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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now for our series, My Big Break, about triumphs big and small. Before actor Ken Jeong played Senor Chang in "Community" and the bad guy Mr. Chow in "The Hangover," he was known by his patients as Dr. Jeong.

KEN JEONG: Internal medicine was my specialty, basically general practice with an emphasis on adult medicine. During the day, I was a doctor, at night, you know, I was a comic. And it was really just to let off some steam. It just became my golf, you know, in many ways. Most doctors have golf as a hobby. Mine was doing comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JEONG: I never let on I was a comedian. I never acted out. It was really important to me, like, to not be Patch Adams. I was so super serious as a doctor. I would bark orders to the nurses. I was hardcore. I wanted to make sure I did my job right. I was perfectly trained to be a physician, and, you know, it wasn't a fluke. I worked hard at it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JEONG: Once I started appearing on television, one of my first appearances was on BET "ComicView."

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION SHOW, "COMICVIEW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Give it up for Dr. Ken, y'all.

JEONG: I would just go to wherever they were filming in L.A. and just - and they would just record my set, and it was my, kind of, introduction to television.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION, "COMICVIEW")

JEONG: I got a day job, just like you guys, all right? I'm a doctor. I'm a medical doctor. We've got to talk different at work, right? Hi, I'm Dr. Jeong. I'll be your primary care provider. That kind of thing, right?

One of my patients did see me. She was an elderly lady, elderly white lady in her late 70s. And she said, by the way, me and my husband loved you on BET "ComicView." And that kind of blew my mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION, "COMICVIEW")

JEONG: Just 'cause I'm a doctor don't mean I'm not a player, hun.

My first big break was getting the part of Dr. Kuni in "Knocked Up," which was written and directed by Judd Apatow. He was looking for an Asian actor with medical experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "KNOCKED UP")

JEONG: (As Dr. Kuni) Hello, Allison, Ben. Interesting night.

SETH ROGEN: (As Ben) We really, really appreciate you coming, man.

JEONG: (As Dr. Kuni) Oh, what else do I have to do, I mean, besides sleep? Totally kidding.

And that coincided with me leaving medicine. It was kind of time to go. And it was really my wife, who's also a physician, and to her everlasting credit, she said, you know, it's time to pursue this full time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JEONG: The second part of my big break was "The Hangover." I mean, that changed my life overnight. It changed everything for me in terms of my career. And none of us knew that it would be, like, the biggest R-rated, you know, comedy franchises of all time. It - you know, I remember telling my wife filming that: I think I made the funniest movie ever. I just hope people see it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE HANGOVER")

JEONG: (As Mr. Chow) I want my purse, back.

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: (As Alan) That's not a purse. That's a satchel.

JEONG: (As Mr. Chow) It's a purse, OK? And you steal from wrong guy.

GALIFIANAKIS: (As Alan) Wait a second.

JEONG: You know, I always say "Knocked Up" opened the doors and "Hangover" just burst it wide open. To this day, it's still surreal. And my wife's a doctor. All our friends are doctors - our close friends - and it's just that I have an odd job now. I think I'm like a doctor who had a detour and I just have an odd job.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: Actor and comedian Ken Jeong. We want to hear about your big break. Send us an email at mybigbreak@npr.org.

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