Popular American comedian Jo Koy is known for finding humour in all aspects of his life. This Friday, December 13, the Filipino-American comic hits Perth’s Riverside Theatre with his new show Just Kidding. VERONICA GRAHAM spoke to Jo Koy to find out what moves him to bring laughter into the world, how he sums up the last decade in comedic fashion and what we can look forward to at the show.
You credit your mother for getting you where you are today. What did it mean to you to have had that kind of support growing up?
It meant a lot, especially coming from an immigrant mother who recently got divorced and had to provide for the house, and if you don’t wanna go the normal routes of going to college and finding a job and getting some security – your mom could just be “OK kid, I did my job.” I had to do something and chase a dream and be broke for a couple of years after that, and it was kinda nice that she supported and sacrificed what she did for me.
You talk quite a bit about your family in your shows – hilariously so. How do they feel about that?
At first it was a little rough, cause, you know, I joke a lot about certain situations, but they are real situations that actually happen, so everyone else is laughing, but within the family it’s a little bit sensitive (laughs). You know, trying to get my mom to agree to some of the stuff…I remember one time my mum goes “You don’t have to tell them everything, Joseph!” And now that we’ve gotten to this level, I think my mum goes “Oh, there’s more stories we can tell, Joseph.” She loves it, so…
You’ve been doing this quite a number of years now, performed at so many places, and done a lot of TV as well. What’s your all-time favourite place to play?
I think there’s nothing I like more than a stage, and I don’t care about the size. It can be five people in a coffee shop, it could be eighteen thousand people in an arena, I still get excited either way.
I wanted to ask you about the coffee shops. It’s such an intimate venue. What is the vibe like?
What I love about that is the challenge. It’s easy to make eighteen thousand people laugh. It’s hard to make two people that aren’t sitting next to each other laugh. You’re talking to a lot more chairs, but I still love it. I still go in there. I’ll find an open mic somewhere in LA every now and then, and I’ll go up just to feel it. And it’s good to bomb. That’s the funny thing, that people say it’s not healthy when you go up and bomb, but yeah – it’s healthy. It’s good for your mind. It’s good to put yourself up and check your stuff every now and then.
You’ve been on Chelsea Lately over a hundred times… How cool is Chelsea in real life?
She is – like I said this, I said this to everybody. Back in the day, Johnny Carson used to find talent and when he brought them over to the couch, you knew that they were gonna be a successful comic, and I felt like Chelsea was the modern-day Johnny Carson. If you did good on that panel, it did so much for your career. And that show really put me on the map, and I’d even say globally. I mean, it was just a national cable show, but man, it went international fast, cause Chelsea was just so damn funny, and her following was just so supportive.
Do you feel you learned from her?
What she wants, she gets and what she believes, she is passionate about, and I love that about her. And she knew that show was going to be a hit. I remember having dinner with her before there was even a pilot, with her just describing what the show was going to be and how it was going to go, and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it, but I was like “Yeah! Things are gonna blow up”, and six months later it was the biggest thing on TV.
Well, you’re right up there yourself. I mean, in 2018, you were awarded Stand Up of the Year at the Just for Laughs Festival in Canada. Is there anything you’re really bad at?
(Laughs) Man, if I am, I’m trying my hardest to get good. There’s always room to learn, you know. Whenever someone thinks they’ve learned it all, you haven’t. There are so many more things you need to learn in this business, and I’m enjoying the learning process and I’m enjoying what’s happening right now.
As we’re coming to the end of a decade, over the last ten years how do you feel you’ve grown as both a performer and a person?
Oh man, that first Netflix special, they didn’t want to give it to me – they said no to me – so I went and shot it myself and edited it myself and picked the venue myself. You know, promoted it myself, and then sold it to Netflix, even though they said no, and they ended up buying it from me. So, I think that alone was my biggest accomplishment and I hope that set an example for people that.
You know, we live in a culture now that when someone says no to you, you automatically listen to them and go “Oh cool. I’m not good yet. Sorry, thank you for telling me that”, or blame it on the person not wanting to invest in you. “Okay, okay, it’s not because I’m not worth it, it’s just because you guys don’t know what you’re investing in, so I’m gonna hate you forever.”
And that’s just the easy way out, instead of just being “Hey, okay, you said no, so now I’m gonna have to show you why you have to say yes.” And I think more people can do that. Don’t get me wrong, I was sad. When they said no to me, I wanted to cry for days. But I knew crying wasn’t gonna get me anywhere, and I knew I had to do it myself. That’s the only way to deal in this business.
That’s so good. What do you do to stay fresh and creative?
I constantly cannot stop talking. When I’m on stage, if there’s even the hint of a premise, I go for it. And if it sails, it sails, because I know I’ve got a bunch of jokes that’ll do good, so I can smother it if it sucks. But if it does well, then I know I can just build on it. I love to just open up a premise. It’s like… do you remember those old cans that you just open up and snakes fly out? That’s what I love. I know it’s a can of something, and if it does well, a bunch of snakes jump out. If it’s a bad can, you open it and you’re like “Ah shit, that was a dud! That sucked!”
You talk about stereotypes in your shows, and how they’re true. I was wondering what stereotypes you’ve discovered about Australians?
(Laughs) You know what I love the most? You guys are friendly. That’s my favourite. When you look at L.A., I don’t know what it is, but Jesus Christ people are uptight. And I think that down under, you guys are just like “Ah, it’s beautiful weather, It’s hot, you know, it’s good.” You know? No worries. I mean, even when you’re on stage in Australia, everyone’s like “No worries! Fuck it! Don’t even worry about it. Doesn’t even fucking phase me, man.”