Community Gave Ken Jeong The 'Best Moment' Of His Acting Career

Of all the characters on "Community," Ken Jeong's Ben Chang changes the most. He's introduced in the second episode as the study group's Spanish professor and was quickly characterized as a rude and eccentric teacher. "I am a Spanish genius!" he screams at the class in his first ever scene with them. "My knowledge will bite her face off," he says, immediately after giving Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) a series of strange fake bites around her neck.

As season 1 goes by, it becomes clear that in addition to being a weird guy, Chang is also kind of bad at Spanish. He reveals to Jeff (Joel McHale) in the season's penultimate episode that he's a fraud, and when he's later fired it's revealed that the class is deeply behind on their curriculum. When a professor who's competent at her job takes over, it's only through divine intervention that the study group passes their final exam. 

Once Chang's no longer in a position of authority over the study group, he becomes increasingly pathetic and deranged. Season 1 Chang has an ex-wife and his relationship with her seems to have some mutual respect in it; it's hard to imagine the Chang of seasons 2-6 to have ever been capable of forming a meaningful relationship with anyone. He's so unhinged that the latter half of season 3 revolves around him kidnapping the dean and installing himself as dictator of the school. He almost blows up the whole school, but the study group manages to stop him just in time. 

It's all a lot of fun, but Ken Jeong started to get frustrated by how untethered from reality his character was becoming. That frustration led to what's arguably one of the best moments of his acting career. 

One pinecone too far

Jeong's breaking point was a scene where the deranged Chang is eating a "pinecone sandwich," one that was cut from the aired episode. "I remember sending an email to Dan and I just said, is there a world where Chang could be more grounded, because you know, I used to be a doctor, and I'm literally eating a pinecone sandwich," Jeong recalled. He admitted Chang may have taken things too far in season 3, but maybe the character could be brought back down to earth again. "No matter how pathetic he is, he deserves a second chance."

So, Jeong sent showrunner Dan Harmon an email, and Harmon promised him they'd write Chang a scene where Jeong could show off his range. This scene came in the mid-season 5 episode "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking," in which Chang pitches a theme for the midterm dance. "Bear down for midterms," he says, but the other characters don't get it. They're about to move on to brainstorming more ideas, but Chang starts crying. He then gives a speech that includes "all of my email," according to Jeong. "It was really describing just what Chang has gone through, and it moved me to tears."

"I understand I've been crazy in the past," Chang says in the episode, "but it doesn't make it less frustrating to be dismissed like this. I don't know if you guys see me as human anymore. I don't know if it's like a joke to you. Are all Asian men like a joke? A racial thing? I paid for my crimes. Underneath all the craziness, I am still a human, and I do wanna make a difference. And can you respect that? Please?" The dialogue doesn't do the scene justice though; it's Jeong's performance that sells it. 

A highlight of his career

It's a scene that's both funny and moving, or perhaps it's funny because it's moving. The circumstances behind this breakdown are insane, which makes the sympathy invoked by Jeong's masterclass performance even funnier. Yes, Chang may have tried to murder the entire study group, but those are real tears in his eyes, and it's hard not to feel a little bad for him here. 

"When the director, it was Tristram [Shapeero], when he said action, I just couldn't stop crying. And it's literally, it's the best moment of my acting career. It's the best moment. And every time I've had to be emotional in a movie since, I always think of bear down for midterms, and it's because of Dan's email."

Chang never quite became a consistently written character in the show, but he did become a little less deranged after this episode, a little more grounded. As far as viewers know, Chang never tries to sabotage the school or commit any more homicide attempts after this episode, and by season 6 he has in fact become a legit member of the group. He's even included in the final group hug in the finale. A sense of community is all Chang ever really wanted, and "bear down for midterms" helped make that happen.