Social Encore: Koy’s comedy keeps laughs coming
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
If you’ve been having a hard week and want a great time out laughing the night away, I suggest that you go and see stand-up comedian Jo Koy.
The “Chelsea Lately” roundtable commenter sold-out two Oahu shows at The Republik so far, with a third show just added. If you are still on the fence about going to see him, the hilarious conversation I had with him last week should help you make your decision.
» Where: The Republik, 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
Koy is touring the country promoting his second one-hour Comedy Central special, “Lights Out,” which aired in April 2012. The road to Koy’s success wasn’t always full of laughs, be he said he knew early on that he wanted to be a comic.
“I knew I wanted to be comic when I was 10 or 11, right when I saw Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ with the same leather outfit,” said Koy.
His mother, Josephine, encouraged him to enter talent show contests and had him stage impromptu performances for family and friends. Michael Jackson songs and performances were his specialties growing up and if we are lucky this weekend, he just might grace us with a song alongside his jokes. I heard him sing back in 2009, and I personally think he has the moonwalk and MJ-style thrusting down!
Growing up with a traditional Filipino mother, education and financial stability was drilled into Koy’s head as the definition of success.
“My mom wanted me to be a nurse or a doctor, something with security, healthy insurance and good pay,” he said.
Understanding where she was coming from, he tried to please her and attended the University of Nevada-Las Vegas after high school. But he said school just wasn’t for him.
One day, Koy was getting his hair cut and blurted out that he wanted to be a comic. His hair stylist enjoyed Koy’s jokes during their conversation and encouraged him to perform at a local coffee shop, Buzzy’s Cafe, during a weekly stand-up open mic event.
Looking back, Koy said at first it was rough, but he is appreciative for those humble beginnings because it brought him to where he is today.
“I used to wear many different hats in order to get my gigs,” he said. “My mom eventually understood what I wanted to do and even helped me promote my events.”
Koy eventually captured the attention of Las Vegas comedy house managers with his audience numbers. After a few years of creating a name for himself in Las Vegas and opening up for several headliners, he knew there was potential room for growth in his career, but was hesitant in stepping away from his established routine.
“I was already established in Vegas and I was selling tons of tickets and making money,” said Koy. “I didn’t want to go to Los Angeles and start over.”
With only $6,000 in his pocket, he greeted Los Angeles with an open mind and a hungry attitude in 2000. The city reciprocated his determination and opened up doors of opportunity.
Koy said he didn’t realize he had “made it” in comedy until an appearance on “The Tonight Show” in 2005.
“When I did ‘The Tonight Show’ and I had a standing ovation, my life changed,” he said. “When we went to break, the producers and directors were all coming up to me telling me that I did a good job, but even Jay Leno told me that it was rare to receive a standing ovation.”
Koy is of European and Filipino decent and was recognized as one of Daily Variety’s “10 Comics to watch.” His charismatic sense of delivery has helped people overlook the relevance of his ethnicity, however, helping him cross-market himself to people of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds.
Koy said since he was Filipino, he already knew that he would have a Filipino target market. Having been approached to do a comedy tour with other Asian comedians, Koy turned the profitable project down and said he did not want to be known as the Jo Koy who “only does Asian or themed shows.”
“I did ‘Latinos Locos’ and Telemundo … and even did shows with Mike Epps (and) Snoop Dogg. I even did the Apollo. I wanted people (to see) me as funny, period,” said Koy.
Koy will be hanging around the islands for a week and said every time he arrives, it feels like a homecoming.
“You just got to play in Hawaii,” he said. “You know, I’ve been on the east coast for two months freezing. Hawaii is like home, there is a lot that is familiar for me.”
Koy added he not only loves the people and our wonderful, laid-back scenery, but is also a fan of our food.
“When I come to Hawaii, this is where I actually eat the most Spam,” he said. “Spam, eggs and mac salad.”
He also said a must-have for him whenever he visits is a malasada with li-hing mui powder from Leonard’s Bakery in Kapahulu.
Being on stage and telling jokes while making people laugh is the best job ever, Koy said. His everyday life keeps him inspired to make people laugh.
“When I just started writing, I was really into Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy because they had the ability to just to tell stories,” he said. “Stories like talking with my mom and stuff, you don’t have to Filipino to understand it. You just have to understand the character.
“Hence why I do shows sometimes in places like Nashville for a week. There is not that many Asians there, but they get it and they love it.”
Jermel-Lynn Quillopo is a multi-faceted, energetic individual with experience in both print and broadcast journalism. “Social Encore” aims to tell diverse stories about Hawaii’s food, events and people; share your tips with Jermel via email or follow her on Twitter.