On Sunday at 8 pm/ET, the AZN Television network presents the 2006 Asian Excellence Awards, the first-ever broadcast of this ceremony that celebrates Asians and Asian Americans in entertainment, sports, music and more. In addition to such categories as "Outstanding TV Performance" and "Outstanding Stylemaker," special honors will be given to Lucy Liu, AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho, Quentin Tarantino, the late Ismail Merchant and Pat Morita. Joining X-Men 2's Kelly Hu in hosting the festivities is MADtv funnyman Bobby Lee, whom TVGuide.com was happy to chat up even though the prime-time scheduling of the interview meant missing a repeat of UPN's Eve. Grrr.
TVGuide.com: This is the first time they're on TV, but it's not the first Asian Excellence Awards ever, am I correct?
Bobby Lee: No, they've held them for years. John Cho (Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) hosted one year, and Jason Scott Lee (The Jungle Book) hosted another.... But I'm not that big a name, so they paired me up with Kelly Hu.
TVGuide.com: Not too shabby a stage partner you have there.
Lee: Well, they at first wanted Jason Scott Lee with her, but then they were like, "They're both too good-looking" I swear to god, this is what they told me. "It'd be better if Kelly Hu had somebody that would be the opposite of [handsome]." They literally said that because I'm ugly, it'd be a good fit.
TVGuide.com: Oh, I'm sure they meant "ugly" in the nicest way possible. From where you sit, is there an emergence going on with Asian-American performers? Memoirs of a Geisha finally got made, you're representing on such A-list shows as Lost and Grey's Anatomy....
Lee: Yeah, I think so. John Cho has a deal at Fox, Margaret Cho has a deal at Fox, I have a deal at NBC.... To think that three Asian Americans have deals at big networks is a really huge thing probably not to most Americans, but to our community it's a sign that the networks are catching on. It's a very progressive trend. They should have done it 20 years ago, but....
TVGuide.com: "With raindrops we can fill buckets" or something like that.
Lee: Yeah. It's exciting.
TVGuide.com: The telecast is sponsored by Rémy Martin. Are you a fan of their spirits?
Lee: Well, I quit drinking three years ago, so it's very unfortunate. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: So much for their offer to back a truck up to your house. Hey, is it true that Bai Ling's performances on But Can They Sing? set the Asian-American movement back 20 years?
Lee: I think William Hung did worse damage.
TVGuide.com: I interviewed him not too long ago. Funny kid.
Lee: Yeah, he's not at all aware of what's going on, but he's a funny kid.
TVGuide.com: At first glance, someone looking over the Asian Excellence nominees might see the names of Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Commander in Chief) or Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) and wonder if there is a typo, but the fact is they each have an Indonesian parent.
Lee: Right, right, right. Lou Diamond Phillips apparently is Asian, too.
TVGuide.com: Do you check DNA swabs at the door?
Lee: [Laughs] And isn't Keanu Reeves half-Asian? He seems a little Asian, right?
TVGuide.com: I'd buy that, yeah. You know, with My Name Is Earl being such a critical darling and earning much kudos, did Jason "Not Scott" Lee try to slip onto your ballot?
Lee: No, no, no... he's a very good guy, though. I love Jason.
TVGuide.com: How many auditions have you been on to try to get into one of Jin's or Sun's Lost backstories?
Lee: [Laughs] None, none... I'm still busy at MAD, so I can't really go out to do other things.
TVGuide.com: Oh, please. MAD is, what, a few hours a week and you're done.
Lee: No, it's literally 40-hour weeks!
TVGuide.com: How is MADtv doing these days?
Lee: Ratings are a little down, but I'm very happy.
TVGuide.com: I haven't seen a full episode in a while, but I saw one where you were playing a stereo-un-typical Asian guy. Friends assumed he was a ninja; he wasn't. Didn't know if it was the Year of the Dog or what. Funny stuff!
Lee: Yeah, "Average Asian." I pitch those kinds of ideas because in the beginning, when I first started at MAD, it was all rickshas and dog-eating sketches. I just wanted to quit. I almost got fired at one point, but I hung in there. Now, in the last three years, it's been really great. I've been able to do things I want to do and I can say no to things.
TVGuide.com: You always hear the stories of how cutthroat it can be backstage at Saturday Night Live, but I imagine MADtv isn't quite as bad.
Lee: Oh, but it is. It's just the platform of sketch [comedy] that breeds competitiveness. We're all fighting for that one spot, and at the end of the day, it's one dude who makes the ultimate decision. It's like you audition every week. You go to a table read and none of your s--- gets picked, and yet some other white kid gets picked. As an Asian guy, you think it's racism, but it really isn't. It's just the way it f---ing is.
TVGuide.com: What else do you have on tap?
Lee: [I have] the deal at NBC, trying to get on a sitcom. I did an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm about a month ago....
TVGuide.com: Don't you have some stand-up comedy DVD in the works, called The Kins of Comedy?
Lee: Yeah, it's me and three other Koreans, and it's coming out in two or three months. We've been going on tour, and everywhere we go we sell out. I didn't think people would actually want to come see four Korean guys, but these other guys are really f---ing funny, man. I have to follow them, and it's tough.
TVGuide.com: I ran this by a friend when I told him I'd be interviewing you, but I wasn't sure I could share it here without fear of protests outside my cubicle. You tell me: "The thing about Asian awards shows is that a half hour later, I'm hungry for another awards show."
Lee: [Laughs hard] Oh, you have to print that. That is very f---ing funny. Very funny.