You know him as the mob boss Mr. Chow from The Hangover film trilogy, and as surly Señor Ben Chang from the sitcom Community. But Ken Jeong's impressive résumé doesn't start and stop in Hollywood.
He was a practicing physician of internal medicine who did stand-up comedy as "a cool hobby" for years before he landed his first big break in 2007 playing Dr. Kuni in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up. Jeong's midcareer rising star didn't come without some dark downturns, though: Two years after filming Knocked Up, his wife Tran, also a doctor, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple had twin daughters, Alexa and Zooey, who were then just a year old.
Today, the comic actor, 46, prepares to launch his own sitcom, Dr. Ken, which premieres Oct. 2 on ABC. He tells us about family, getting through his wife's cancer scare as a team, the joys of fatherhood, and keeping his sense of humor intact through it all.
In your new show, you play a brilliant physician with no bedside manner. Are you mining personal anecdotes for Dr. Ken?
Yes, absolutely -- experiences of mine, my friends, and my colleagues. But I don't derive funny things from a patient encounter. It's less about medical moments, as opposed to workplace dynamics. People are funny, not the diseases and syndromes.
Did your family encourage you to quit your medical career?
When I decided to leave [my practice], my father supported me the most. He knew I liked to perform. He asked, "What does Tran think? Tran is your family. If you have her support, you have my unconditional support." Such a wise and loving act from a father. To this day he's my biggest fan. Tran said to me, "I think you're ready for the big leagues." She encouraged me the most.
And then she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was the worst time of my life. I'd quit my job, my wife had cancer, and we had twin girls. I thought, "What did I do?" The timing of it -- it was a blessing in disguise. I wasn't working. I had a lot of time on my hands to drive Tran for her chemotherapy and to take care of the kids. We had supportive parents and in-laws who helped. Tran is still cancer-free after 7 years. Everything else? It's gravy. We've been through a lot. We feel very blessed.
Do you have any advice for couples going through something similar?
I'm very sensitive to the fact that every family, every couple, is different. I give Tran all the credit. She is as composed and strong a person as I've ever seen in my life -- the perfect patient. Her bravery and calmness set the tone for all of us. I could put on my doctor hat, too, and see if she responded to her markers, if they increased after her first dose of chemo, and they did. We had good signs from the start. And it's still not over. She still sees her oncologist at intervals. You take things day by day.
Your daughters are 8 years old now. How's fatherhood?
The best thing is being a father and getting to hang with your kids. They're at a good age. They're daddy's girls! Talk to me in 5 years -- I'll see what answer I give you then! But it's a joy.
How does your medical background play out when it comes to childhood illnesses?
I fuss too much. Tran is mellow. She's the family-medicine doctor. She can suss out what to worry about and what not to. I defer to her. I get stressed, and she's like, "Just relax, it's a viral thing."
Is laughter truly the best medicine?
Having a good sense of humor is important to life. Live, love, and laugh is both Tran's and my philosophy. I don't have to do a lot of fart jokes for the rest of my life ... but sense of humor is key!
Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine."