Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Ode to Ken Jeong’s Accent

"Your actions have consequences!" he insisted, slamming his indignant fists on the table. "That 10-year kid in Minnesota sees you doing a ching chong accent on screen and it affects him!"

My friend was arguing that Ken Jeong's accented performance in The Hangover "set our people back 50 years." And he meant it. He personally refuses to do stereotypical Asian accents for comedy, which is totally and completely his right. Every actor has the right to set boundaries for themselves regarding what they will and will not do for an acting job.

I, on the other hand, WILL do Asian accents for comedy. Who wants to hire me? I'll turn on the ching chong right now. I’m not very good at it, but I don't have a problem with it. Not if the material is well-written and funny. I think most of the stereotypical roles in TV/Film are more guilty of being dumb and unoriginal than being racist.

I used to declare I wouldn't play any stereotypical Asian roles – no geishas, no nail salon ladies, no Chinese tourists. Eventually I realized two things – one, I’m not being called for those roles anyway, and two, staying at home with my ideals doesn't pay my bills. They'll just find someone else to do it and wouldn't I rather have the job?

Yes. Because here's the thing – I don't think Ken Jeong set "our people" back 50 years with his accented performance in The Hangover. Playing Mr. Chow wasn’t about degrading Asian as human beings or lessening our standing in society. Nor was it making a statement about our value as an ethnic group. It was just a funny accent. And it helped The Hangovermake over $227 Million in domestic box office receipts.

I personally think Ken Jeong has done more for Asian-Americans in the media in the last few years than I could ever hope to. He's a series regular on a successful network sitcom – one of the funniest on TV, in my opinion. He's the national face of Pepto Bismol. He’s won an MTV Movie Award. People think Asian-American actors can be funny because of him. He takes big risks and people love him for it.

And most importantly, that 10-year old kid in Minnesota probably thinks Ken Jeong is da bomb.

So accent it up, Ken. You’ll always have a fan in me.


  1. Interesting. Critics seem to think that "critic" means find something wrong. Reporters love bad pictures, your clothing style, your accent, your comments.... We need to take things much less seriously. Now if I was asked to be the caucasion Canadian with the Ontario accent and the strange expressions, I would love it. Isn't it about the story that the character is helping to tell?

  2. @Paul - Agreed! Serious is taking all the fun out of life. And yes, ultimately it's all about the story.

    @Christine - Thanks! :)

  3. I'm with you. The documentary film "Hollywood Chinese" includes a number of interviews with early Asian American film actors who discuss this very issue. I think that anger toward Ken Jeung's portrayal in The Hangover is a bit misdirected. I say, get Ken Jeung status, and then use your status to push our people 50 years forward! My unpopular opinion seems to jive with yours, Teresa! p.s. someone cast me too!

  4. I've seen "Hollywood Chinese!" It's a great documentary. Misdirected is definitely the word - people have anger that their avenues are limited in entertainment, but I think it has less to do with racism and simply fewer roles. Little people, disabled, and actors over 60 are having just as hard a time getting visibility.