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In His Return To Stand-Up, Ken Jeong Tells His Wife: 'You Complete Me'

Ken Jeong's new Netflix comedy special is called <em>You Complete Me, Ho —</em> after his wife, Tran Ho.
Ken Jeong's new Netflix comedy special is called You Complete Me, Ho — after his wife, Tran Ho.

There's this one scene in The Hangover. A man jumps out of the trunk of a car — completely naked — and attacks Bradley Cooper with a crowbar.

That guy is Ken Jeong, a real-life medical-doctor-turned-actor. He had his own show, Dr. Ken. He was in Crazy Rich Asians and Community.

Now he's gone back to his comic roots: Doing stand-up. He's got a special on Netflix coming out soon where he addresses some choices he's made during his career.

By the way, it was my idea to get naked in The Hangover. Did you guys know that? Yup. 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.

Jeong's new special was filmed at The Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, Calif., where he got his start. It's being released on Valentine's Day, in part because his routine is dedicated to his wife, Tran Ho. In fact, the name was her idea: It's called You Complete Me, Ho.

The two actually met at a happy hour for doctors.

"It was almost like the lonely hearts club, you know — at a Dave & Buster's [restaurant]," he says in an interview on Morning Edition. "Just kind of like, 'Oh, it's just so hard being single, and in LA, but also being a doctor.' We're all just kind of lamenting. And we were like, 'Oh wow. We have our misery in common. So — wanna go out?' "

Interview Highlights

On what happened just as his acting career was taking off

It all happened all at once, good and bad. I quit my day job. I did feel free, like: OK, I could really kind of pursue acting full time — and with the support of my wife. And then my wife gets pregnant with twins, and with, you know, two beautiful girls, Alexa and Zoe.

And then my wife — she, yeah, found a lump while she was breastfeeding. It came back Stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer and which is ... 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. There was a calm strength that I don't see in a lot of people.

It was my wife and even my mother-in-law telling me to take the role [in The Hangover], because you're suffering from caregiver burnout. Because our twins are 1 year old at the time, and I'm lighting the candle on both ends, and I was doing everything I could, you know, whether it was with the kids, or driving Tran to chemo, or making sure she was OK after she would get weak from the chemo. So ... they wanted me to have an outlet. Tran did say: This is a good outlet. ...

She's cancer-free for over 10 years now. And to be cancer-free is, of this kind of cancer, it is a medical miracle. It's a miracle.

On returning to stand-up comedy

I ask myself a lot, you know, "Why did I do it?" Because I hadn't done stand-up 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 ...

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 [it], which I am — it can take 10 years to really write 10 good minutes. Like, the jokes you see on my Netflix special, I went to every casino and theater, and I went up on open mics ... I mean, I was known, when I would headline at, let's say at The Ice House — they have a secondary stage where they each have open mics 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 [on the side stage]. ...

You have to just keep whittling down these jokes. And the thing that makes stand-up brutally hard is not just about the writing. It's not just about the performing. It's the combination of everything.

On the profanity and raunchiness of his stand-up routines

Jeong: I think in stand-up comedy, there is a bit of, kind of — there's a bit of pro wrestling to it. Where, like, if you're the Nature Boy Ric Flair, you're kind of being, you know, wheelin'-dealin', stylin'-profilin' guy. 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 stand-up voice. And I think that it's important to know what your voice is on stage.

Greene: Does your wife think you went over-the-top or cross the line at any point?

Jeong: No, she's really good about that. That's why I married her. ... Tran — the reason why we're married is because Tran and I have an exact same sensibility of what we love in comedy.

Arezou Rezvani edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.