INTO THE NEXT STAGE: The Burden of Being Ken Jeong



On July 15 at the 23rd ESPN Awards (“the ESPYs”), where Caitlyn Jenner received the “Arthur Ashe Courage Award,” host Joel McHale proclaimed Alex Rodriguez (“A-Rod”) was going to make “the public apology we’ve all been waiting for.”

The athlete, who had been suspended from baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs, came out with Ken Jeong acting as his official spokesman.

The comedian went on to read a long list of apologies that had nothing to do with the controversy: “I’m sorry… for the water shortage in California… and the economic collapse in Greece…”

Throughout, McHale (his “Community” co-star) was annoyed with Jeong, argued with him, and asked if “the big apology” was coming soon. Jeong took another sheet of paper from A-Rod and began reading: “To anyone who’s watched ‘The Hangover,’ I’m sorry you had to see Ken Jeong’s penis.” The Korean American looked suspiciously at A-Rod but continued to read: “It’s tiny… it’s grossly misshapen… it’s unpatriotic.” He then folded his arms, looking upset. You can see the bit here:

On the face of it, it was funny. But the reaction online was ferocious. Many Asian Americans were angry at Jeong for perpetuating negative stereotypes about Asian men. Many had never forgiven him for going full-frontal naked in “The Hangover” and for reviving their post-traumatic stress disorder by doing it again in its two sequels.

In interviews, Jeong explained that at the time, his wife was being treated for breast cancer, and going au naturel was his angry reaction. Weird explanation, though it’s safe to say the anger he felt was passed on to the Asian American community.

In a perfect world, nothing any Asian male or female performer does should reflect on all Asian men and women. But (spoiler alert!) it’s not. So another accented Asian guy grates on the nerves of many tired of being seen as foreigners with not enough Americanized images to counter balance him. Ingratiating himself to audiences by showing his private part… then making fun of it on national television… that’s enough for some to bring out the pitchforks.

But it’s kinda hard to tell Ken Jeong not to make fun of his own penis. He’s not making fun of anyone else’s… right?

Ken Jeong (pictured with Joel McHale and Alex Rodriguez) realizes he’s been had on “The ESPYs.”

Ken Jeong (pictured with Joel McHale and Alex Rodriguez) realizes he’s been had on “The ESPYs.”

I’ve searched online for interviews where the actor may’ve demonstrated an awareness that his onscreen actions might impact the Asian American community. The best I found is that he believes his Mr. Chow character pokes fun at stereotypes. He’s said this numerous times, but his explanation still makes no sense, so I guess I’m going to have to wait until I meet him in person one day and ask him myself.

For many, Mr. Chow is the Long Duk Dong of today’s generation. But unlike the much-maligned “16 Candles” character from 1984, Chow exudes a cocky confidence. He’s in control. In fact, in “The Hangover 3” he proved himself one step ahead of his adversaries. When he was delivered to a mobster for execution, he, instead, shot him and all of his henchmen to death.

As Señor Chang on “Community” (NBC, Yahoo!), Jeong has also been self confident. Somehow, that makes all the difference in the world. Because you can do things to others vs. having them do things to you where you’re left surprised and wondering what’s going on (the usual “bewildered Asian immigrant”).

Beginning Friday, Oct. 2, Jeong will star in “Dr. Ken,” a sitcom loosely based on his life as a medical doctor before he became a comedian. I’ve already seen the pilot episode (thanks to ABC, which also gave me permission to talk about it here), and it’s funny. It splits time at the office and at home with his wife (Suzy Nakamura), teenage daughter, and younger son (Albert Tsai of “Trophy Wife,” who guest-starred on “Fresh Off the Boat” as the Jewish-raised Chinese boy).

Dr. Ken Park’s rough with his patients. After examining one, who asks about his diagnosis, he responds: “You’re fat!” When the patient leaves the examination room, the doctor quips, “Keep your chins up!”

When his wife tells Park he sounds like his father, the title character denies it, saying his father would sound like this (goes into Korean accent). When he wants to demonstrate his displeasure, Park goes through the motions of committing hara-kiri with a sword. All of which is fine to me (ethnic comedians make fun of their own culture and communities whether they’re Margaret Cho, Chris Rock, or George Lopez), but will probably lead to outcries from his many detractors.

Not believing his daughter’s really taking the car to study with a friend, Park downloads “Daughter Tracker” to his phone so he can keep tabs on her whereabouts. When Park and his wife are about to go upstairs to fool around and it goes off, she tries to grab his phone. Park panics, and — just so she won’t see what he’d done — “admits” he’s “had several extra-marital affairs!” Pretty funny!

Clay confronts James on “Big Brother 17.”

Clay confronts James on “Big Brother 17.”

No Pushover Department: A week-and-a-half ago, James Huling, the “Asian hillbilly” on CBS’ reality competition “Big Brother,” became Head of Household (HOH), so he had the power to put up two contestants for eviction. He was one of the three last-standing competitors in an endurance test and made a deal with Shelli that if she allowed him to win, he wouldn’t put up her, her boyfriend Clay, or the third person still hanging on, Johnny.

Then he proceeded to nominate Shelli and Clay, the boldest move in the game so far, because they were a “power couple” who, along with Vanessa, had decided who went home every week up until then (and I was fine with everyone who left). It was a shame he had to be so blatant about it (he could’ve put up one pawn, then later replaced it with his intended target if he or one of his allies won “the Power of Veto”) because, as Shelli told everyone, no one could or should trust anything James said from now on.

It could’ve backfired, but so far, it’s been great. Clay went home, Becky won the next HOH competition, and she put up Shelli and a pawn. Her real target is Vanessa, who she plans to “backdoor,” but if Shelli remains on the block, Becky will be happy to send her packing too.

In other words, the power has finally shifted in the house and those not part of the dominant alliance have gained power and respect as those previously calling the shots have been split in half. Before his eviction, Clay got angry at James, and it looked like they were going to come to blows.

James, no shrinking violet, wasn’t scared at all, boasting: “I did three years in a prison with big men yelling at me,” so Clay didn’t scare him. Wait… what?! (Turns out he worked as a corrections officer!)

Up until now, one of the most heard phrases among past HOHs has been “I don’t want any blood on my hands,” so they usually got support from enough people to vote out a target, using the excuse that “that’s what the house wanted.” So it’s interesting that the only Asian American in the game is not afraid of upsetting people or taking big risks. And he’s gaining momentum.

“Big Brother” airs Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday on CBS.

History Comes Alive Department: In its fifth season, AMC’s “Hell On Wheels” gets around to including some of the Chinese who worked on the railroads in the 1800s. New episodes air Saturday nights. One of them is played by all-around good guy and advocate Tzi Ma (hey, in 2010, he marched with MANAA against “The Last Airbender” and was so pissed off at the white-washed casting, he was spitting in the face of a reporter!).

Ewww! Department: Weirdo Woody Allen recently admitted to NPR that when he began his affair with his then-girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon Yi in 1992, he thought it was just going to be a fling. He never expected it to last long (they’ve been together ever since). What a sleazebag. So he was willing to tear apart his relationship with Farrow just because he was horny? He believes Soon Yi fell for him because he acted paternally towards her and was 35 years older.

Illlll! Excuse me. Gotta take a shower. I feel so dirty!

’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.


Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.




Leave A Reply