Was Ken Jeong a Doctor? The Famed Comedic Actor Started His Career With a Medical School Degree

Before becoming one of the world's favorite comedic personalities, Ken Jeong earned his medical degree and was a practicing physician for several years.
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Published on August 28, 2023
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  • Ken Jeong is well known for roles in "The Hangover" franchise, "The Masked Singer," and many others.
  • Before making it big in show business, Jeong practiced medicine for several years in New Orleans and Los Angeles.
  • Jeong attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

A key lesson for burgeoning artists: Use what you know. If that's true, Ken Jeong understood the assignment when he auditioned for the acting role that made him famous.

Jeong's comedic breakout came in the 2007 film "Knocked Up," which saw him steal scenes from lead actors Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl as irascible OB-GYN Dr. Kuni.

It's hard for anyone who saw that movie to forget Jeong's hilariously imperious but ultimately good-hearted doctor. As it turns out, Jeong was playing his own straight man. Before he landed the role in "Knocked Up," and well before entering the national spotlight for a number of familiar roles, including his current role as a panelist on the broadcast TV smash "The Masked Singer," Jeong was a practicing physician.

What led Jeong to pursue a career in medicine, and what caused him to make the unlikely transition from bedside to big screen? We tracked down all the details.

Ken Jeong's Physician Background

After moving to Greensboro, North Carolina, at a young age, Jeong — the son of South Korean immigrants — excelled in school. He enrolled in a pre-med track about an hour down the road at Duke University in Durham. Though interested in comedy and acting, those interests weren't enough to sway him from his medical school dreams.

After graduation, he entered medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

After earning his medical degree, Jeong moved to New Orleans for his residency, training as an internist — essentially a primary care physician with an emphasis on adult medicine. In other words, in New Orleans and later in Los Angeles, Jeong was your classic doctor, seeing patients at a local HMO for everything from sprained ankles to skin growths.

But if you think he was one of those "funny doctors" out of the movies, think again.

"I was so super serious as a doctor," Jeong told National Public Radio (NPR) in 2014. "I would bark orders to my nurses. I was hardcore. I wanted to make sure I did my job right. I was perfectly trained to be a physician. You know, it wasn't a fluke. I worked hard at it."

In fact, his patients and co-workers may never have suspected Jeong had a funny side.

“I always hated that trope, laughter is the best medicine," Jeong recalled in a 2015 interview with People magazine. "No, medicine is the best medicine. I hated the 'Patch Adams' arc of going 'you’ve got herpes, but I’ve got your nose!'”

During medical school and later as a resident, however, Jeong developed a hobby. And it wasn't 18 holes of golf, a Jimmy Buffet tour, or anything else stereotypically associated with doctors. It turns out he never lost his thirst for the limelight.

"During the day, I was a doctor," he told NPR. "At night, you know, I was a comic. And it was really just to let off some steam. It became like golf, you know, in many ways. Most doctors have golf as a hobby. Mine was doing comedy."

Ken Jeong's Rise From Medical School to Hollywood

Given his serious demeanor, he might not have seemed like a natural fit for comedy. That, of course, is part of what makes Jeong work as a comedic presence.

In 1995, after show business executives caught his standup comedy act and encouraged him to move from New Orleans to Los Angeles to pursue show business more aggressively, Jeong worked as a physician in the Los Angeles area for years before landing his appearance on "Knocked Up," which he told People made things “wonderfully surreal” ever since.

Then came his role as super-villain Mr. Chow in "The Hangover," which he told People "changed my life from black-and-white to Technicolor.”

And that was years ago. Jeong is nearly ubiquitous now, be it as a celebrity judge on the CBS smash "The Masked Singer," as Ben Chang on the NBC cult favorite "Community," or as the eponymous star of the ABC sitcom "Dr. Ken."

Still, despite his success, Jeong misses his days as a doctor. Although it's been more than 15 years since he left medicine behind, Jeong said he still thinks about it.

“I miss the patients,” Jeong told Talent Recap. “I miss the patient care. I don’t miss the hours. Every physician, they’re working every other holiday. It’s real work. But I do miss connecting.”