Ken Jeong worked hard to become 'Dr. Ken'

ENTER TV-TINSEL 4 MCT
Suzy Nakamura, left, and Ken Jeong costar in ABC's new comedy, "Dr. Ken," in which Jeong plays a doctor, which he is in real life. The show premieres Friday. (Danny Feld/ABC)

* DR. KEN. 8:30 p.m. Friday, 6ABC.

PLAYING A TV DOCTOR may not be as easy as throwing on a white coat and calling for a crash cart, but few actors can match the star and co-creator of ABC's new "Dr. Ken" for preparation:

Medical school. Residency. Seven years at an HMO. Not to mention taking a few days off to deliver Katherine Heigl's baby in "Knocked Up."

There are probably good reasons why few actors pursue this course, but Ken Jeong, who's coming off six seasons playing Spanish teacher Ben Chang on "Community," isn't complaining.

Not even when other actors ask him to check out their moles or hit him up for free medical advice.

It happens "all the time, to an annoying degree," he said, adding, "I'm actually happy to oblige. Because I got the degree. In essence, I'm finding use for it, so it's fine."

His current day job is even fine with his parents, Korean immigrants who were apparently happy enough with his former career.

"I could not have asked for more supportive parents," Jeong said in an interview in August. They told him, he said, that "you need support from your family to pursue something like this. Your wife is now your family, and if you have her support," then he had theirs.

His wife, Tran, who's also a doctor as well as the mother of their 8-year-old twin daughters, had already signed off.

Jeong, who traces his interest in performing to a mock pageant in high school in which he received a standing ovation as a "chubby kid" in a Speedo ("I had like my little 'Napoleon Dynamite' moment"), moonlighted as an actor and standup comedian for years.

But after he played the obstetrician in "Knocked Up," he said, "It was actually Tran who encouraged me to quit my day job," telling him, " 'If you don't take advantage of this now, you never will.' "

And then " 'The Hangover' changed my life. It's the reason I got 'Community,' got my show, the reason I'm talking to you," said Jeong, whose gangster character Mr. Chow has also appeared in two "Hangover" sequels.

In "Dr. Ken," which premieres tomorrow, he plays Dr. Ken Park, a possibly too truthful HMO doctor married to a psychotherapist (Suzy Nakamura) with whom he has two children (Krista Marie Yu and Albert Tsai).

It's an idea he's had "since I quit my day job" to play a version of himself.

"This is a different universe, almost, in 'Community'-speak, like another timeline. What if Ken Jeong never did standup comedy or never did acting or never did 'The Hangover'?" he said.

Well, would his bedside manner be as bad as this Dr. Ken's?

"No, that's where the fiction comes in," Jeong said, laughing.

"In real life, I was very serious as a doctor. I never joked around. I was never rude, but you just would never have guessed that I did standup comedy on the side," he said.

"If anything, I was trying to hide that, because I didn't want to jeopardize a patient's trust. I didn't want to be Patch Adams [the physician comedian Robin Williams portrayed in a 1998 film]. I just hated that trope that laughter's the best medicine. No. Medicine is the best medicine."

Medicine and acting do have things in common, he's found.

"A good doctor is like a good actor. You listen."

It also involves "ad-libbing," he said. "You're like, 'Oh, you have abdominal pain? Well, try this test.' 'Oh, it doesn't work? We'll take this other test, we'll try this other treatment.' It's educated guesswork. It's improv."

Email: graye@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray