Former physician Ken Jeong, star of the new ABC comedy Dr. Ken, still has his medical license, and he keeps renewing it, too.
"It's a reminder of where I came from," he explains.
This past fall the onetime general practitioner returned to his roots — or at least pretended to on TV. Dr. Ken is loosely based on the comedian's life, specifically the juggling of his career and family, before his breakout role in The Hangover. But there are no plans for his character to explore acting.
"Oddly enough," he notes, "if we do it too much like my real life, it will detract from the show."
The family sitcom with a medical twist premiered in October and soon settled in as one of primetime's strongest comedies, earning a full-season order.
Performing and medicine have coexisted in Jeong's life since his years at Duke University. "I was set on a career in academics," he recalls. "There was an inkling in my last week of high school that I could ham it up and perform, and that fed my curiosity in college. I took an acting class and loved it, all while I was on the pre-med track."
For seven years he practiced medicine full-time while pursuing stand-up on the side. During his residency in New Orleans, he won a comedy competition judged by the late NBC president Brandon Tartikoff. But he doesn't regret studying medicine.
"Nothing can replace learning on the job," he says. "Hundreds of hours in front of the camera over six years on Community, three Hangover movies and dozens of other credits have prepared me for this moment. They were my acting school and post-graduate work all rolled into one."
With his new star vehicle, Jeong, who is also a co-executive producer, seems to be working on his doctorate. "I'm in the writers' room every day, pitching jokes, proposing stuff and getting shot down." With the help of occasional calls to his wife, Tran Ho — also a doctor — and friends, he also functions as the show's medical expert.
"Doctors have other hobbies, like golf," he ob¬ serves. "Performing happened to be my golf."
With the small distinction that while his fellow docs were shooting 100 at the country club, Jeong was on set shooting the next blockbuster.