Korean King of Comedy: Bobby Lee
APA catches Bobby Lee in a candid, spur-of-the-moment interview, before he took the stage for a comedy show at UCLA.
Published: Thursday, February 03, 2005
Interviewed by Carl Wakamoto
Article by Ada Tseng
Growing up in San Diego, Bobby Lee knew early on that his calling would be in comedy. "It was kind of hard growing up," he says, "because I’m small and weak. And that’s always been my body, so it’s always hard to survive when you’re like that." Apparently, tackling stand-up was his way of rising like a phoenix from the ashes of small-bodied dejection, and rise he did. After a stint at La Jolla's Comedy Store, the one and only Pauly Shore took him under his wing, made Lee his opening act in Vegas baby Vegas, and convinced him to pack up for Los Angeles.
Exposure on Late Friday, Premium Blend and The Tonight Show led him to his current gig on Mad TV, where he's become known for his unique antics and memorable characters, such as Connie Chung and of course, Kim Jong-Il.
"I like playing him because it's like my dad. I don't know what Kim Jong-Il sounds like, so I just do my dad and it works out. I like it because it's an impression that's kind of odd. It's not your standard impression. You'd think that an Asian guy would play Jackie Chan or something, but I don't like playing him. I like playing people that are kind of weirder."
In addition to impersonating those hilarious North Korean leaders, Bobby Lee also specializes in oddball characteers like the interpreter Bae Song: "It's an original character that I play, and basically he's not from any ethnic land. He's from a different planet, but people don't know that."
While many Asian-Americans point out the unfortunate struggles that come in this industry, not Bobby Lee. Apparently comedy is comedy, what's funny is funny, and overanalyzing why there aren't more Asian comedians is just not his style.
"I don’t think it’s Hollywood's fault. I think it’s the people’s choice. Like me, I didn’t go to college, and I just decided to do this at an early age and made it my life commitment. And I’m sure if more people wanted to do it, I’m sure they could work and survive. It’s just a choice I made, really."
"I happen to be Asian, and people watch me, and if they happen to be Asian, then cool," says Lee. "But I mean, I never did comedy for a cause. I just did it because I didn’t know what else to do with my life."
As for any desire to visit Korea, Lee kind of shrugs. "I’ve never been there. And I don’t think anything I’ve ever been in is aired there. So I don’t think they would know me."
"I went to Tokyo three years ago. It was a job though," he recalls. "I did an ad campaign for IBM, so they flew me out there to take pictures of me. It was IBM Global. It went to Australia, France, London, all over the world." "But I think the ad campaign was a failure," he jokes. "Because of me."
Well, those ineffectual but travel-friendly ad campaigns were in the past and Lee now gets the chance to channel his manic energy into entertainment, most recently making us laugh as the painfully awkward Kenneth Park in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. Well, what can we say: Lee's self-insisted, so-called aimlessness which allegedly led him to this particular life committment to comedy -- "I just decided to do it out of boredom" -- may, like his tendency for casual self-deprecation, be an act, but it is this special impishness that becomes the elusive-but-loyal Mad TV audience's distinct gain. Anything for a laugh. Bobby Lee, everyone.
10th Season of Mad TV. Saturday 11/10 Central. FOX. www.madtv.com.