The Other Dr. J.
Mar 25 2010 11:17AM
Online Exclusive Dr. Ken Jeong
Photos courtesy of NBC
If you ever bust a gut laughing at one of Ken Jeongís performances on film, television or stand up, you can take comfort in the fact that he can help you. Before following his heart into comedy, Jeong earned a medical degree at the University of North Carolina and did his residency in internal medicine in New Orleans. Discovered at a comedy competition in the Big Easy, Jeong subsequently moved to Los Angeles, where heís appeared in films such as Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, All About Steve and The Hangover, where he famously jumped out of a car naked. Jeong has four films due for release in 2010óThe Zookeeper, Despicable Me, Furry Vengeance and How to Make Love to a Womanóand heís wrapping his first season on the TV series Community, where he co-stars with fellow basketball lover Joel McHale.
What inspirations do you find in basketball?
I just got Sacred Hoops on audio CD (Phil Jacksonís 1995 book). I like to listen to audio books in my car as Iím driving to the Community set. I live far away, and sometimes itís an hour commute with rush hour traffic. I love to listen to audio books where the author is narrating it. Itís amazing how basically he dissects basketball into an art form and it becomes something more. He said he wanted to combine both of his passionsóbasketball and some sense of spirituality. Itís fascinating.
I read the book over 10 years ago, but the audio book is a great treat because itís Phil Jackson narrating it. Thereís something about him narrating, especially talking about his philosophies, that really resonate. It took me back to when I was a big fan of the Bulls in the early to mid-90s. It took me back to that era.
Did you grow up loving basketball?
I grew up in North Carolina, so basketball was definitely a part of my every day culture, every day lexicon. I grew up a Carolina fan. Went to Duke undergrad. Became and still am a Duke fan ever since. Iíve moved out since to L.A., pursuing medicine and comedy, but Iíve always maintained a love for North Carolina basketball. Iím not talking about the school, but all the stateís interesting rivalries.
There are amazing rivalries and energies in college basketball in that state.
Itís funny, now that Iím kind of far away from Tobacco Road, Iím a lot more mellow as a Duke fan. As a college hoops fan I find myself appreciating the rivals of Duke, particularly North Carolina. Ironically, when I was in med school at UNC I was definitely a diehard Duke fan. I had a dark blue Mustang with Duke bumper stickers all over it. I was such a vociferous Duke fan. This was 1991-92. It was a good time to be a Duke basketball fan, but the ironic thing was I was at North Carolina going to med school, but we had a real big Duke contingent there.
It can bring a town together. It can also divide a family if they go to different schools.
As Iíve gotten olderóIím 40 nowóIím really grateful to have a school like North Carolina bring out the best in Duke. Duke basketball wouldnít exist at the pinnacle that it is without a rival like North Carolina. Itís like saying having Larry Bird and Magic Johnson at the same time really brought out the best in each of them.
Who impacted the game more, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan?
It seems to me that MJ is the child that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird would have. There are all these elements of both. I think that Jordan had the swagger that Larry Bird had at the height of his career. He had that mental aspect. As Jordan got older, he had that fade-away jumper that no one could reach. Larry Bird was so mentally sharp. He had that unshakeable swagger.
Michael Jordan was a big hero of mine growing up. Still to this day in terms of what heís done on the basketball court, heís had a huge impact for me. I grew up a Carolina fan. I was in eighth grade when Michael Jordan was there. Following his career so closely and being from North Carolina, heís got a rock star quality to him. What I love about Jordan was at North Carolina, it wasnít like he was the second coming at that time. He was an amazing player, but I remember James Worthy being the star at that time. Growing up as a kid when they won the í82 championship, really Worthy was the star. Worthy was the MVP, but Jordan hit that last second shot. No one really knew the impact that Jordan would have in the NBA, except for maybe Jordan himself.
Who would you like to see coaching?
Who I loved as a coach was Larry Bird. He was amazing with the Pacers. He was the guy who to me, of all the superstars in my opinion, he could make that transition to coaching. The few seasons Larry Bird coached I was amazed. This is a guy who changed his role. He was no longer the brash guy talking trash from the sidelines. He took that Phil Jackson cue of being very Zen like.
What sports teams are especially memorable for you?
Certain things really inspire me, like the Detroit Pistons. Even though Iím a Lakers fan, to me, the í04 Detroit Pistons, thatís my most inspiring team in a long time. [Four of the] starting five players (Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace) had been traded at one point in their lives. None of them were superstars. All of them were almost journeyman players, so to speak, and they won the championship in such convincing fashion. They were truly underdogs and I view myself as an underdog in life. Itís really about hard work and persistence.
There are certain things in sports people cling onto because itís a metaphor for life. Working hard and being lucky and having everything come at the right moment. Thereís something beautiful about that. For me basketball is like a metaphor for life in so many ways.
Did you play hoops growing up?
A little, but Iím 5-7 and I donít have the Spud Webb ability.
I was recently at a Super Bowl viewing party at Joe Russoís house, one of the producers of Community. I was playing basketball with Joel McHale and his wife. His wife was actually a basketball player in high school. Iím very proud to say I scored a layup on her. Not on Joel McHale, but Iím very proud to say I faked Sarah McHale out.
Do you carry a basketball team mentality into your work?
If you look at everything Iíve been a part of, Iíve always been a part of these great ensemblesóCommunity, The Hangover, Knocked Up, Role Models. Itís always a basketball metaphor. I would rather be a part of a great team than stand alone and not have anyone to bounce off of. Iím so much more comfortable being in an ensemble in my acting career. I feel my co-stars can take me to a higher level than I could by myself. I love the challenge of that.
You have to make a comedy where Sandra Oh plays your wife or girlfriend. You are both of Korean heritage. She plays a doctor on TV; youíre a real doctor. Youíre a comedian and she has totally underused comedy chops and she must have a ton of good sports stories from six years of doing Arli$$...†
I recently met her at an awards show. She presented me with an award and we really had a nice back and forth together. I forgot how great she was at comedy. She was a pro. We naturally jived back and forth and she didnít miss a beat. She just gave back. It was great. Working with her would be a dream come true.