They Call Me Bruce? (Lee) and its Journey to Inclusion

"Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.”

― Bruce Lee

Johnny Yune and his classic They Call Me Bruce? are an inextricably linked one two punch.

One being Yune and his comedic brilliance discovered early on by none other than the late great Johnny Carson.

And two, They Call Me Bruce?, the byproduct of Yune’s genius that was far ahead of its time.

So far ahead that one may even say he helped pave the way for amazing, topical shows like Fresh off the Boat. 

But it is also entirely likely that Yune also felt the underrepresentation of the times, foreshadowing even today where, according to NBC News, a recent study on Asian American representation in Hollywood found that only 3.4 percent of Hollywood’s top-grossing movies featured Asian American or Pacific Islander leads. For its time, grossing over $16 Million at the box office deems this a rarified hit starring an Asian American. Even in today's standards.

While IMDB describes They Call Me Bruce? as “A goofy Korean finds his life hopelessly complicated with people continually confusing him with Bruce Lee,” the description we absolutely love is that of Roger Ebert way back in 1983 when the movie was “fresh off” film reels, “The plot is cheerfully idiotic.”

That Ebert could so elegantly sum up all that is beautiful about this long lost treasure was prescient and thoughtful.

Because it is true. Yune inhabited a bit of “The Kid” in this film. Just like in that slapstick masterpiece, Yune channels Chaplin in the most unintentional way as he guffaws with moments of disarming poignancy.

In short, Johnny preempted Asian hate, but never let the situation go there. While his writing was far ahead of its time on this film, he actually was an equal opportunity parodist. He made fun of everyone and saw kinship with all walks of life and Americans in general.

Like his comparison to Chaplin, Yune's character is a “blissful idiot, a Jerry Lewis retread who specializes in bad puns ala ‘If you knew sushi, like I know sushi.’”

And his flashbacks to his wisened elderly master harken to a simpler time when the advice was to land a kick to the groin to disarm his opponent.

But to understand Johnny Yune and how he arrived at celebrating Asian culture in the most absurd of fashion, is to learn more of the man many today may have never known led such a fascinating life.

Johnny was a naval cadet early in his career and was discovered in an L.A. comedy club by Carson and was the first Asian stand up guest. In fact it is widely known that Yune received nearly half the show on the night another famous guest never showed. In all, Yune was on Carson a near record 34 times! His global profile even landed him a performance on the 1988 Olympic Stage - one of the biggest of his career and one he shared with Bob Hope no less.

In a time when Yune should be celebrated most, TheArchive felt it altogether appropriate to dust off They Call Me Bruce? and remaster it for an audience for whom we hope there is appreciation. As Roger Ebert also said, "They're making a spoof of kung-fu movies for the same American audiences that went to Airplane!”

TheArchive hopes you enjoy and build a newfound respect for an early influencer of comedic diversity - hit them all, pull no punches, and laugh together.

Bruce Lee was right, one’s tools "strike at the right moment" and this is Johnny’s moment. It was once said of Johnny, a Korean immigrant who was an international naval cadet, that being able to release They Call Me Bruce? was a “minor miracle.” We hope you enjoy this miracle and applaud Johnny for taking risks and applaud a comedian who simply wanted to help people laugh at themselves and feel better for it.

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