GREETINGS, TRUE BELIEVERS!
Here's some common questions asked by the peanut gallery:
Q. Are you Chinese or American?
A. I'm Chinese American. What does that mean? I look Chinese and I listen to AC/DC and watch WWE. Classy.
Q. How did Hollywood's biggest Chinese-American-Coloradoan brother-sister comedy writing duo Dan Lee and Vivian Lee form to create this monumental, groundbreaking cartoon?
A. In 2003, a major network was holding an animated TV series contest. My manager at the time called her agents and together we brokered a lucrative deal over lunch.
When I say "manager" and "agents" I mean it very loosely in the imaginary sense. However it was a nice Arby's lunch.
After a short time, Viv and I wrote a brilliant gem of a pitch called Mr. Chan: Misunderstood Man, an animated comedy about the life of a Chinese immigrant in America, and submitted it to the network. The pitch was like the movie "Lost in Translation" except it takes place on American soil and Bill Murray's the Chinese immigrant.
To reenact what subsequently happened in all likelihood, the network guy who was assigned to read through all the pitches glanced at the title, took a deep disappointed sigh, put it in the tall pile labeled "caca," then put his head down on his desk and immediately regretted soliciting material online.
And thus, Mr. Chan: Misunderstood Man was created independently as a web series.
Q. What was your motivation behind Mr. Chan: Misunderstood Man?
A. In "Lost in Translation," it's like oooooohh, let's follow a couple Americans in Japan! Look how weird Japanese culture is! Look how weird Japanese people are!
Hey, you know what’s weird? Americans! Ya see how we flipped that?!
So let's show American life from the perspective of a main character that's Chinese. We wanted to create a "straight man" character that's outspoken and different but relatable to viewers (not completely derogatory like in many cases). Mr. Chan behaves like most Asian American dads...or maybe just ours. We went with a more familiar name "Mr. Chan" in the same vein as "Mr. Smith."
The setting of the cartoon is in a small American town. We're from a small American town. We basically made up the entire Asian demographic. Mandarin was like a secret language even though like a billion people speak it in Asia and Monterey Park.
Mr. Chan runs a Chinese fast food counter in a shopping mall food court. Now why is this? For a time, my dad...wait for it...ran a Chinese fast food counter in a shopping mall food court. My family also ran the local Chinese restaurant in our small town.
I will say this: before the web series started, we ended up going with a food court rather than of a Chinese restaurant. The mall food court seemed like more of a social atmosphere. Plus it would be kind of funny if the International Food Court would be the place you'd find the town's entire ethnic population.
I read online that the animated series The Boondocks is social satire or social commentary on American culture and race. I'm not sure if that's what's going on here. I'm not political and kinda stooby.
Q. Why is Mr. Chan misunderstood?
A. It's a different spin on the fish-out-of-water story...big city guy in small town USA. Mr. Chan's a guy who's lived in America for 15 years and still doesn't quite fit in many people's eyes...and now he's adapting to new surroundings all over again.
The townsfolk are friendly but curious. Hey, they don't see a lot of Asian folks so they're gonna ask him a lot of innocent questions and verify things they've seen in the media, right?
There's usually a communication barrier. Mutual understanding is never 100%. Which leads to some interesting conversations and situations.
Yes, the essence of the show is about not fitting in, but Mr. Chan doesn't care one way or another. He's honest to himself, does what he thinks is right, and says exactly what's on his mind, no bullshit.
Q. Where do you come up with these stories?
A. I'll summarize. The eye doctor episode, affectionately known as the "balls" episode, happened to me. On different occasions. Now let's drop it.
The Beef & Broccoli episode? I once worked at a Chinese fast food place and someone asked me that.
The Cat episode? My dad tells me these random stories about when he lived in Manhattan in the 70's and when he worked in different restaurants.
I scribble down some dialog or write a quick outline. Then I pass it to Viv, the professional WGA card-carrying writer on the team (I'm proud of her). She punches it up and takes it waaaaaaaay beyond timid and nicey-nicey.
After the final script, we recruit talent and record voices, and then I draw, animate, and publish the shorts.
Q. I find these cartoons funny and/or amusing. How do I support Mr. Chan?
A. Thanks for watching, babycakes! I get so excited when I hear from viewers who "get it." Send us a message on Facebook!
Q. I am offended by this cartoon, white man! It's amateur and sophomoric. I find it racist that the main character looks Asian and speaks with an Asian accent!
A. OH YOUUU. :P
Q. How much money have you made off Mr. Chan?
A. WELL! I would be lying if I said I haven't made money on MC:MM. As of right now, $4.07 from these website ads and Zazzle.
Boy, they weren't lying when they said you could make money off the web!
Now, if you're asking whether or not they've cut me a check, then no. There's like a $25 minimum. So...we are not profitable.
Q. What tools do you use?
A. Toon Boom Studio, GarageBand, Audacity
Q. In "I'm Allergic to Peanuts, Mr. Chan", is that customer male or female?
A. He has no breasts.
Q. What do you want to do with this series?
A. I await the day when Mr. Chan: Misunderstood Man is professionally produced by a legit animation studio instead of by me sitting on the couch in my underwear, working off the coffee table.
How sweet it will be.
Till then, I will continue to crank out episode after episode until my twilight years.
- Dan Lee