Ken Jeong is many things. He’s an uninhibited movie and TV actor, known for pushing the boundaries of comedy (and, occasionally, onscreen nudity) as Mr. Chow in “The Hangover” and “The Hangover Part II,” and as Señor Chang on NBC’s ”Community.” He’s a doctor. As of Sunday night, he’ll be the host of the Billboard Music Awards. And he’s also an alumnus of both Duke University, where he earned his undergraduate degree, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he attended medical school.
As a consequence, while interviewing Jeong for this Sunday Style profile, I eventually raised the inevitable question: As a North Carolina native who went to both Duke and UNC, whom does Jeong root for when it comes to college basketball?
Duke, he said, without hesitation.
“Once you’re bit by the blue devil,” he notes, “you’re a Dukie for life.”
Apparently, it also turns out that Duke basketball games can serve as solid training ground for developing stand-up comedy skills.
“Part of the point of Duke basketball, of going to a Duke game, as a Duke student, it was to cheer on Duke basketball,” he says. “But it was also to make ourselves laugh.”
Jeong — who graduated from the university in 1990 and got his first big break in films 17 years later, courtesy of “Knocked Up” — specifically remembers a cheer he started about King Rice back when the current Monmouth University coach was a newbie point guard for Carolina. The cheer, or rather, jeer? “Oh no, it’s Rice,” said with the appropriate dose of sarcasm.
“I got the whole stadium, 8,000 people, to say that cheer,” Jeong says proudly. “That’s as important as ‘Knocked Up’ for me, man.”
“They’re the smartest jerks,” Jeong says with a laugh of Duke basketball fans. “The smartest douche bags were there, and I was one of them.”
Of course, Jeong, 41, is diplomatic enough to pay respect to other teams. As a Greensboro, N.C. native, he was a Carolina fan as a kid: “If it wasn’t for Carolina and Dean Smith, Duke basketball would not exist.”
He also acknowledges that the University of Maryland should have won that infamous Final Four game back in 2001, when the Blue Devils overcame a 22-point deficit to beat the Terps, and that he was happy to see Maryland win the national championship the following year.
“I thought, there is a just God because they deserved to win it,” he said.
Even though Jeong is a Dukie for life, he says he has mellowed about college basketball as he’s gotten older. A gaffer and Carolina fan who works on the set of “Community” regularly taunts Jeong whenever the rival North Carolina schools play each other. But Jeong lets the taunts roll off his back.
“I said [to the guy], ‘I just want you to know that I was not like this 20 years ago,’ ” he said. “I’ve become like Dean Smith. I’ve become, like, classy.”