Cancer Changed Ken Jeong's Comedy

Death, Sex & Money

By WNYC Studios

Cancer Changed Ken Jeong's Comedy

Wednesday, 19 February

Ken Jeong described his role as Mr. Chow 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, even performing midnight stand-up while he was working long hours during his residency. But after he and Tran married, he quit medicine to pursue acting full-time. Then, a year later, Tran was diagnosed with stage III triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. At the time, they had young twins, and Ken had just gotten an offer to play an Asian mobster in a Las Vegas buddy movie — the role that would be his big break.

Tran encouraged him to take the part. "You're kind of burning out right now," she told him. So he channeled his anger about her illness into his character's comedic rage. 

Back in 2015, he talked to me about raising a family in the shadow of cancer, and how his careers in comedy and medicine converged in unexpected ways.

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