Ken Jeong describes his role in the 2009 blockbuster The Hangover as "the most obscene love letter to a spouse one could ever have.” He peppered his dialogue with bits of Vietnamese as an inside joke with his wife Tran.
Ken met his wife while they were both practicing medicine at the same hospital in Los Angeles. Ken had always done comedy on the side. He even performed midnight improv while he was working up to 100 hours a week during his medical residency. But after he and Tran married, he quit medicine to pursue acting full-time. Then, a year later, Tran was diagnosed with aggressive stage III breast cancer. They had twins who were a year old. And Ken had just gotten an offer to play an Asian mobster in a Las Vegas buddy movie.
Tran encouraged him to take the part. "You're kind of burning out right now," she told him. And he channeled his anger about her illness into his character's comedic rage.
Seven years later, he talked to me about raising a family in the shadow of cancer and how his careers in comedy and medicine have converged in unexpected ways.
This week’s episode of Death, Sex & Money is part of WNYC’s Living Cancer series, a radio companion to “Ken Burns Presents Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.” Support for Living Cancer is provided by the Susan and Peter Solomon Family Foundation.
Thanks to WNYC's Mary Harris and Amanda Aronczyk for their help with this episode.
Read a full transcript of this episode here.