Comedian Ken Jeong has an impressive Hollywood resume. In addition to starring in sitcoms like Community and Dr. Ken, he serves as a panelist on Fox’s The Masked Singer and hosts I Can See Your Voice, another singing competition show. But he’s perhaps best known for his role as Leslie Chow in The Hangover film series, which catapulted him into stardom. Did you know that Ken Jeong’s wife, Tran Jeong, was responsible for making the character so memorable? Here’s the story.
Ken Jeong’s Wife Is Tran Jeong
Before Ken Jeong hit it big as an actor, he attended medical school and worked as a licensed physician. He met his wife-to-be, Dr. Tran Ho, while practicing at a health care facility in Los Angeles, California. The couple married in 2004 and have two children together—14-year-old twins Alexa and Zooey.
Tran was fulfilled by her job as a doctor, but Ken’s true passion was comedy. While working as a doctor, he performed regularly at comedy clubs and took several small TV roles. But, he was reluctant to take the full-time leap into acting. In the end, it was Tran who encouraged Ken to follow his heart and pursue a career in entertainment. “Tran stood strong for our family and encouraged me to pursue my dream of leaving behind my career as a doctor to become a comedian,” he wrote in a 2011 essay for HuffPost. “I don’t know how many wives would encourage that kind of insanity. But I was lucky mine did.”
Tran Jeong Was Diagnosed With Cancer In 2008
Unfortunately, not long after the couple had their twins and Ken left medicine, the couple received devastating news. Tran was diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of breast cancer. She was given with a 23 percent chance of survival.
“That was the last thing I thought [the doctor] was going to say to me,” Tran told Copingmag.com about the diagnosis. “I didn’t know what to think at that point.”
Ken also had a hard time wrapping his head around the news. “I won’t lie, I was scared out of my mind — worrying that in spite of her best efforts, the cancer would be too much for her,” he said. “And I thought, how could I lose my wife, my best friend, the mother of my children? How would I explain this to Alexa and Zooey? How would I ever compensate for her not being in their lives?”
Despite their fears, the couple moved forward and supported each other as Tran began treatment. For seven months, the young mother faced grueling chemotherapy treatments, followed by a mastectomy and radiation.
Tran And Ken Sought To Find Humor During Their Time of Struggle
Ken says that as difficult and painful as the experience was, both he and Tran find solace in their ability to make each other laugh. “In comedy, in general, you don’t look to find something that’s funny,” he explained to Copingmagazine.com. “You look to find something that’s a tension relief. And that may not be a joke; it may just be a moment. And I feel that ‘comedy’ isn’t the right word. It’s more just trying to find light at the end of the tunnel.”
The comedian continued, “It’s our humor that got us through Tran’s cancer. It’s just trying to find light where there’s darkness. I think that, to me, is what humor is all about.”
The Cancer Diagnosis Ultimately Influenced Ken’s Performance In ‘The Hangover’
During Tran’s battle with breast cancer, Ken was offered the role of Leslie Chow. The comedian says he would have passed on the life-changing opportunity had it not been for the encouragement of his amazing wife.
“A few months into her treatment, I was offered The Hangover. I was going to turn it down, but Tran encouraged me not to,” he wrote in his HuffPost article. “She would not let her diagnosis change our lives or strip us from our dreams. For as long as we’d known each other, she’d been my biggest champion in my efforts to pursue a career in comedy. She knew this was my chance, and again, she selflessly put herself second.”
While it was difficult for Ken to leave Tran behind to take the job, the 51-year-old funnyman was able to channel his trauma into the role of the wacky gangster. “I was just getting a lot of stuff off my plate,” he said in an interview published in Express. “I was venting at the rage of my wife having cancer. In a way, Chow is like an exorcism of those demons.”
The comedian also used his improv chops to give the role a deeper inside meaning for him and his wife. “I would ad-lib actually,” Ken explained to ABC News in 2015. “I’m Korean and I was speaking Vietnamese in the movie and like I say ‘kai chee’ (Vietnamese for ‘chicken die’) and all these things to get my henchmen to get out. There were these inside jokes between me and Tran,” he added. “I would sprinkle that all throughout the movie…it’s like the weirdest love letter to your wife in a very filthy movie.”
Tran Jeong’s trying medical treatments paid off, and she was declared cancer-free in 2009. But ever since the ordeal, the couple says they try to remember to always count their blessings. “I’m just so grateful, above all else, that Tran is OK, Tran is healthy,” Ken said. “She’s been cancer-free for 12 years. And as time goes by, it’s good to remind ourselves to be grateful.”