McGinnis: ‘MADtv’s’ Bobby Lee to play at Funny BoneWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The history of comedy has its share of tragedy mixed in. Names like Belushi and Farley spring to mind as talents who were taken too soon, victims of their own demons. And so it may have been for Bobby Lee.
The comedian had the biggest chance of his young career in 2001, when, at the age of 29, he garnered an audition for the Fox sketch comedy series “MADtv.”
“I never had any sketch experience. But my manager also managed one of the producers of the show,” Lee said in an interview. “So, the night before I went in, my manager called me and said, ‘Just create three characters and three impressions as fast as you can, before you show up tomorrow.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know how to do any of that.’
“So, I just basically looked in the mirror and made up some things, and I went in. And they just kept calling me back. It was really weird. But by the tenth audition, I got the show.”
But Lee’s breakthrough onto network television was not an immediate success. He admits to being miserable his first few years working for “MAD.” “When I first got the show, they didn’t like me that much. So, it took me a couple years to even get anything on that show.”
When asked what finally turned his career around, he is blunt: “I went to drug rehab.”
“I had been in and out of sobriety since I was in high school,” Lee said. “And I just — my second year of ‘MAD,’ I just stopped showing up for things. Like, important things. And then they gave me an intervention, and they said, ‘You gotta get sober, or you’re fired,’ or whatever. But I didn’t get sober because I was gonna get fired. I got sober because I thought I was gonna die, you know?”
In the years following his rehab, Lee really began to blossom on “MAD.” He began to play more prominent roles, imitating everyone from Kim Jung-Il to John McCain. Lee would stay on the show until its end in May of 2009.
Now, Lee has returned to his original stomping ground: stand-up comedy. He will be performing at the Funny Bone in Perrysburg on August 26, 27 and 28. The comic admits he’s never been to the Toledo area before, though he has played in cities all over Ohio.
For Lee, being in front of a comedy club crowd is his natural habitat as a performer. “I started doing it in the early 90s, and I got some breaks, some movies…And obviously, I did that, because that’s more money than doing stand-up. But I always loved doing stand-up. It was always my first love.”
Lee cites Margaret Cho as a huge influence. “After watching her, I decided I wanted to try it, because of her. After time, I became friends with her, but I’ve always idolized her.”
Lee, in his own words, said that “I was just awful” in his first few years onstage, and like all comedians, he learned his craft the only way one can: Lots and lots of practice.
“It’s just stage time. Whenever I talk to someone younger doing it, I just say you gotta go up as much as you can. I mean, I go up nine times a week when I’m in LA. Because I just wanna get better. It’s so hard to get good at, you know?”
In comparing the world of sketch comedy and stand-up, Lee said he finds more creative rewards in having the stage in a club. “Stand-up is more freeing. When you do sketch, like, 95% of thing things you write will probably never get on, you know? With stand-up, everything I say is stuff that I wrote. I’m pretty much the show runner and the guy who composed all of it, which is freeing.”
And the comedian’s docket is certainly full in the months ahead. After his gig at the Funny Bone, Lee will be going to South Africa for a month to perform. “I can go around the world and do it, and it’s fun. You know, I’m single, I’m not married, so it’s an easy life.” He has also just recently finished filming a role in the third “Harold and Kumar” movie and “Paul” with Simon Pegg.
Lee said that he hopes to get more and more into movies in the future, but he doesn’t think of it as a grand career plan. “Whatever is in front of me, I do,” he said. “If something comes my way, I take a look at it, but I don’t stress out about things like that.”
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.