Robert Lee Jr. (born September 18, 1971) is an American actor and comedian of Korean descent, best known for being a cast member on MADtv from 2001 to 2009 and for his roles in the films Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), Pineapple Express (2008), and The Dictator (2012). Between 2018 and 2019, Lee co-starred in the ABC single-camera sitcom series Splitting Up Together alongside Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson.
In 2016, Lee and his girlfriend, Khalyla Kuhn, started a weekly podcast titled TigerBelly, which currently has over 350,000 subscribers and 56 million views on YouTube.
Lee was born Robert Lee, Jr. in San Diego, California, the son of Jeanie and Robert Lee. The older of two sons, Lee attended Poway High School in Poway, California. He wrestled in high school. At 18, Lee moved out of his parents' home and took jobs in restaurants and coffee shops in the San Diego area, while also attending Palomar College for a brief period.
Addiction and sobriety
Lee began taking methamphetamine and marijuana around 12, and went through three drug-rehabilitation attempts, ending his meth abuse around 17. During his period of drug abuse, Lee claims that he not only competed in a wrestling tournament under the influence of methamphetamine and LSD, but won the tournament. When he started with MADtv, a producer told him that he wasn't funny and that they wouldn't use him in the show very often. Lee went down a spiral of depression and drug use, ending 12 years of sobriety. He got sober after MADtv producer Lauren Dombrowski fought for him after he was fired from the show a second time. Dombrowski died of cancer on October 8, 2008 in Los Angeles when she was 51. On TigerBelly, Lee said that one of the only times he has ever cried was at Dombrowski's funeral.
In 1994 the coffee shop for which he was working closed. “I just went next door to get a job,” he said, “which was The Comedy Store in San Diego” (also known as the La Jolla Comedy Store). After a few months of working odd jobs at the club he decided to try stand-up during one of their amateur nights. Within a year of doing regular comedy sets he got offers to open for both Pauly Shore and Carlos Mencia. Lee also went on to work regularly at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, a comedy club owned by Pauly Shore's mother Mitzi.
Lee has admitted in several interviews that his parents had hoped he would continue on with the family business and were less than supportive of his comedic pursuits at first. During a podcast interview conducted by fellow actor and comedian Joe Rogan on February 1, 2011, Lee stated that during the first few years he did stand-up his parents barely spoke to him, however after his appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno his father called him, and asked how much he had to pay to be on the show and then apologized for not supporting his comedy career after he found out that in fact The Tonight Show with Jay Leno had asked him to appear. Lee is known to have included his family in some of his work: His younger brother has appeared in several non-speaking roles on MADtv and his entire family has appeared in a sketch on the show. Lee also pitched a sitcom to Comedy Central in 2007 about a Korean family which was to star his very own family.
In 2001, Lee joined the cast of MADtv, making him the show's first and only Asian cast member. Lee remained with the cast until the series' cancellation in 2009 and returned briefly when MADtv was revived in 2016 on The CW. Some of Lee's recurring characters included:
|Kim Jong-il||Host of the imaginary Kim Jong-il Show|
|Bae Sung||The hapless interpreter|
|Tank||Asian-American "Street Tuner" character in the style of the film The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift|
|Xing Lao "Johnny" Gan||Host of Many Shows! With Johnny Gan and Pongo|
|"The Blind Kung-fu Master"||Title character|
|Dr. Poon Ji-Sum||Character on the Korean soap opera parody Taedo-Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive|
|Hideki "The Average Asian"||Asian man whose friends think he adheres to the stereotypes associated with East Asian people|
|John McCain||United States Senator from Arizona|
|Stewie Griffin||Infant super-villain in a live-action re-creation of a scene from the Family Guy episode "Fast Times at Buddy Cianci High"|
|Yamanashi||Student in gym class of Coach Hines (Keegan-Michael Key), who always gets yelled at and harassed by Coach Hines (whether or not he deserved it).|
TigerBelly is a video podcast hosted by Lee and his girlfriend Khalyla Kuhn, which currently has over 350,000 subscribers and 56 million views on YouTube. Also on camera is the sound engineer Gilbert Galon and behind the scenes producer and frequent on-screen personality George Kimmel. Kuhn became interested in doing podcasts of her own after she was a guest on the DVDASA podcast. The show's intro song "Shadow Gook" was written, produced and performed by Lee. The hosts discuss events from their lives and news topics from popular culture, often revolving around Asian American issues related to the entertainment industry, adolescence, sexuality, ethnicity, racism, and politics. Towards the end of the show, host Galon reads listener questions, which are addressed in a segment jokingly referred to as "Unhelpful Advice". Periodically, the end of the show features a segment called "MMA minute" in which the hosts discuss mixed martial arts and the UFC.
Lee and Erik Griffin initially pitched a podcast to All Things Comedy and they were immediately signed but the two could never make the time to meet. Around this time Lee and Kuhn were visiting family in the Philippines, when Kuhn came down with serious heart trouble. She spent weeks in hospitals and couldn't return to her nursing job. She needed something to do to keep busy and so started her own podcast. Lee came on her show and the chemistry was so good that Lee decided to drop Griffin and instead focus on podcasts with Kuhn. As Tigerbelly grew Lee and Kuhn needed more help. They had been having technical issues while trying to do podcasts and needed an engineer to watch the computer so they asked Gilbert to handle the technical side of the podcast. Lee met Gilbert at a viewing of a Manny Pacquiao fight. Lee met the future producer of TigerBerry, George Kimmel, before TigerBelly when Lee was recruited to make Maker Studio shows, where Kimmel was working as a producer. While producing other YouTube shows for Maker Studios Kimmel and Lee became friends and he was asked to join the TigerBelly team. Kimmel came into the TigerBelly family much later but knew he wanted to be part of the show even offering to be Galon's assistant.
