The Laughspin interview with Jo Koy (Updated)

For the last few years, comedian Jo Koy has turned into one of the country’s biggest draws in the world of stand-up comedy. A fixture on Chelsea Handler’s super popular nightly chat show Chelsea Lately and in the nation’s best comedy clubs, Koy’s latest project — his second hour-long special titled Lights Out — will premiere this Sunday on Comedy Central at 10 pm EST, and on April 3 the uncut DVD version and its digital album counterpart will be available. Ahead of his big night, we had the pleasure to chat with the man about his new hour, his parenting techniques, the pilot he just shot with Leah Remini and much more. Check it out below, and be sure to watch the trio of Lights Out preview clips!

So you’re in Sacramento at the Punchline?
I drove last night, all the way up here. Whenever I’m in California, whether it’s Sacramento or San Diego, I’ll drive rather than fly because I’m in an airport every week. So it’s kind of like my little break. I get to relax and not worry about TSA. Just get in the car and just drive and think to myself, ya know? Blaring your music, enjoying your life, and taking it all in.

What’s on the playlist when you’re out driving?
I have the weirdest iPod, man! Mine is all 90’s R&B music. It’s all the beats, and Bobby Brown, and Blackstreet. God, I love all that stuff. Even if it’s hip hop. I have Arrested Development, Ice Cube, Tupac. My iPod was literally made in 1990. My iPod should have been a tape deck in 1990, a yellow walkman! With a very cool mix tape. My son has an iTouch and those DreBeats headphones. He’s 8-years old, and I’m like, “This little shit has no idea what his dad had to go through to listen to music.” And here he has his music at his fingertips…while he’s playing a video game. Are you fucking kidding me? It took me 10 hours to make my mix tape when I was a kid!

You’re a comedian who I’ve heard a lot about but haven’t seen a lot of. So after watching a lot of illegally uploaded videos on YouTube, you do a fair share of race material, but I wouldn’t classify you as an “Asian Comic”. How do you toe the line between just enough Asian material and Dat Phan?
If you watch the stuff on YouTube it’s basically really old and dated stuff, you know? What I wanted to do with my stand-up is introduce me being Asian, because I’m half-Asian. My mom raised me when my mom and dad split when I was like 9 or 10. So I have a lot of that culture instilled in me. So I talk about my mom a lot and when I was growing up. The earlier stuff was about the different Asian stereotypes. Now I like to tell stories about my mom. I don’t really go, “You won’t get this if you’re not Filipino.” I do it like, “Hey my mom’s a funny person. Here’s a story that she did.” She just happens to be Asian.

I find a lot of people relate to it. That’s always been my goal. I want people to understand I have a Filipino mom and get it. I want to be able to go to Nashville where I’m the only Asian guy in the room, and people are yelling out jokes, “Joseph, tell that joke about your mom!” Because people can relate to it, and that’s always been my goal.

It’s less about her being Asian. It’s more, your mom has these funny things about her just like all of our moms have these funny things about them.
Yea! Exactly. Yea, my mom is Filipino and I’m going to tell the story the way she says it because that’s the way she says it. But at the end of the show, I don’t know how many different races come up to me and say, “Yea, my mom plays the Wii, too!” It’s the same story. My mom just happens to be Filipino. That’s it. Everyone relates. I want to let them know that my mom does some crazy shit. And I’m pretty sure your mom does the same things, too.

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I Checked out the new special. Funny, personal, high energy. What was different for you about this special from Don’t Make Him Angry (2009)?
That was my first one, man. There it was like all new for me. Here I have the whole hour riding on my back. It was really nerve-racking because I was on a huge tour at the time. I remember getting back from Australia and thinking, “In two days I have to shoot this hour special.” A lot of pressure. Whereas in this one I was in the game and already knew my voice and knew what I wanted to talk about. I was excited to be home. I was in LA. I couldn’t wait! And I got to be more in depth. Instead of telling one story, I did a bunch of stories. I talked about my grandmother having cancer. I told more elaborate stories about my mom and of course my son was a little bit older. So it was more fun and more personal.

What was crazy was the day before I had to tape my special, I cracked my front tooth in half. In that special, there is a temporary tooth in my mouth and it’s barely in. The whole time I’m performing I’m thinking, “God I hope this tooth doesn’t fly out!”

