"As an older guy," Bobby Lee, the former MadTV favorite starts, "my body is changing. It's getting scarier. I look like a scallop. I look like a mythological creature. I look like Pikachu with diabetes." Comedy lovers are in for a Valentine's Day treat as Bobby Lee returns to the Houston Improv Comedy Showcase on February 14.
"Audiences from Texas are the best because their comedy palates are very evolved," the comic flatters, "you guys are sophisticated in that way." With reverence to famed Houston comedians like Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks, Lee says "a lot of comedy club in Texas have been around for a while for a reason." Lee has made the Houston Improv a regular tour stop, appearing there annually.
Perhaps better know for his eight years on Fox's unfortunately-cancelled sketch show MadTV, Lee has had renewed inspiration to perform live. "While I was on Mad, I didn't do stand-up. I didn't really want to be known as a stand-up, which is stupid. [But] stand-up is the only thing where you have complete control of your franchise. You're the boss of your own destiny."
When asked to evaluate the differences between film and live theater, he's quick to clarify that he "enjoys it all", but thinks "acting is a little bit scarier." Lee, whose film credits include The Dictator, Pineapple Express and the Harold and Kumar movies, says "the validation is quicker. I was in a movie with [Dictator star Sasha Baron Cohen] and I waited a year for the movie to come out. Some people called me to say it was funny. With stand-up, you're in it right away. [It] feels good."
Looking back, Lee's thoughts on MadTV are conflicted. "At the time I thought, 'Man! After [this show], I'm gonna work forever!' You have these delusions that Hollywood's gonna be knocking on your door. So while I was on Mad, I thought all I wanted was to get off the show. Then the show gets canceled, and reality starts to hit. That was a really good situation."
Not to say that the 41-year-old doesn't mourn the loss of the popular ensemble-driven late night show. "You miss going to work and working with these really talented people. Key & Peele, Mike McDonald, Frank Caliendo; people from all over the country," Lee shares with genuine emotion, "I miss learning from these people. We were a family."
Not to be deterred by "the disappointments of Hollywood", Lee says he "likes what what [he's] doing now." "A lot of times Hollywood will make you believe that you are just cattle," Lee confesses, "But in stand-up, in makes you realize that you have a point of view and when it comes to comedy, you gut instinct is correct." Plus he promises to get naked.
In the coming year, Lee has his sights on filming his first one-man special and this tour is about "developing it to where it's really good." He claims getting back into stand-up has been a process of re-acclimating to the environment of a live show, or as he puts it "getting comfortable". "It took me years to get comfortable again. [It doesn't matter if] it's five people or ten people. I've performed in front of 20,000 people! You gotta get comfortable."
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For Lee, part of the thrill of the stand-up performance is the unpredictability. "Anything can happen. Weird [stuff]. One time Gloria Estefan came to my show in Miami and walked out. That's only gonna happen that one time." The comic continues listing with glee: "[Another time] I had a guy throw up on the stage!"
Lee builds to the big finish: "Once," he boasts with a sense of pride, "I had a guy just punch me in the face. You never know what's gonna happen."
Despite his various successes, the performer remains outwardly humble. "Honestly, I feel like I'm still struggling. And I'm glad I still feel that way. [Because] I'm still hungry. I'm still trying things." Lee's dedication to improving his craft can be drawn back to his bold willingness to bomb. "Stand-up is all about walking through fear, taking chances and failing. The more you fail, the better you'll get."
See Bobby Lee at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Improv Comedy Showcase, 7620 Katy Freeway. For information, call 713-333-8800 or visit improvhouston.com. $22 to $32.