Bobby Lee is a Korean-American comedian and actor that is making his debut on this year’s The Nasty Show as host of the fan-favourite series with Big Jay Oakerson, Andrew Schulz, Jessimae Peluso, Comedian CP, and Bonnie McFarlane.
Lee’s acting roles have lead him to become a comedy household name, especially after spending 8 years on the smash sketch comedy series MADtv, and recently wrapping his starring role on ABC’s Splitting Up Together. Other films he’s been featured in with lasting memorable roles include Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, Pineapple Express, and The Dictator.
Now I am a fan of Bobby Lee. I used to watch MADtv religiously with my brother. So much laughter this man has given me so I lept at the chance to chat with him.
So it’s your first time at the JFL Festival and you’re hosting the Nasty Show, one of the fan-favorite shows at the festival. What are you looking forward to the most at the Just For Laughs Festival?
They’ve been asking me for years and when I was a young comic I auditioned so many times to get into the New Faces at Montreal. The year that I got MADtv is when they asked me to come to Montreal but I couldn’t do it because I had signed a deal.
The reason why I’m doing the festival is because of Howie Mandel.
They asked me many years later and I said no because I had this weird resentment and Howie said you can’t live like that. You have to do it. They’re nice people and you’re a funny guy.
So I took his advice and I now I’m coming. I’m super excited about it.
I LOVED MADtv. I watched it every week religiously. You were on the show for 8 years during the time you struggled with pill addiction. You got fired, got clean and got your job back. When the show was canceled, were you sad/mad? How has being on MADtv shaped/affected you as a person and your career?
Well here’s the deal. You know I started doing stand-up in San Diego back in the 90s. In terms of the way I carried myself, people would say that I wasn’t going to make it in the business because I was just different.
MADtv made me realize that. “Oh good. Maybe I can work right.” And then by being on that show it gave me that kind of that confidence. And then I learned how to do everything like how to act, how to memorize lines, how television works in terms of like standing on your mark or what cameras are called and all that stuff.
I learned how to do it and they also paid me to do it which is unbelievable. And I made many of my life acquaintances on MAD. Key and Peele, Mike McDonald, Alex Borstein, Will Sasso… it was the beginning of really my comedy career.
You’ve been sober for 17 years now and working in the entertainment business can be a tough place to stay sober. What made you want to get sober?
I was on MADtv and I just stopped showing up work. They would be shooting but I would not be there, I would be in Mexico doing drugs.
And then one day, MADtv gave me an intervention and they said “we’re going to fire you if you don’t get sober”. A week later, I did a Connie Chung sketch and I shat myself on television so they had to let me go.
I got sober and then a couple of months later they rehired me. What happened was I was at a meeting and I didn’t know that one of the producers were sober. Her husband started sponsoring me. That’s the only way that that happened. I was like really diligent about my sobriety and the producers saw that I was dead on serious about being sober too. I mean it was the best thing I ever did.
A lot of comedians are struggling with the same affliction – What would you say to comedians struggling with addiction?
You know it’s like you have to learn to do this completely sober because if you start by drinking you’re going to think that you need that when you do Jimmy Fallon or when you do a TV spot. You can’t take nine shots if you want do a TV spot, so you have to learn to do it completely sober.
I’ve known stories, I don’t want to name anyone by name, but I’ve heard nightmare stories where people were drunk, they did stand-up on TV, they burned a bridge and they never worked together again.
So whenever I see young people partying before they go up, I’m like “party afterward” you know I’m fine with that.
You’ve done different forms of entertainment: acting, sketch comedy, stand up comedy – which one do you love to do the most?
I started doing stand-up at dirty comedy clubs. When I was in that movie The Dictator, I remember I did a scene with Ben Kingsley. And I remember sitting there on a couch, with Ben Kingsley, and we’re talking about acting and about my life and whatnot. And in the back of my head I thought “Wow! This is like really amazing.”
It’s cool you know because I did open mic and now I’m doing this scene with Academy Award winning actor, right?But you need these little bits of hope. When I was doing a film or a TV show it makes me feel like I’ve made it. But when I’m doing stand-up on the road it doesn’t feel that way. It’s fine. They’re both good feelings.
I need to be doing all of that I think for me to be completely happy.
You recently wrapped your role on the TV show Splitting Up Together. What did that role teach you as an actor? What projects do you have on the burner?
I’ll be doing a couple episodes of Magnum P.I. coming up after Montreal but for me it’s like I don’t really think about it. The two years I was on Splitting Up Together, I needed that for me to think “OMG, you’re still working.”
You know, because I feel like when you’re doing stand-up or acting and you’re not working, it really fucks you up spiritually. So as long as I’m like making a living and working, being in the process of pitching and writing and all that stuff, I need to be in that pocket. I’m constantly doing in that but also I know that I will find another job so that doesn’t really bother me.
What is the most silliest/ridiculous thing you’ve done that maybe you should not have done?
Well I shouldn’t have a pooed in my executive producers office when I was on MADtv.
When I was on MADtv, Jackie Chan was a guest star and I wrote the executive producer a letter saying that I want to be in that sketch with Jackie Chan. A couple of months later I turned on the TV and Jackie was on MADtv. And I wasn’t in the sketch. So to get revenge, I pooed in the executive producers office but then it backfired and nobody thought it was funny and it was kinda rude and I’m sorry.
If you could describe your comedy as a custom pastry, what would it be?
Probably like probably got like a maple syrup doughnut with bacon. Probably something like that. That sounds delicious. You know a bunch of stuff that might not get along but when you eat it, it kind of does.
Interview edited for publishing
The Nasty Show runs from July 17th to July 24th at MTelus. Buy your tickets online and we’ll see you there!