It’s no secret Asian-Americans are terribly underrepresented in Hollywood and other segments of the entertainment biz, but trailblazing comedian/actor Bobby Lee believes the industry is slowly warming up to the idea of the Asian-American comedic hero. The current posterboy, Ken Jeung, has won over mainstream America with breakout performances in the Hangover films. But long before Jeung started pulling in endorsement deals and nabbing awards, Lee was sending up every Asian archetype and celebrity in public view on MadTV, spending eight years crafting his lovable characters with a keen sense of slapstick.
The next phase of Lee’s career finds him landing a diverse range of roles in film and television, and his stand-up career is never on the backburner for too long. He’ll be at Punchline tonight and tomorrow, and he recently took a moment to reflect on his unpredictably evolving life.
What do you make of our city by the bay? Do you immediately miss your fair San Diego climate as soon as you get up here?
I prefer San Fransisco over San Diego because of the obvious reasons, which is that there are more Asians and less sun in San Fran. I hate the sun. When I get a tan I look like a fat Manny Pacquiao. I don't look good.
You’ve been in an increasingly long list of films and TV shows. Do you have a favorite role thus far?
I've had a bizarre career. I was on a sketch show for eight years that only 25 people watched. Most of them were fat ethnic women who live in Orange County. One minute I'm in Korea dancing in a Wondergirls video, the next minute I'm playing a 20-year kid on Nickelodeon's Big Time Rush. I'm 73 years old, by the way.
Your relationship with your family seems to have been rich with drama, which you incorporate into your stand-up. Do you keep them in your routine when they’re watching you live?
My parents didn't support me when I started doing stand-up in the mid '90s. They didn't even know what it was. I think they thought I walked around on the streets and just walked up to random people and told them jokes. They didn't get it until I did the Tonight Show in 2000. My dad called me after he saw it and apologized for not supporting me and then proceeded to ask me for money. He thought I got paid a million dollars.
It seems like you have a sharp grasp on what it’s like to be Asian-American today, but it seems like there’s a shortage of those voices in the comedy world. Would you agree? And why do you suppose that is?
I think Asian-Americans are coming up in the world of show business. With the success of Ken Jueng, John Cho, Sandro Oh, Grace Park and the countless others, I think it's getting better for us.
What’s your dream job?
My dream job is to be on a show that shoots on an island. It doesn't have to be Hawaii, it can be Haiti.
What does the rest of 2011 hold for you?
I have no idea where my career is going. I wake up in the mornings, I mean afternoons, and I do what's in front of me. I'm appearing in Harold and Kumar Part 3 and Sascha Baron Cohens movie The Dictator.