Bobby Lee is the perfect amount of famous: He can still do whatever he wants, as long as it gets a laugh. He has remained underground enough to play small clubs, but he's on the A-team of the comedy world, having partnered with friends such as Seth Rogen and Sacha Baron Cohen. Because he's in that sweet spot — he has solid comedy cred but doesn't cost a million bucks to hire — he's asked to join a wide variety of exciting projects.
This weekend, Lee will stand solo in the spotlight when he performs at the Improv. Whether you recognize him from MADtv or Pineapple Express, you know this comedian can hold his own. We found him to be both hilarious and friendly as he revealed insight into Chelsea Lately, how he uses Instagram, and whether he will ever win an Oscar.
New Times: You were on MADtv with some big names like Frank Caliendo and Michael McDonald. Is MADtv something that still holds you all together like a fraternity, or is it a thing of the past?
Bobby Lee: I saw Frank last week. I was in Phoenix and hung out with him. I talked to Mike on Friday; I talk to everybody. It's not like a fraternity — more like we went to war. Like we were on the Titanic and we survived, and we all have this deep connection.
On SNL, cast members must write a good sketch if they want to get on that week. Was it like that on MADtv too?
Almost all sketch shows are like that. If it's a show like Kids in the Hall where they knew each other and started a group, that's one thing. But when you have a sketch show where it's random people getting together, you have no personal connection, so you can fuck people over easier. It's more of a fight.
You are a regular on Chelsea Lately's coveted roundtable. It seems like a very cool place to be.
I do the show every other week. Chelsea [Handler] and I have always been friends, and she has always been really nice to me. A lot of females get into the standup scene and get ridiculed because they are girls and it is a male-dominated sport. But I have always been very nice to women comics. Everyone is funny.
What is that experience like? Do they give you the topics that morning and you write your own jokes?
We know the topics about two hours before we shoot, and then you have to write, like, five jokes. It actually is a very difficult exercise because you might write something and you show up and another comic has that same joke, so then you have to switch it. Sometimes you don't even know what another comic's joke is, and then they say it live and you're like, "Oh my God, that was my joke! I don't know what to do."
Wow, two hours is a really small window.
It is. I don't know anything about pop culture really, so I have to do a little research. But you know what? Everyone on the panel is friends that I have known for a very long time. Rarely do I do the show when I don't know the panelists. Jo Koy and I have known each other since the '90s, when I was a kid. I've known Heather McDonald since before she was even married. So your history with people helps. And it really helps with ticket numbers on the road.
What effect has being on Chelsea had on your career? Did it open you to a new fan base?
I'm not sure if it's from that. I don't know what helps and what doesn't help. I think it's the accumulation of things I've done — like movies and Animal Practice, and I just filmed an appearance on Arrested Development. I'm doing an animated series with Seth Meyers and Rachel Dratch for Hulu. I don't just rely on one thing; I do little things here and there to survive. I have the perfect career because I can do all kinds of little things but I am still kind of under the radar, but I have credibility in the comedy world, which is the most important thing.
Do people still get you confused with other Asian comics? How do you handle it?
Not really, because Ken [Jeong, from The Hangover] and I are so different. Some people will go, "I know you from somewhere," and then guess the wrong thing, but at the end of the day, I don't give a shit.
I read that you tried out for the role of Harold in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Although you still got face time in the movie, do you think you could have done it better than John Cho?
Everything happens in its own time. I feel like John was just meant to be that guy. I'm not envious or jealous. I love him; he is a dear friend. He fought for me to be in the movie after I auditioned a bunch of times for Harold. John and Margaret Cho and all these people who are my peers have always been very helpful and kind. A lot of people are competitive. I am not that way; that's not my nature. I don't give a shit.
Some might say the movies you have been in are less than Oscar-worthy. Do you have any dreams of being a big-movie actor, or are you happy as a standup comedy guy?
Well, I'm not really much of an actor in terms of movies. When I did a little part in Pineapple Express with Ken [Jeong], Seth [Rogen] asked and I said yes. Sacha [Baron Cohen] asked me to be in The Dictator; I'm not going to say no. Am I Daniel Day-Lewis? No. Is that one of my goals in life? Not really. Can I act? Yeah. I've done six pilots for networks. I've done so many things, so I know I can act, but I like to do everything. If Christopher Nolan asked me to be the next Batman, I'd be like, "Fuck yeah, let's do it!"... He just hasn't asked me yet.
It's cool how you've jumped all over social media and bypassed having an official website.
I've never had a website. I don't sell merchandise. I tweet, but I don't tweet to get fans. I tweet to communicate with people I am friends with. If people want to follow me, that's great, and I follow a lot of people, but it is not a career thing. I don't need to gather as many people as possible so I can sell out arenas. For me, playing a club and getting the number of people I do get is fine. I'm on Instagram now, not for my career, but just to communicate with people.
A lot of people are getting on Instagram now. What do you like about that platform?
I just like taking photos of myself and putting them online. I like looking at hot chicks' accounts. I don't masturbate to them, but I just like watching pretty people. And I also like to see funny people doing funny photos. I don't really do that; I just take pictures with cool people I meet. I just did one with the Arctic Monkeys. I love them.
What will your show at the Fort Lauderdale Improv be like?
My standup is getting stronger, and people are coming out. I love coming to South Florida. I love pretty people and I love gambling and I love the sun. I like old people too. I always do well in Fort Lauderdale. I just want people to come and hang out.
What is your favorite sandwich?
The Monte Cristo. Although every time I eat it, I get diarrhea.