Ken Jeong's Netflix Comedy Special Comes Out On Valentine's Day
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK. Remember that one scene in "The Hangover?" A man jumps out of the trunk of a car completely naked, and he attacks Bradley Cooper with a crowbar.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HANGOVER")
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: (As Alan) Oh. Stop.
BRADLEY COOPER: (As Phil) Who was that guy? He was so mean.
GREENE: That guy is Ken Jeong, real-life medical doctor turned actor. He had his own show, "Dr. Ken." He was in "Crazy Rich Asians." Now he's gone back to his comic roots doing standup. And that "Hangover" movie offers some priceless material.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KEN JEONG: By the way, it was my idea to get naked in "The Hangover." Did you guys know that? Yep, that's right. My wife said it'll be the feel-good movie of the summer because every guy will go home feeling good about themselves.
GREENE: Ken Jeong's new Netflix comedy special comes out tomorrow. It was filmed at the Ice House in Pasadena, Calif., where he got his start. And it's fitting that it's being released on Valentine's Day because his routine is dedicated to his wife, Tran Ho, who is there laughing in the audience. Actually, the name of Ken's comedy special was her idea.
JEONG: That's my wife's idea, to name it "You Complete Me, Ho." That was not me (laughter).
GREENE: We should say that's her last name...
JEONG: Her last name.
GREENE: ...Just so people realize.
GREENE: Yeah. The two actually met at a happy hour for doctors.
JEONG: It was almost like the lonely hearts club, you know...
GREENE: (Laughter) What's a...
JEONG: ...At a Dave & Buster's (laughter).
GREENE: What is it like at a happy hour for doctors? (Laughter) What's the conversation?
JEONG: Doctor stuff and just kind of like how it's just so hard being single and in LA but also being a doctor. It's a - we're all just kind of lamenting. And then we're like, oh, wow. We have our misery in common.
JEONG: (Laughter) So want to go out?
GREENE: Within months, they were engaged. And just as Ken was leaving medicine for Hollywood, well, life happened.
JEONG: It all happened all at once, good and bad. I had quit my day job. I did feel free, like, OK, I can really kind of pursue acting full time and with the support of my wife. And then my wife gets pregnant with twins, and we have, you know, two beautiful girls, Alexa and Zooey. And then my wife, she - yeah - found a lump while she was breastfeeding. It came back stage-three triple-negative breast cancer. And...
GREENE: Which is very serious.
JEONG: Very serious, a very aggressive variant of breast cancer. And, you know, everything in our tracks stopped. And, you know, I credit my wife with being so strong. And I remember right before she started her chemo. And she just said, I would not - you know, we have two beautiful girls. I wouldn't trade it for the world. The way - I still remember how she just had a calmness about her that was a calm strength that I don't see in a lot of people.
GREENE: She's undergoing chemo when you get offered maybe the biggest role of your careers, Leslie Chow in "The Hangover." Is that...
JEONG: Yep. Yep.
GREENE: What are you both talking about when...?
JEONG: It was my wife and even my mother-in-law telling me to take the role, like, because you're suffering from caregiver burnout. You're - because our twins are 1 year old at the time, and I'm taking - lighting the candle on both ends. And I was doing everything I could, you know? Or - with the kids or driving Tran to chemo or making sure she was OK after she would get weak from the chemo. So...
GREENE: They wanted you to have an outlet.
JEONG: They wanted me to have an outlet. Tran did say, it was like this will - this is a good outlet.
GREENE: We should say it's so great that she is a survivor and is...
JEONG: Yes, and - yes, and...
GREENE: ...Doing so well and was at your show. And, I mean...
JEONG: Of note, she's cancer free...
JEONG: ...For, you know, over 10 years now. And to be cancer free is - of this kind of cancer, it is a medical miracle. It is a - it's a miracle.
GREENE: So why'd you decide to go back to standup?
JEONG: I ask myself a lot, you know, why did I do it because I hadn't done standup in 10 years. I was nervous as hell. It was literally a year ago that I went back, first time ever, at the Laugh Factory.
GREENE: What made you nervous? Like, is it the audience aspect of it, which is different from being on the set of a movie? Or what - what's nerve-racking?
JEONG: I wasn't worried so much about the audience. I just wondered if I had anything to say. And it takes - really, if you get really perfectionistic about, which I am, it can take 10 years to really write 10 good minutes. Like, the jokes you see on my Netflix special, like, I went to every casino and theater. And I went up on open mikes, literal...
GREENE: Testing them out, and...?
JEONG: Yeah. I mean, I was known. When I would headline at - let's say at the Ice House, they have a secondary stage where they just have open mikes at the same time for just comics starting out. So while my opening acts were going up, I would actually be trying out brand-new jokes at the...
GREENE: You'd slip into the other room with the...
JEONG: Yeah. Yeah, I did.
GREENE: ...Up-and-coming comics to...
JEONG: Yeah. You have to just keep whittling down these jokes.
JEONG: And the thing that makes standup brutally hard is not just about the writing. It's not just about the performing. It's a combination of everything.
GREENE: You're, like, an incredibly polite guy.
GREENE: I mean, your standup routine, that - it's raunchy.
GREENE: I mean, there's profanity.
JEONG: Thank you. Thank you.
GREENE: You're using nasty words for your wife, for your daughters.
JEONG: Thank you. Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
GREENE: No, I'm just curious. Like, what - is that part of the act? Or is that required, or you feel like it's necessary to get a vibe for the room? Or what role does that play?
JEONG: Yeah. I think in standup comedy, it - there's a bit of kind of - there's a bit of pro wrestling to it where...
JEONG: ...Like, if you're the Nature Boy, Ric Flair, you're kind of being - you know, wheeling, dealing, styling, profiling guy.
JEONG: But then, when the camera's on, he just turns that up to 10. So I've never consciously thought about this. But it's more of like, OK, when I'm on stage, I just kind of know the voice, my standup voice. And I think that it's important to know what your voice is on stage.
GREENE: Did your wife think you went over the top or crossed the line at any point?
JEONG: No. (Laughter) she's really good about - that's why I married her.
JEONG: I think that's (laughter) what it's - you know, Tran, the reason why we're married is because Tran and I have an exact same sensibility of what we love in comedy.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: That's actor and comedian Ken Jeong. You can see his new standup special tomorrow on Netflix. Oh, and I do have to share this. Before Ken left our studio, he told me about the first time he performed in front of a crowd. It was at a high school talent show.
JEONG: I sang this Lionel Richie song, "Three Times A Lady."
GREENE: I mean, if you felt like closing out our conversation with that, I would not complain at all.
JEONG: Yeah. (Singing) Yes, you're once, twice, three times a David. I love you.
GREENE: My life will never be the same.
JEONG: Shut up.
GREENE: My life will never be the same.
JEONG: Shut up. I'm not done.
GREENE: Oh, sorry. Please.
JEONG: (Singing) You. Now you may speak.
GREENE: (Laughter) Thank you. That means everything.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THREE TIMES A LADY")
LIONEL RICHIE: (Singing) You're once, twice, three times... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.