Tilda Swinton controversy
In December 2016, during episode 71, guest Margaret Cho recounted an incident that occurred between her and actress Tilda Swinton. According to Cho, Swinton contacted her via email to discuss the Asian American community's reaction to the news that Swinton had been cast to play the character Ancient One in the movie version of Doctor Strange. In the original comic book, the character is Tibetan. According to Swinton, she contacted Cho in order to better understand why Asian Americans were upset about the casting. On the show, Cho tells Lee and Kuhn that she found the inquiry strange since she didn't know Swinton and had never talked to her before, nor did she have anything to do with the movie or casting.
On December 21, Swinton released the email exchange between her and Cho to the website Jezebel. In response to the release, Cho stated that she stands by her words both on TigerBelly and in the email exchange.
In 2005, comedian Joe Rogan wrote a post on his website publicly accusing Carlos Mencia of being a plagiarist, alleging that Mencia stole jokes from a number of comedians. On February 10, 2007, Rogan confronted Mencia on stage at the Comedy Store on Sunset and continued his allegations of plagiarism. Rogan posted a video of the altercation with audio and video clips from other comedians including George Lopez, Reverend Bob Levy, Lee, and Ari Shaffir, among others. Mencia addressed the issue of plagiarism in two hour-long interviews with comic Marc Maron on his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron, in May 2010. Lee was brought into the controversy as he has long history with Mencia and was seen as being in Mencia's camp. On the Norm Macdonald Live show, Lee talked about Brian Redban's Deathsquad network (Deathsquad is made up of a number of comedians like Ari Shaffir, Redban, Joey CoCo Diaz, Tony Hinchcliffe) trying to derail his career over the Mencia controversy. Years later on Rogan's podcast, Lee talked about how after he did a retraction video in support of Mencia, he was faced with death threats. On the Comedy Store Podcast Lee was hoping to end a feud between him and Comedy Store fixture Eleanor Kerrigan. She told a story about how her ex-boyfriend Freddy Soto stopped a show at the Comedy Store and kicked Lee out of the room because he thought, falsely, that Lee was stealing Soto's material on behalf of Mencia. He also related how his management team asked him how to rehabilitate Mencia's career and he said that Mencia should do a special showing how Mencia creates incredibly personal material for a special.
Lee's Korean American parents owned clothing stores in both Escondido and Encinitas, California. His mother currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. His father had a stroke and passed away August 18, 2019. Lee also has a brother, Steve Lee, who is a musician and host of The Steebee Weebee podcast. Steve has also made guest appearances alongside Bobby on MAD Tv, especially in sketches featuring Kim Jong Il and Tank.
|2005||Kims of Comedy||Self||With fellow Korean American comics Steve Byrne, Ken Jeong and Kevin Shea in a stand-up comedy tour and accompanying film|
|1999||The Underground Comedy Movie||Chinese Man|
|2001||Unreal TV||Quang Duck, The Loud Ninja, Lazy Principal|
|2003||Pauly Shore Is Dead||Delivery boy|
|2003||American Misfits||Korean General|
|2004||Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle||Kenneth Park|
|2006||Thugaboo: Sneaker Madness||Mr. Lee Young / William Hung||TV Movie|
|2007||Kickin' It Old Skool||Aki|
|2008||Pineapple Express||An Asian drug-gangster named Bobby|
|2010||Hard Breakers||Travis the stoner|
|2011||A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas||Kenneth Park|
|2012||The Dictator||Mr. Lao|
|2012||Emerald Acres||Sammy No||TV Movie|
|2013||Wedding Palace||Kevin||Directed by Christine Yoo|
|2013-2015||The Awesomes||Voice of Tim/Sumo||Hulu animated series|
|2014||Bro, What Happened?||Brah Man||Directed by Dante|
|2015||NCIS: Los Angeles||Rio Syamsundin|
|2016-2018||Love||Truman||On Netflix, with Gillian Jacobs|
|2016||Laid in America||Goose||A British comedy film released direct-to-digital on September 26, featuring Olajide Olatunji and Caspar Lee (no relation)|
|2016||Keeping Up with the Joneses||Ricky Lu|
|2017||What Would Diplo Do?||Brian|
|2018||NCIS: Los Angeles||Rio Syamsundin|
|2018–2019||Splitting Up Together||Arthur||On ABC - main cast|
|2009||"We Made You"||Eminem||Sulu from Star Trek, and an Inuit|
|2010||"2 Different Tears"||Wonder Girls|
|2002||The Tonight Show with Jay Leno||Self||Aired April 26|
|2005||Curb Your Enthusiasm||"The Korean Bookie"||A Korean bookie named Sung, aired Nov 27|
|2005-2006||Mind of Mencia||An Asian CSI agent, gay pirate||"Episode #1.6" aired August 10 , Episode "Stereotype Olympics" aired July 23|
|2007||Sales Guys||Earl Wayne Thurman|
|2009||Whorified! The Search for America's Next Top Whore||Bobby Lee|
|2009||State of Romance||Andrew|
|2010||Ktown Cowboys||Bobby Lee|
|2010||Chelsea Lately||Round Table Regular|
|2011||Big Time Rush||T.J.|
|2012||RVC: The Lone Shopping Network||Hiri|
|2012||Animal Practice||Dr. Yamamoto|
|2013||Arrested Development||Mrs. Oh|
|2014||The League||Lee Wei Lee||Episodes "The Usual Bet", and "Epi Sexy"|
|2018–2019||Splitting Up Together||Arthur||On ABC - main cast|