Matthew Moy could barely contain himself, almost leaping out of his chair at an outdoor Beverly Hills cafe with excitement. "See this?" Moy exclaimed, showing off the bronze clip on his dark tie, which read, "This is a horcrux."
The "2 Broke Girls" costar chuckled, amused that his presentation had attracted only a quizzical expression from his table mate. "A horcrux is what is used by a dark wizard or witch to hide a part of their soul. You obviously aren't that familiar with Harry Potter."
Even when he settled back into his chair, the 28-year-old actor excitedly bounced from topic to topic — from Lord Voldemort to a fascination with his oversized coffee cup. With his wide smile and good-natured demeanor, it was hard to imagine Moy as a lightning rod for unpleasantness.
But he was. Last season, the diminutive actor found himself drawn into a pop tempest over negative stereotyping of minority television characters. Some TV critics and advocacy groups lashed out at the Monday night CBS sitcom, which was an instant hit with viewers. They found Moy's character, Han Lee, the immigrant Korean owner of a downscale Brooklyn diner, particularly distasteful.
On the series, Moy's character speaks in heavy broken English and has delivered his share of jokes rooted in, some contend, raunch and racism. ("She blond — hair so shiny. Good for business," his character explained when hiring of a blond waitress).
Michael Patrick King, who created the series with Whitney Cummings (NBC's "Whitney"), further fanned the controversy during a contentious session with reporters at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in January. During the panel, King explained that since he was gay he should be allowed more latitude in poking fun at "outsiders." (In a recent guest column in Entertainment Weekly, King abandoned that rationale for another explanation — the live audience at "2 Broke Girls" tapings were his barometer for determining whether the humor was too offensive or not.)
The flare-up didn't help burnish the network's image, especially concerning issues with diversity. Around the same time, the network was fending off criticism about another comedy, "Rob!" which starred Rob Schneider as a landscape architect who marries into a close-knit Mexican American family. Critics and Latino advocates accused the show of being built upon offensive stereotypes.
During the storm over "2 Broke Girls," Moy, whose previous credits include video game voice-overs and a recurring role on Nickelodeon's "iCarly," stayed largely silent.
"We were really too busy to even enjoy the success we were having," he said quietly. Even now, the introduction of the topic made him a bit uneasy.
"I think Michael has already talked about this," he said.
But soon Moy was ready to talk about the debate over his character.
"I know that a lot of people had concerns about Han and the accent," Moy said. "But the comedy on '2 Broke Girls' always comes from a place of love — it's never mean. We're a comedy, and we often go right to the edge. It doesn't bother me. I've encountered this all my life. I've been made fun of all my life."
At 5-feet-1 and with no discernible accent, the actor of Chinese descent is much more self-assured than his television counterpart. He's also something of a sci-fi nerd — he has a life-size mannequin of Seven of Nine, a Borg character from "Star Trek: Voyager."
The Korean accent he uses on the show is partly based on a couple he knew who ran an all-you-can-eat restaurant in San Francisco.
"A realistic accent would be more incomprehensible and unintelligible," he said. "I'm drawing from them and a few people. I work hard and I'm responsible. But it has to be funny."
Most of all, he hopes fans realize that although there is overlap with his character, the two are not the same.
"There's a lot of Han in me, if you take out the accent and the naivete," he added. "But I'm a lot more realistic."
With "2 Broke Girls" now in its second season, Han's accent has been softened, and many jokes are centered more on his height and his love life. He's also had more to do — in one episode, he thwarted a robber at the diner.
King, who created "Sex and the City," praised Moy and his performance.
"Matt looks like no one else," the writer-producer said in an email. "And I thought his size and sweet face would be perfect for a sitcom boss who isn't really threatening. He reminded me of Danny DeVito on 'Taxi.' And when he made me laugh, I was sold."
King added that he has followed through this season on his pledge to flesh out Han's character: "When a sitcom is lucky enough to get a chance to grow, every character goes past the original surface level. And I feel Han now is more of an individual than a type."
When: 9 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)