says. 

Jeong's role in The Hangover opened up all kinds of doors for him, and eventually lead him to be a main character on the show Community for six years, and to his own series called Dr.Ken. This year, he appeared in the highest grossing romantic comedy in over a decade, Crazy Rich Asians, a film he sees as more than just another role. 

"You know, this is the first movie I've done that is really a hit where I'm so happy for the movement as opposed to the movie," he says." John Chu, the director, said 'this is not a movie it's a movement' and we were all drinking that Kool-aid while we're filming it."

When Jeong looks back on his career, from doctor to character actor to now appearing in one of the biggest films of the year, he doesn't resent the long hours and hard work that got him here. "I mean I already lived a lifetime as a doctor, so I really do feel the rest of my career, really the rest of my life, quite frankly is just a bonus."

— Produced by Elaine Chau

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