Comedian Jo Koy Headlines the Funnybone
By Shout Omaha Staff
There’s no doubt the passing of Robin Williams hit comedian Jo Koy hard. Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, Williams was one of Koy’s idols.
“My top four favorite comedians are Eddie Murphy first and then Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams,” Koy said to LV Weekly. “Those are the ones who inspired me throughout the ’80s. They were the big ones during that era. HBO was a big thing for stand-up, and when you’re a broke kid with absolutely nothing to do on the weekend, there was always video recording your HBO specials. I would just rewind those specials and watch them like they were new again. And then Chris Rock and Brian Regan, Dennis Wolfberg; I just love the way they acted onstage.”
Koy catapulted to national recognition thanks to his frequent appearances on E! Entertainment’s Chelsea Lately. It made his decision to drop out of UNLV at Las Vegas to purse stand-up comedy worth it. After all, he wasn’t really that interested in school.
“I was just literally trying to make my mom happy,” Koy said. “That’s it. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in school when I was failing regular school. [But] that’s what you do when you get out of high school, [and you’re] like, “What am I gonna be?” Because you’ve already doubted yourself about whatever dream you have. It’s like, “I can’t really be a stand-up comic.” Then finally after two semesters, maybe three, I just told my mom, “Mom, I want to be a comic. There’s no college needed for this. I know what I want to be. Let me do it.” I think my mom knew I wasn’t cut out for college, either.”
Koy’s career got started in1994. A talent coordinator from Los Angeles spotted Koy and landed him his first television appearance on BET’s Comic View. Another of Koy’s biggest claims to fame was his appearance on the “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in 2005 where he was one of a select few to ever receive a standing ovation on the show. Koy has also appeared on Carlos Mencia’s “Punisher Tour” performing stand-up comedy in front of fans filling 10,000-seat arenas across the country. His style has never been politically oriented, it’s more focused on family.
“I could talk about that stuff, but to me it’s not authentic,” he said. “What makes me laugh is hearing the stuff about my son, or the stuff about my mom. I was a big fan of Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy; they talked a lot about their moms and their kids. Those are the things that inspired me to do stand-up. I love hearing the political stuff, like Brian Regan. He’s my favorite [political] comic. But I don’t do that style of humor. I’d rather go right into the storytelling. I love telling a story. It’s fun to me. When I’m on Chelsea Lately, that’s all we can do, the topical stuff, but it’s just not me. Like my son and I went to the Dodger game last week, and he spilled stuff all over his lap. The first thing I thought about was, ‘I gotta talk about this onstage!’ And I love it when people come up to me and relate to it. I love it when parents come up to me and go, ‘Oh my God, my son does the same thing,’ or ‘My mom does the same thing.’”
Interestingly enough, Jo Koy isn’t even his real name. He came up with a stage name many years ago when he felt his real name was getting more attention than his actual comedy.
“My real name is Joseph Herbert,” he said. “My dad is white, my mom’s Asian, Filipino. And when I started stand-up 22 years ago, I used to go up as Joseph Herbert, and I would just have to defend my name. Every time I went onstage it was so annoying. People would heckle. Something with “Herbert.” The MC would do five minutes on “Herbert,” and they would never get it right—“A-bear.” So finally I needed to change my name. I dropped Herbert and replaced it with my middle name, which is Glenn. That didn’t work. So Joseph Glenn. I did that for a while, and then I tried Glenn Joseph. That didn’t work.
“Jo Koy was my nickname from my aunt,” he continued. “But the way she says it, it’s not Jo Koy, she says it with like a Filipino accent—it’s “Joquoi.” You wouldn’t think of it to be a stage name the way she says it. But me and my cousin, Mona, we were just sitting there trying to figure out some weird name, like some stage name, and we’re just going at it for hours. And all of a sudden her mom’s like, ‘Hey Joquoi, Mona, let’s eat.’ Literally, it was like we looked at each other and were like, ‘That’s the name—Jo Koy.’”
Jo Koy, September 5 and 6, at Funnybone, 17305 Davenport St., 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22. Visit www.omaha.comedyreservations.com for more information.