Ken Jeong discusses his career in an interview at Duke.

Getting Serious with Ken Jeong

The actor and comedian famous for his wildly funny roles is earnest and humble as he credits Duke for his smash success in Hollywood.

“You want to leave a legacy for your loved ones, and then you want to expand that into communities that you care about, and Duke is that community,” Jeong says. “To me, it’s always about putting your money where your mouth is. This is just kind of what I do right now.”

Back in the day, Jeong did get his grades up, attend medical school, and become a board-licensed internist in California. It was only after years of working in medicine during the day and doing stand-up comedy at night that he went all-in on acting. Even today, he says he is well served by the Duke lessons he learned from fighting for something important.

“That gave me character,” he says. “However difficult I thought it was at that time, there ain’t nothing more difficult than just trying to steadily work in Hollywood, and I have over the last 15 years. I was just undeterred. The persistence, the resilience that I had, I think really started at Duke.”

It turns out that character makes for a good character actor. Jeong says the discipline he developed at Duke has given him an edge in his career. He prepares relentlessly, so when it’s time to perform, he can toggle between on-script acting and the off-script improv he honed during two decades of stand-up.

“Perfection equals paralysis,” he says. “The best work is when you go with the flow and it’s unexpected. Preparation plus following your gut – that’s kind of what this is all about.”

It’s no wonder Jeong is in demand for everything from Duke’s Centennial Kickoff Celebration to the Emmy Awards. It is a bit of a wonder that among the hosting and presenting duties, the commercials, the Masked Singer, the movies, and his numerous other acting opportunities, he’s willing to share his time and treasure with the university. Jeong visited campus three times in five months over the fall and early winter. He says he is able to do it because he’s established and comfortable in his career, and he wants to do it because he acknowledges Duke as a major influence in getting where he is now.

“I am busier than ever, but part of me is like, ‘Man, this is where you can make the biggest impact,’” he says. “It’s just lovely to give my own two cents of advice to people who are filmmakers, people at Duke who want to do what I’m doing for a living. It’s nice to be actively working right now in entertainment, and then actively doing things at Duke at the same time. I get a charge out of that.”