Jo Koy is finally getting the recognition he deserves. He’s sold out arenas, filmed a new Netflix special and was recently honored with the prestigious Stand Up Comedian of the Year award. But it’s the daily interactions with fans that alert Koy to his elevated celebrity status. On a cold Thursday in January while doing press in the carpool lane of an undisclosed highway somewhere in the continental US, a passing motorist trying to get his attention nearly ran him off the road.
“It’s really weird. I’m just driving and he’s waving at me like a madman. I was going to get mad at him but it turns out he’s a fan,” says Koy. “When I looked at him, he honked his horn and gave me the thumbs up. He’s willing to kill himself just to say hi.”
It’s all part of the job and Koy wouldn’t have it any other way. Koy is on the road in support of his wildly successful Break The Mold world tour whihcstops at the Florida Theatre for two shows Feb. 14 and 17 (www.floridatheatre.com).
Koy added the second date after the first show sold out. It’s a good problem to have and he isn’t complaining. He’s worked hard to reach this point in his career and damn it, he’s going to enjoy it. “I love it. It’s overwhelming and I’m humbled. I remember back in the day when I was struggling just to get a couple hundred people in and now it’s like I’m adding a show? Oh my God, thank you,” says Koy.
When Koy was named Stand Up Comedian of the Year at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, the richly deserved accolade presented by Howie Mandel. Fellow recipients included Tiffany Haddish as Comedian of the Year and Hannah Gadsby’s successful one-woman show “Nannette” earned her Comedy Special of the Year.
“Is that crazy or what? Howie Mandel had this beautiful speech about me and he handed me the award and of course, I cried. When you do stand up, it’s very lonely. You’re constantly telling people who you are and it doesn’t matter how big the numbers are, you want to have something to show for it. And that award, especially amongst my peers, that award meant everything to me. If I leave today, my son has that award to look at and be proud.”
Koy is known for family-inspired humor. He grew up in Tacoma, the son of a Filipino mother and an American father. His mother, Josie Harrison, raised four kids on her own, and features prominently in her son’s material whether it’s beating the pants of her son during Wii matches, worrying that someone will slip him a “roopie” if he goes bar hopping and her parental Jedi mind tricks that helped him cultivate his sense of humor.
He started performing in Las Vegas in 1994 where he earned a regular spot on MGM Grand Hotel and Casino’s “Catch a Rising Star.” Koy’s 2005 appearance on The Tonight Show with then-host Jay Leno earned him a standing ovation from the studio audience and a steady gig as a panelist on “Chelsea Lately.” Koy filmed two Comedy Central specials, “Lights Out” and “Don’t Make Him Angry.”
At a time when comedians are skewered for offensive content, Koy avoids lobbing non-PC comedy grenades that can wipe out half an audience. He’s not there to talk politics or prove a point. Koy is here for the laughs and sticks to telling the stories about his family that his fans love and expect to hear during a show.
“Comedy is subjective. Comedy is in its own category. One guy talks about politics. One guy talks about family. People still have a choice as to whether they want to go or not. It would suck if we all talked about the same thing. I believe we have to have freedom and the people who go to these shows have their choices. I speak about my mom and my family and that’s pretty much my genre. I’m more of the storyteller type of comic so I stay in my lane,” he says.
“I like to say that comedy is the same as music. You don’t go to a country singer’s concert if he’s going to start rapping. That doesn’t make any sense. So I talk about my mom and my son and then you come to my show and I’m doing Trump jokes for an hour. People would be like ‘what the fuck was that? Does he not have a mom anymore? This isn’t what he said on Netflix’, you know what I mean?”
Plenty of Koy fans in Hawaii know exactly what he means. He sold out four nights at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, which is the mountain summit in the stand-up world. That’s a lot of asses in a lot of seats. The shows were filmed for Koy’s 2019 Netflix special scheduled for release later this year. His 2017 special “Jo Koy: Live From Seattle” is currently streaming on Netflix.
“That’s a lot of controlled energy and you’ve got to make sure that you can maintain that and keep the momentum going. When its a 500-seater or a 1,000-seater, I won’t say that it’s easier but it’s not as stressful as an arena. In a 500 seater, I can still see the teeth of the customer sitting way in the back whereas in an arena, I can barely see the last row. It’s so amazingly overwhelming but I brought it.”
If Koy is aiming for the fences, he’s hitting every pitch out of the park. He hosts a weekly podcast The Koy Pond available on iTunes and Jokoy.com that allows him to go totally off script. “That’s why I love about it. It’s completely free form. I love sharpening my improv skills and that’s where I get to do it,” he says. “We come up with a topic and we just go for it. It’s the best hour and a half of my life. It just rolls out of my mouth like word vomit. No restraint and people are loving it.”
Koy wrapped filming on the live-action film “Anastasia” starring Brandon Routh and Donna Murphy. Koy stars as Vladimir Lenin in the retelling of the story of the lost Russian Duchess with elements of time-travel. He is also in production for the pilot of his animated series “This Functional Funny” on Tru-TV. Fans will recognize the characters based on his own family which he continues to mine for material just in a different format.
“It’s so cool to see a project like this come to life. This is a passion project I’ve been working on for like seven years. I felt like every network kept passing on it and I just keep believing in it and finally, Tru-TV was like ‘we’ll do it. Let’s go’. It’s based on everybody. My son’s mom and her boyfriend and my son and my mom and my stepdad and now we’re waiting to see if we pass the pilot but we’re there. We’re all here and it’s a beautiful thing.”