AMONG STAND-UP COMICS, Bobby Lee is known for being off his rocker. On- and off-stage, he gets naked on command, brushes his pubic hair and crosses his eyes—all at the same time. But his lack of seriousness shows a serious dedication to kicking the shit out of the model minority myth.
Fellow comic and Hyphen contributor AIi Wong got together recently with Lee to discuss comedy and making it in Hollywood.
In his early days at Fox's sketch comedy show MADtv, Lee, 34, was pigeonholed into playing characters like Connie Chung and Jackie Chan. Currently in his sixth season with the show, he can be proud of writing sketches starring his own family members and creating characters like Hideki the "Average Asian," who fumes over stereotypical assumptions that all Asians are math/computer whizzes, and Tank, an overconfident import car street racer who uses his Daewoo to pick up girls.
Now he's developing his own show that will be 100 percent FBBB—For Bobby By Bobby. After 13 years in the business, Lee feels confident that he can afford to turn down any role or project that takes us all a step backward. What's more, as he proudly stated, he "gets laid ... by white chicks ... thank you very much."
What's the process for getting roles on MADtv?
BOBBY LEE: They get all these white kids from Second City and give them everything when I've been there longer. And now those guys are gone, and I survived. Regardless of all this, I'm funny. I might not be the best human being. I might be a racist and a pervert, but I know that I'm funny. Everything else I'm bad at: I have low self-esteem. I'm not sexy. But I've always been able to get laughs, so I have that.
Describe your dream role in a movie.
To play myself, just a guy like me. Instead of playing these ubernerdy, hyper-excited or sensitive characters, I'd rather just be this loser that I really am. Because I've been kicked out of high school. I went to alternative high school and then I've been to four rehabs. I'm a loser.
What was it like to do Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle?
Harold and Kumar did more than I thought it would. I only had one scene, but it was a commitment to that character [geeky Princeton student Kenneth Park]. The film had a cult-y kind of following and was good because it was a broad comedy. It's just about these two Americans, first and foremost, that happen to be Indian and Korean. And it didn't revolve around the stereotypes of karate or whatever. They're just stoners.
What future projects do you have coming up?
I'm developing a show with Comedy Central. Carlos Mencia helped me do it. It's basically going to be me and my real parents, who have done sketches on MAD. I'm going to fly them out and get them a fucking apartment, and they're going to be cast members. It will basically be my life, but all pre-written. The premise will be that my Dad owns a Korean spa in Koreatown, and I'm playing myself, going to auditions and all that other stuff.
Do you ever go to Le Privé?
They won't let me in. I have to wait in line, and I don't want to wait in line. Last time I tried to get in I had to wait for an hour. I have a Korean American fan base, but I freak Koreans out. I'm naked all the time.
Have you seen Old Boy?
That's one of my favorite movies. I have a poster of it in my living room.
You think you're disturbing to them, but that movie is disturbing to all of us. So how can you be disturbing to Koreans if a film like that can be so popular?
Because that's a movie. Koreans, when it comes to writing and production, they're crazy. But their values are different from their art and fantasy. I think people really think that I'm perverted and naked, and it really freaks them out.
Who have you always wanted to work with?
I want to work with Margaret [Cho] on something. She taught me a lesson. When I first moved to L.A., Margaret came to see me perform. I wasn't on MAD at the time. She just came up to me and said, "I think you're so funny. Keep doing what you're doing." So supportive. At first, I would see other Asian comics and be threatened. After she did that, I was so receptive. I became such an advocate as to encourage guys like Kevin Shea, Steve Byrne and Jo Koy.
Do you think opportunities are better now for Asian American entertainers?
Look on television now. Heroes—Asian guy. Lost—two Asians. Grey's Anatomy—Sandra. Battlestar Galactica—Grace. The landscape is changing.
Yeah, it's becoming Korean.
Why do you think it's becoming so Korean?
Koreans are raised loud. They're raised with everything on their sleeve. When I was a kid, my uncles wouldn't say hello; they'd say "You're fat." It's a funny culture. How can there be Chinese comics when they don't try? When I started, I knew of one Chinese comic. Do you know how many Koreans there are? I could name 30. It's not about what culture is funnier than another. It's what culture supports it.
Who are your oddest groupies?
Strippers and people from the South. I get shocked at really Southern people. My girlfriend is from Kentucky; she's a white girl. Whenever I go back there, I get people with no teeth who are like, "Man, I never thought Orientals were funny until I saw you, man." It's a compliment, and they mean well, so you don't say, "Please don't say Oriental'." But it does make me feel good because whatever I'm doing transcends that part of the world.
It's like when my sister's dog sniffs my crotch when I'm on my period. It's wrong, I know he means well. He just wants beef; that's his world.
Wow. What you just said wowed me. I'm sweating. Wow.
Ali Wong (www.aliwong.com) is a stand-up comic mini-legend.