By Michelle Woo
Photographs by Eric Sueyoshi
Photo courtesy of Yari Films Group
For comedian Bobby Lee, working on his new film “Kickin’ It Old Skool” (due out April 20) was painful — literally. He busted a move, along with several of his out-of-shape joints.
But it was worth it. Starring Jamie Kennedy, the comedy is about a group of former grade school breakdancers who reunite after 20 years of separation. Though they’ve grown more than a bit rusty, they decide to put together a routine for an upcoming dance competition, where they’ll try to krump, flare and G-kick for a $100,000 prize.
We met up with Bobby, a cast member of the sketch comedy show “MADtv,” on the West Siiide (aka Los Angeles), where he showed off a few of his favorite breakdancing poses and told us what it’s like to play the Asian guy.
“Kickin’ It Old Skool” starts out in 1985. What was life like for you then?
I was in high school during the ‘80s. I had every Run-D.M.C. and Beastie Boys tape. I was in this breakdancing group — I don’t remember what it was called. We had this competition at school, like a talent show. We wore these great parachute pants. My mom bought them from JCPenney.
So, you already knew how to breakdance before the film?
No, that was, like, 20 years ago. They brought in [choreographer] Shaba Doo from “Breakin’ 1” and “Breakin’ 2” to teach us. This guy was serious. We had sore asses every day. See, I don’t work out. I don’t move. The only movement I do is using my fingers to play Xbox. It was all very difficult: the pop ‘n’ lock, some of the ground work, the robot. In the end, they had to get me a body double. But they couldn’t find a guy with my body type — not fat, but chubby — so they found a girl.
What was it like working with Jamie Kennedy?
He’s a very, very nice guy. He’s very funny, but he’s also a very good actor. There were scenes where [actor] Miguel (Nunez) and I were laughing tears. Once, I was laughing so much, Jamie had to kick me off the set.
What’s your character like?
Aki, on paper, wasn’t that funny. I thought he was a little stereotypical. He has a little accent. That seems to be the role I get — the über-nerdy Asian guy.
How do you feel about playing stereotypical characters?
I’ll do a stereotype if I can make it my own, if I can do it with originality. [On MADtv], we’re putting out so much material that I don’t have the time to analyze it morally. They’ll give us the script that day and say, “Here, do this.” Sometimes, I look at it and it says, “ching chong” and I say, “I’m not going to do this.” But a lot of times, I just have to do it. People tell me that I’m a leader, a pioneer, a role model. I’m not the pied piper of Asian Americans. I mean, I’m flattered when people say that, but I’m just a guy who’s wondering what I’m going to do with my life. I’m just a comic.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new film by Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) called “Pineapple Express.” And we’ll be doing our stand-up show “Kims of Comedy” at the Wiltern in Los Angeles in May.
If it’s not me, [some other Asian American] is going to be a breakthrough star. Comedy is the way for us to do it. It’s going to be insane.