Jo Koy on Representation and How the Military ‘Created a Race’

Jo Koy on Representation and How the Military ‘Created a Race’

By Joshua Eferighe


Because this emerging comedian was shaped by the military and Eddie Murphy.

By Joshua Eferighe

You used to see him on Chelsea Lately, you’ve enjoyed his specials on Netflix and elsewhere, and now he has a new podcast and book. Jo Koy recently sat down with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on The Carlos Watson Show to talk about his journey. You can find some of the best cuts from the conversation below, and the full interview can be found on the show’s podcast feed.

Getting into comedy

Carlos Watson: How did you get into comedy in the first place? I find all of you guys who are funny — all of you have a parent who was funny, and usually it’s the mom.

Jo Koy: Oh, that’s true. It’s very true.

Wastson: Was your mom funny?

Koy: You know, my mom, God bless her heart, man. She’s the OG immigrant. You know what I mean? I always say this about the military. It’s a joke, but I say it onstage and I go, “God bless the armed forces because if it wasn’t for the military, there wouldn’t be mixed-race babies.” That’s because I’m a product of that. Thank you, military, because if it wasn’t for the Army, there wouldn’t be Tiger Woods. Thank you. Thank you, armed forces. You created a race. Yes. There wouldn’t be a Rob Schneider, there wouldn’t be a Jo Koy.

We struggle with identity, and I say this all the time: I love my white side, I love my dad, but after they got divorced, I took on my mom’s side. My dad started his life in another state and my mom was a big part of my life. So I took on that Filipino side. That’s why I speak so much about that culture; my aunts were a big part of my life. My auntie Evelyn is the one that calls me Jo Koy — that’s where Jo Koy comes from.

Growing up

Watson: Now, were you the class clown, were you the wiseass in high school, or what was the deal?

Koy: Oh, yeah. One million percent. I knew I was going to be a comedian when I heard Richard Pryor’s tape. When I heard the audiotape that my friend down the street, William … Willy gave me his dad’s cassette tape. I listened to it, I fell in love with stand-up, and then Delirious came out. And when I saw Delirious, I was just like, I couldn’t believe, because one, I don’t think people understand — Eddie Murphy was only 21 years old when he shot that special. A lot of people are going, “Oh, he was a little rough.” It’s like, “Yeah, he was also 21.” He was a little boy with the world on his shoulders, everyone telling him, “Hey, you’re the funniest guy around and here’s a huge HBO special. Do it.” And it was amazing.

If you were to see me at 21 doing stand-up, it’s awful. You know what I mean? So that’s what I love so much about Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. I felt like it was me being a kid watching this amazing young man crush it and talking about things that I related to. You know what I mean? When he was talking about his uncle Gus in the barbecue, his aunt Bunny falling down the steps, his mom with the shoe. I was like, “My mom does that with his shoe.” So I fell in love with the storytelling, the hipness, the coolness of his delivery, and right then and there — I think I was 11 years old — I told myself, “I’m going to be a stand-up comic.”

And my dream came true when I performed in D.C. at that theater, that same exact theater that he had shot Delirious in. I actually walked through the door that he walked out of during that HBO special. And it was so funny, because they go, “Oh, that door has people there, they actually put seats there so you can’t walk through it.” I go, “Hey, man, I waited 30 years for this moment. Push those people to the side, I’m walking through this door.” And that’s what happened. I sold out two shows and bought a red jacket.

The comedy world

Watson: It’s always interesting when I hear these stories of all these young lions coming up together. So two questions. No. 1, if I had asked you back then, who’s going to break big, would you have predicted the four of you, or would you have said, no, there’s some other dude who would’ve broken big? And then, No. 2, what happened to all the other folks, because you weren’t the only four. Are people real estate brokers? What are they doing?

Koy: That’s a great question. I’m not going to lie, man, they all crush it. Michael Blackson, J.B. Smoove — those are all cats that I used to work with. I used to be on this thing called the Black College Comedy Tour, where I opened for the headlining comics. And it was so crazy because, oh, Cedric the Entertainer, it was just crazy because it’s hard to explain to people the time … it’s a different time now. To explain to my son that there was no thing called the internet, and that it was like you got to get a TV spot, and it’s word-of-mouth, and it was making real flyers out of postcards at Kinko’s and cutting them and putting them in front of windshield wipers at the mall and getting chased off the lot by security. I really had to do that stuff.

I still have those flyers to this day, a flyer with me and J.B. Smoove on it. It touches my heart that, man, we struggled together, and here we are where we’re at today. I’ve been blessed with a good class of comics that were in my group. And even the guys that aren’t where we’re at, at that level, they’re still in the game, still crushing it. And that’s what I love about them, and I’m still friends with all of them.

Watson: Why do you think all of you guys made it? Was it literally just talent or did you guys drive each other, or was there some learning or training or some marketing plan that you guys.… Whenever I see that concentration of people, like football players who all come from the same area or entrepreneurs who come from the same region, why did so many of you guys make it?

Koy: I hate to keep saying it was the times, I hate saying that, but there was this drive, man. It’s hard to explain to people that Def Comedy Jam was more than just a Black comedy show. It was a movement, it’s historic, it’s iconic, it was needed. It was a door opening to people that were Black that got to see something that they’ve only had their ears to the ground about, and it was amazing. And I’m using Def Comedy Jam as an example, because that was an amazing part of that era that I was a part of.

And then I get to say that it was my … People don’t understand, Def Comedy Jam is the reason why we have Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker, Cedric, Steve Harvey, Robin Harris … I can keep going … Bernie Mac. Just that one show, if that show didn’t happen, would we see those guys to this day? It’s hard for me to explain that to my son, because he has everything on the palm of his hand now, whereas for us, Def Comedy Jam came on at midnight on Saturday, and you waited for midnight, bro. You waited for it.

And that it was special, and it’s hard for me to explain that. And the reason why I had it is because I didn’t have an identity. Who did I have on TV? Who represented half white, half Asian? I went crazy when I saw Tiger Woods winning the Masters for the first time. It may sound funny to people right now, but we had no representation, and I embraced Tiger because he represented my life and my story, and he represented a lot of us. So that was that door opening. It was that door that he opened and he kicked it wide open and he made all of us.… He gave us that, “Yeah, we’re here and we can make it too. Look at us, we have talent.”