I originally wanted to title this In Defense of Bobby Lee, but I figured if Bobby Lee ever read this, he’d be like, “What the fuck? You don’t know me! I don’t need you defending me, motherfucker.”
But I feel like I have to say something. Lately, I’ve come across articles like this written by fellow Asians discussing negative portrayals of us in the media or in romantic relationships. They almost always include the point that Asian males in particular are at a disadvantage because we are shown in movies and TV as emasculated, asexual stereotypes. And they almost always mention Bobby Lee as an example of this:
I, like most people, was first introduced to Bobby Lee 13 years ago when he was cast on MADtv. I was pretty excited to see someone who was Korean on a TV show. Yes, sometimes he had to do an accent, play a kung-fu master, or dress like a woman. But he also played characters in sketches where race had nothing to do with the laughs.
My friend Andrew (also a Korean male), was not a fan of Bobby. “I don’t like him. You see him running around naked acting stupid. It’s embarrassing.” Andrew was on the side of the Asian-American community that argued that if Asians were going to be in the public eye, they should carry the responsibility of portraying us in a positive light because a) Asians are barely featured in the media and b) when we are, we’re usually embarrassed by William Hung and Tila Tequila.
I understood where Andrew was coming from. But at the same time, Bobby Lee did not ask for that responsibility, nor does he really owe it to anybody to act like someone he’s not. Bobby Lee is a genuinely brash, fearless, zero fucks-giving comic. He is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. He talks about being molested in his stand-up act. He will whip out his penis in his stand-up act. He does not give a fuck if said penis is not that big. He is always raw, uncensored, and unapologetic.
Bobby isn’t trying to piss off the Asian-American community, nor is he deliberately trying to cater to white people. Bobby Lee is just being who he is. He’s not faking it. Keeping his clothes on and watching what he says for the cameras would be faking it.
Bobby Lee is not the problem. The real problem is that for every Chris Farley, Seth Rogen, and Jonah Hill, white folks still have Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and hundreds more to represent them in popular culture. Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill aren’t even that fat anymore. There are many good-looking, smart, and talented Asian dudes (trust me white people, they exist) to counter William Hung. But the media chooses not to give them that exposure.
Therein lies the problem: We need better representation in the media, but the media turns a deaf ear to most of us. What are we to do?
That’s where I’m stuck. I suppose you could argue Bobby is at the very least inadvertently hurting the cause. But just because the Asian community can’t control our own image we have to control his?
My point is, just let Bobby Lee be. In the same way white people let the Insane Clown Posse be. No, we don’t have the same well-rounded media attention of white folks. But we need to just be who we are and push ahead, because it will get better. The kind of attention we get will change. The U.S. will no longer be a white majority by 2043. Asians were the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. in 2012. As our presence in society becomes more noticeable, the more business and advertisers will want to cater to us. And what do we want? Better representation.
It’s happening, slowly but surely. When I was a kid, there were literally no Asians on TV, unless a show was doing a Chinatown/martial arts/trip to China/Asian girlfriend-centered episode that week. Now, I see Ken Jeong, John Cho, and Daniel Dae Kim every week on TV not looking or talking like a walking stereotype (though the character of “Han” in 2 Broke Girls has negated some of that progress). We’re getting there.
So Bobby, count me in as a fan. I laugh at your stories and admire your fearlessness as a performer. And if people choose to not like you, let it be because your sense of humor is not for them, not because they are afraid of what white people will think of them because of you.