Comedian Ken Jeong has made a bold life choice. After practicing internal medicine for several years, he gave up being a doctor for a career in comedy. Known for his standout character roles in movies (“The Hangover” trilogy, and “Knocked Up”) and on TV (“Community,” “Dr. Ken”), Jeong is now touring his stand-up comedy show, which comes to The Paramount in Huntington on Dec. 8.
“It’s not like mid-appendectomy I said, ‘Hey, you know what I want to do? Be on Comedy Central,' ” says Jeong, 49. “That’s not how it happened.”
Jeong got into acting as an undergrad at Duke University and dabbled with stand-up on the side.
“Once every three months, I’d perform at a bar or coffeehouse to satisfy my performing itch,” Jeong says. “My material wasn’t very good, and I wish I was kidding. I wasn’t George Carlin.”
Jeong went on to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and began practicing medicine. Then he scored an audition with writer-director Judd Apatow of Woodbury and landed the role of Dr. Kuni in the 2007 hit comedy, “Knocked Up.”
“I filmed ‘Knocked Up’ while still having my day job,” Jeong says. “The big goal was to do acting full time. ‘Knocked Up’ allowed me to do that. I actually quit my six-figure day job and took the leap.”
HERE COMES MR. CHOW
His scene-stealing performance in “Knocked Up,” led directors to seek out Jeong. He clicked with Todd Phillips (“Old School,” “Road Trip”) who hired him for his film, “The Hangover” and even changed the character of Mr. Chow in the script to match Jeong's energy.
“I lucked out and had a great audition. It was one of those magical moments,” Jeong says. “I improvised my whole audition. I made up everything as I went along acting completely unhinged.”
Despite being a villain, Mr. Chow was a crowd favorite the moment he lept out of a trunk naked in the 2009 film.
“Like Darth Vader, Mr. Chow is evil but still connects with the audience,” says Jeong, who was also prominently featured in the two sequels. “I owe my career to ‘The Hangover.’ That was my big Debbie Gibson hit single.”
'CRAZY RICH ASIANS' FACTOR
This year, Jeong hammed it up in “Crazy Rich Asians,” which he sees as changing the Hollywood landscape. “That film has made a palpable difference. Friends of mine that are Asian-American film writers and directors are all getting their projects greenlit by Hollywood now,” he says. “It has even led to more diverse roles for me.”
Jeong feels his 11-plus years of acting experience has enhanced his stand-up career, which will be featured in an upcoming Netflix special early next year. “As a doctor what material am I going to mine from? Confidential patient encounters? What can I talk about that’s not a HIPAA violation?” he says. “Now I’m basically writing my autobiography on stage in a stand-up cadence. You get to meet the man behind the characters. I touch on all those milestones and put my own perspective on it.”
As for whether he misses medicine, Jeong says, “I don’t miss the schedule, but I do miss the patients. I still keep in contact with some of them.”
Reflecting back on his career, Jeong realizes his atypical path from physician to comedian happened in the correct order after all.
“Had I not been a doctor and went straight into acting, I don’t think the outcome would have been the same,” he says. “If I moved to Los Angeles or New York before I was ready, I think I could have been swallowed alive by show business.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Dec. 8 at The Paramount in Huntington
INFO 631-673-7300, paramountny.com
ADMISSION $50 to $70