Interview: Ken Jeong Talks ‘Community’: “It’s become an easier job for me because the writers know the character of Chang, better than I do”

Ken: "I think a good ensemble is where everyone is really unique and their comedy comes from different casts"

ken-jeong-communityKen Jeong said that he was “definitely moved” by the fan reaction to NBC putting Community on hiatus. With last weeks great ratings jump, he wants to give a big “thank you to all the fans for watching.”

He says that the fans are “really our bosses when you think of it” and that that relationship “helped drive this show back and bring it back the way it did.”

I love Community and Ken is a big part of why it’s so great.

I’m sure you know by now that he’s a licensed Doctor completed his internal medicine residence in New Orleans while developing his comedy. In 1995, Jeong won the Big Easy Laff Off which was judged by former NBC President Brandon Tartikoff and Improv founder Bud Friedman. That turned out to be his big break because with the urging of both Tartikoff and Friedman, he packed up and moved to Los Angeles.

From there, he started performing at comedy clubs and appearing on TV show like the The Office. But the role that put him on the map was Dr. Kuni in Knocked Up. His outtakes from the movie, which are posted below, are brilliant.

I talked to Ken at WonderCon about his love of the Community fans, how there’s no need to improvise on the show and working with the cast.

Follow Ken on Twitter!

Community airs on Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC

Were you surprised how hard core the fans were? How panicked everyone got when the show was put on hiatus?

Ken Jeong:  I was definitely moved by it, yeah. You know, a little surprised because, you know, at the end of the day the fans are the ultimate deciders for what we do, they’re really our bosses when you think about it. And I felt just so much outpouring of love.  I remember going on vacation with my in-laws at Christmas and a friend of my in-laws had her family over and they all came over to the house and they were just big Community fans.  People were wearing like Annie’s Boobs t-shirts, and they came with Community paraphernalia. For them to really miss the show so much, and to really feel it, and trust me whenever we are doing the show we are thinking of that in mind, we do it for them. If it wasn’t for the passion of Dan Harmon, this is his universe, this is his ride and we are all just happy to be a part of it.  We are really grateful. 

Again, I just can’t emphasize such a thank you to all the fans for watching, because this is definitely beyond our expectations and we are really humbled by it.

As weird as some of the stuff you guys have done on the show is, and weird meaning atypical to what’s going on ya know with TV shows right now.  Have you ever gotten a script that you’re like, “I know this is funny, but I don’t know if the audience will get this?”

Ken Jeong:  I never think that, I think, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe the scripts are this smart” And “I can’t believe we’re doing this”, in a good way. Like, I can’t believe that this is great. 

I love the table reads because just to read the words before you shoot it and if you’re already laughing? There has just never been a Community script where I didn’t laugh out loud a lot.  To this day, after three seasons, it all starts with that. TV is a writers medium, and it is more than anything else. If you don’t have a good script, it’s so difficult.  But we have had, as actors, the privilege and luxury of having these amazing scripts. 

For an actor, it’s become an easier job for me because the writers know the character of Chang, better than I do.  At this point, I just get paid to read the words.

You don’t have to worry about filling it in for them, when they don’t get it?

Ken Jeong:  Never, yah, this is a guy who improvised a lot in movies, and was known for that.  But on this show, I’ve evolved, I think I would improvise a little bit the first season as the teacher, but you could do it because it was more like a monologue form.  But once I was a student, and Chang was really integrated into the school, like why improvise?  It’s just so much funnier and there’s nothing I can come up with that will be a) as funny as that or b) as relevant to the stories.  It’s a lot of different things.  I love this job and I love this show and I am just so grateful to the fans man, I can’t tell you.  I just love it.

What do you think about the ratings?  They kept saying you need better ratings.  Is it because everyone’s watching whenever they want?  

Ken Jeong:  I think definitely we became a rallying point for the fans.  They held flash mobs and held a lot of campaigns to save our show.  It is pretty amazing where it’s really the fans that helped drive this show back and bring it back the way it did, in such a convincing fashion.  So, I think it’s a little bit of everything. 

To have some time off and to come back, everyone comes back more grateful, whether you’re being a part of the show, making the show or whether you’re watching the show, I think if anything this has been a positive for us.  The relationship between the show and the fans has actually been even closer because of this, so I think this has actually been a good thing.

One thing though, is you hear stuff like Chuck or Fringe, even Community, people think these shows are too weird. I don’t see Community as weird, but I have heard that people don’t get the show. To me it’s one of the funniest shows on TV, and obviously a lot of other people think the same thing.  Has that been your experience, that it’s too weird for people?

Ken Jeong:  Never. I think of it as just so smart and so well done.  The specificity of tone that Dan provides is inspiring.  It really is so hard to have a unique tone on television.  It’s so hard.  First of all, you have to be brilliant enough to have that tone, and Dan does, but then to carry out and execute that tone. 

I look at our show as being so thoughtful and so smart, it’s just an honor to read those words, man.  It really is.  I laugh all the time and on the set when I read these scripts, I’m thinking, “Oh my God, this is awesome. I can’t believe I’m saying this, this is great.”

As a comedic actor, you’ve done a lot of crazy stuff on Community and elsewhere.  Does it surprise you when other people aren’t as willing to go as far as you are for a joke?

Ken Jeong:  I think the beauty of our cast or any ensemble cast, the comedy comes from different places. None of our comedy, among the nine of us, they all come from very unique places and it never overlaps. So, I think that everyone’s approach to their comedy has really become a mosaic of energy.  So, the last thing you want on a basketball team is like two players who play exactly the same role with exactly the same skill set, it’s redundant.  We don’t have that redundancy.  Everything is so unique.  I think a good ensemble is where everyone is really unique and their comedy comes from different casts.  So that’s my world view on it. [laughter]

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