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So how old is your son? I know everyone loves their kids (boring). We know that. Is there anything you just hate about your kid?
He’s 8. It’s so crazy man. When I say those things, it’s all in love. When my son drives me crazy, I love it. My son keeps me on my toes. He drives me; he motivates me. He does things that annoy me but that’s the whole thing about being a parent. Now he talks back and I have to draw the line between father and friend. Sometimes he thinks we’re just friends and I have to remind him, “Naw, I’m your dad man. I’ll put you in check real quick.”

Sometimes I have to let the dad come out of me, just to scare him a little bit. I do the deeper voice, the long stare, and the pause. It’s just awkward and I’m just looking at him like, “I’ll kill you in a second. You know that right?” And then it’s all good after that.

So, 19 years in stand-up?
Yea man, 1991 I started. It’ll actually be 20 years in September. It’s just a fun road. It’s so funny because one day you’ll wake up and think, “Wow, it’s been 16 years in. Are you kidding me?” You won’t even know where the time went because you’re having so much fun doing it. Every year you learn– every six months you learn! It’s like, there’s always something new that I learn about my act. It’s great seeing your craft grow. That’s what I love about stand-up. Everyone’s their own individual. Everyone has their own style of writing. Everyone has their own way of delivering a joke. We all have our own topics. That’s the cool thing about stand-up. There’re no categories. If you don’t like me, then go watch this guy. There’s a variety. And I love watching all of them.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t stop watching Whoopi Goldberg’s one-woman show. I’ll say it’s one of my inspirations. How she went in and out of these 5 characters on stage, she held her own without any props on stage. These characters– they made you laugh, they made you cry, made you think. Then you go see Bill Cosby’s “Himself”. That’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Then you see Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” and you think, “This guy’s a genius!” Then you see Brian Regan and you go, “What the fuck? He’s not even cursing!” Just these weird observations. That’s what I love about stand-up. It’s a variety of different personalities. I love it. If you’re being yourself and exposing yourself on stage, it’s awesome, man. I love it when you put it all out there. Because you relate more. Then you think, “O cool. He’s a fuck up just like me.”

I just think it’s great because at almost 20 years in, you still look like you’re hopped up on Red Bull on stage. Your energy is just great.
My energy’s actually a lot slower than it used to be. I used to go 100 miles per hour. I don’t know where I get that energy from. I think I just get excited when I’m getting ready to go on stage.

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You are part of a small group who thanks Carlos Mencia for the opportunities he gave you. As a veteran in your own right, have you been playing mentor to younger comics?
I’m proud to say that Chris D’Elia is one of the guys I took on the road for a year after seeing him in a small comedy club. Now he’s the male lead on Whitney on NBC. That’s always been a great thing for me. I’m like, “Aw cool, I remember seeing that kid back when he was just coming up doing 5 minutes. Now he’s doing big things.” There’s a couple other guys I loved bringing up, like Ty Rivera and Orlando Baxter. These kids are strong features who are going to be great headliners real soon. These are guys who are going to bring it.

What’s in store next for Jo Koy fans? Obviously there’s the Comedy Central special, Lights Out, on April 1.
Yea, I can’t wait for that to drop. I’m working on this pilot right now. I’m hoping it gets picked up. It’s with Leah Remini. It’s pretty sweet. Here’s a lady I admire from that world, from the tv world. King of Queens, like she killed it on that. And now I get the opportunity to work with her. It’s really neat. It’s a different chapter of my life and I’m really enjoying it. I’m also working on a couple of projects that we’re pitching right now and I’m constantly on the road.

For more info, check out And check out Jo Koy’s new hour special, Lights Out, on Comedy Central on April 1st at 10 pm EST!

UPDATE: Laughspin editor Dylan Gadino sat down with Jo Koy backstage at Levity Live in West Nyack, NY on March 31. The two had spirited discussions about Dylan’s horrible wallet, bacon in a cup and more. Check it out!

Billy Procida

Laughspin editor-in-chief Billy Procida is a stand-up comedian in New York City. He hosts The Manwhore Podcast where he talks to women he's hooked up with about sex, dating, and why they didn't work out. Reach him on Twitter.

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