'Dr. Ken': Ken Jeong Talks 'Diversity Revolution,' Guest Star Margaret Cho, 'Functional Day Drinking'


Look out Ryan Seacrest! Dr. Ken’s Ken Jeong is coming for you.

“It’s possible that Ken is going for the title of hardest working man in show business,” his onscreen wife Suzy Nakamura told Yahoo TV during a visit to the Sony Studios set of the ABC comedy in September. “He was here 10 weeks before the rest of us doing preproduction. He’s writing, producing, acting. He talks to the studio audience and stays late for notes. He checks in with the cast and plays with his fake kids. He even found time to hire a food truck to feed us all hot dogs today. I swear I saw him dusting the lighting and unclogging a toilet the other day.”

Everyone from this week’s guest star Margaret Cho — who plays Dr. Ken’s successful TV-doctor sister, Dr. Wendi — to the cheeky, geeky son Albert Tsai has nothing but good things to say about their sitcom’s leader and are in awe of how he does it all. Overhearing co-star Jonathan Slavin (who plays nurse Clark) gush about his boss’ work ethic, Jeong sidles up with an explanation: “It is all about F.D.D., functional day drinking. I don’t deny it. That’s what I am all about. How do you think I make the funny? It also probably makes me a better doctor.”

Slavin jumps in on the bit: “We’ve been meaning to tell you — this isn’t actually a reporter from Yahoo TV. This is an intervention. We’ve all written letters. Mine starts with, ‘We used to scope so well together and now your hands are so shaky…’”

Related: ‘Dr. Ken’: First Look at TV Siblings Ken Jeong and Margaret Cho

Before you prep yourself for a very special episode of Dr. Ken, know that Jeong is not in any danger of needing rehab. The former Community star is loving life, despite the demands of leading and producing a series loosely based on his pre-actor days as a doctor at an HMO. “Don’t forget to mention that we also have the added pressure of representing all Asian families on TV alongside our friends at Fresh Off The Boat. This isn’t just TV. This is a diversity revolution,” Jeong adds in a mock-serious tone. “This is the busiest I have ever been in my career. This is a 24-7 job but I am beyond happy because I am so passionate about it. I loved Community, but when I got the chance to create my own thing, I did not want to follow up what I think is the best sitcom of the last 10 years with something exactly the same. I wanted to make it as different as possible from anything I have been known for so far and doing a multi-camera family and workplace show fit that goal.”

Jeong also takes inspiration from his “unique life path” which included going to medical school, working as a doctor, doing stand-up on the side, and busting into the business through a hilarious, full-frontal performance in 2009’s The Hangover. This week’s episode — which introduces Dr. Wendi, who went to school in the Caribbean and is now a “hybrid of Dr. Oz and Ellen” — is “based on my own perceptions of how my family reacted to my Hangover fame,” explains Jeong. “That moment when you go from a nobody to a somebody is so surreal and dizzying and suddenly you mean something to strangers, but to your family you are still the same kid whose diapers they changed. Ken loves his sister but he was used to being the golden child and watching her get all of the attention for being on TV from his coworkers and his family might make his head explode.”

Jeong and Cho on the set of Dr. Ken.

Casting Cho as Wendi was also a full-circle moment as Jeong opened for her at a show at his alma mater Duke when he was still in school. “This feels heavy. Basically my role model and a pioneer is guest starring on our show and she seems to like it. Every Asian-American in entertainment currently owes part of their career to Margaret, her show All American Girl, and her influence. If it wasn’t for Margaret, I would not be here.”

Cho was humbled by his kind words and is happy that Jeong is carrying the torch she helped light back in the early ‘90s. Cho says, “My family was very upset when I decided to do comedy,” she says. “They never saw Asian-Americans on TV so they didn’t realize that job was a real possibility. Instead, and I’m sure this happened with Ken or Suzy too, they are pushed into tried-and-true careers that their family respects like medicine and law. I hope that this show and Fresh Off The Boat have an impact on the culture.“

Jeong is quick to praise his network for supporting Dr. Ken, which received a full-season order last month. “They could have said, ‘We already have a hit Asian show.’ But they didn’t. They judge us by the same metrics as they do all of their other sitcoms. The note is always, ‘Be as funny as you can.’ It isn’t, ‘Be funnier because you’re Asian’ or'Tell more Asian jokes.’ If we continue to be funny and the people watch, we’ll get to keep making episodes. And I could not be happier with how things are going. The pilot was hard. Now we are off and running, the episodes keep getting better, and this is exactly what I want the show to be.”

And just in case things go south, Jeong is better equipped than most actors thanks to a very viable fallback plan. “I assume they would take me back at Kaiser Woodland Hills,” muses the actor. “I gave them seven good years and I kind of feel like having Mr. Chow on staff could drive people to change insurance providers.”

Dr. Ken airs Fridays at 8:30 on ABC.