Speaking Spanish With Community's Senor Chang

Ken Jeong, aside from appearing in virtually every successful comedic movie (Knocked Up, Role Models, The Hangover, etc.) in the last three years, plays Senor Chang on Community. (You can also catch him in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard on DVD, on sale December 15.) He was nice enough to speak to TV.com about the show, Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, and tonight's very special new episode.

TV.com: What's got you on the press circuit this week?

Ken Jeong: My very special episode is coming up, where Senor Chang and Joel McHale's character become BFFs.

Is that tonight?

Yeah, we're swapping friendship for grades. Or grades for friendship, however you look at it. You get to see how Senor Chang ticks, you get to see a glimpse into his personal life, why he became the guy he is. It's one of my favorite things I've ever done.

We've had a few little glimpses that there was more to Senor Chang, particularly in the Halloween episode.

Yeah, thanks for watching the show. The Halloween episode planted the seeds a little bit.

I'm still wondering what a Mexican Halloween is.

(Laughter). Apparently it was a top search on Google trends after the episode aired.

That's sort of frightening.

Yeah, I give the writers and the show's creator, Dan Harmon, a lot of props for that. I really love this show, it's kind of a dream job.

I don't really have a specific question about Chevy Chase, but I kind of want you talk about him.

Legend. Icon, man.

I guess my question would be how great is he?

(Laughter) He's great. I don't know if you know how many moves I've stolen from that guy, particularly his deadpan style. Growing up as a kid I was a huge fan of SNL, especially in the early days. It's definitely like the old Chris Farley skit, from SNL, "remember when you did that sketch with Richard Pryor and you did the one word associations? That was awesome." It really is a lot of stuff where I'm talking to him and they're not even questions, it's just me telling him how much I love his stuff. And he gobbles it up, he loves that. Some people would be like, "oh stop mentioning that, stop." But he's really cool, and it's really great that I get to tease him on-set a little bit. On some takes I'm supposed to improvise some ad libs, knowing they won't use them. But for instance, in—I think it was [tonight's] episode—I was supposed to say "what do you say, viejo?" I think that was in the script, and instead I was like "What do you say, Griswold?"

It's great. Knowing that they're not gonna use it, but I can tell my buddies, and tell my kids, that I called Chevy Chase Griswold.

Or Ty Webb.

Yeah, thank you for reminding me about that, because that's next. I've already done a Fletch reference, I've already done Griswold, I've already even done—if a Community DVD ever comes out they should do outtakes of stuff that I really wanted to say. I remember there was an extra sitting in Senor Chang's class, and I ended up paraphrasing because I didn't want to be too blatant, but I almost said "Stop that infernal noise, Liberty," which is a [Chevy Chase as] Gerald Ford reference. So when I say I really like Chevy, I'm not just saying that. I know his work, and it really is just a career milestone for me to say that I'm on a show with Chevy Chase.

It seems like he's being a really good sport as the butt of a lot of jokes.

Exactly. He's not playing the Chevy Chase of old. He's playing an old man. He's definitely acting. And that's important for people to know, I think he's doing a great job fitting into the show. When I'm knee deep in work, not being a fanboy but actually working, I know that it will be Senor Chang talking to Pierce, and that's great. And with people like Joel McHale, and really we've become great friends, to the point of just, we tease each other so much the way that only really good friends or really good enemies could do. We mock each other incessantly. I'm basically his Asian Seacrest.

His persona on The Soup is rather similar to his character on Community. Is he like that in real life, or is it just a coincidence?

On The Soup he gets away with everything. He just goes for broke. And I definitely think that Jeff Winger is a more muted tone of that. A lot of people say that his character is an unlikable sort who learns a lesson at the end of every episode. But my spin on that is, he's a likeable guy, and anyone who's been disbarred and is going to community college when the guy was [previously] making a very comfortable income, and now has to go back and get a degree, the nicest guy would have a little bit of bitterness and a little bit of resentfulness.

And condescension.

Exactly. And I kinda feel that way when I'm playing my own characters, and even Senor Chang. I've played quote-unquote a lot of villains in movies, and I think the key to playing a role like that is to never think that you're a villain. That you're always the good guy. The camera's catching you on a bad day. They don't know my back-story, but tomorrow night they will know a little bit of my back-story.

Senor Chang's "very special episode" of Community airs tonight at 8 pm on NBC. You can also see Jeong in The Goods: Live Hard Sell Hard on DVD, now available for rent and on sale December 15.

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