Prior to this interview, I wouldn’t have recognized Jo Koy had I fished him out of a koi pond. A colleague contacted me with word that Jo would be appearing at Spreckels Theatre this Saturday night, and an interview could be arranged. If movies comprise the core curriculum of my life, it’s safe to say that I minor in comedy, and next to directors there's no one I enjoy interviewing more than a comedian.
If a stand-up comic can make me laugh, it's tantamount to extracting a thorn from my paw. A visit to YouTube left me with wet eyes. Meet Jo Koy, a guy you're gonna' like!
Scott Marks: You’re very funny. Why hasn’t Hollywood found you? What’s going on?
Jo Koy: It’s hard! The audition process is so hard . I go in and I wait. I just have to be patient. In the meantime, I really enjoy doing my stand-up.
I like the fact that you’re not afraid to work blue. Challenging political correctness doesn’t seem to bother you. Your bit on being “Korean,” and how people’s curiosity gets the best of them when it comes to guessing your ethnicity is terrific.
I haven’t done that joke since The Tonight Show which was five years ago. I decided to hang that joke up after my appearance. To this day, I can’t get off the stage without someone screaming out loud, “orange chicken!” Before stand-up I used to work in customer service. Whether it was a shoe store or working the front desk of a hotel, I was always interacting with people. I’d get that look because I’m half-white and half-Filipino. They could tell I was something, but they really couldn’t tell what I was. There’s always been this guessing game with me. I got that question every day, and when I’d tell people I was Filipino, I always got the strangest responses: “Oh, I love eggrolls.” “I love Chinese food.” THAT’S NOT THE SAME THING!
Eggrolls?! They didn’t even try for a lumpia reference?
(Laughing.) Right? They wouldn’t every say lumpia! There is more than one kind: stop generalizing and name the right eggroll! It was an honest joke and that’s where it came from. I’m glad I wrote it because it actually changed my life after I performed it on The Tonight Show.
The reason the joke won’t die is because when someone searches you on YouTube, it’s one of the first videos that comes up. In the olden days, people would have to see you perform on TV or catch your act at a club. Now I can watch you work any time of the day or night. YouTube has become a comedian’s proving ground. How much has it helped your career?
I didn’t realize how many people watched The Tonight Show. I was working two jobs at the time. I was working at Nordstrom Rack and Wells Fargo. The next day, people are depositing checks and every other person is like, “Oh, my God! Weren’t you on The Tonight Show last night?” Yeah, now where do you want me to deposit your check? I got the same response when I was selling shoes at Nordstrom. “You were on The Tonight Show! Can I get this in a size nine-and-a-half?” I was on TV with millions of people watching me and here I am grabbing shoes. It was surreal. What was even crazier, when we uploaded that appearance to YouTube, it went to a million views in less than three days. I couldn’t believe it. It got to the point that NBC took it down and I put it back up by myself. Again it went up to 1.5 million views and NBC took it down. They warned me if I put it back up, they were going to close my YouTube account. I couldn’t believe what YouTube was. And this was five years ago! It really changed my life. The appearance on The Tonight Show was one thing, but the YouTube afterlife was incredible.
I can’t understand why NBC would want to pull it down. It promotes their show and it promotes you. It’s a win/win situation!
This is what I don’t understand about the television industry. It’s almost like they’re dinosaurs. They don’t understand that the internet is the #1 thing people are watching now. It’s college kids that can’t afford cable, people killing time in their work cubicles...there are the people that watch stuff on the internet. For NBC to pull a clip off the internet when you have millions of people watching is crazy. It’s free advertisement! If you were to call Nike.com or some other popular website, it would cost you twenty-grand a month to advertise. In this case, it’s a free website with hundreds of millions of people watching. Why would you pull that little clip of me? If you look in the corner of the screen, it clearly says NBC.
Their logo is branded in!
To me, this could help point a few million viewers in the direction of The Tonight Show.
NBC probably figures people on YouTube are not the one’s watching The Tonight Show. The average age of a Tonight Show viewer is dead.
(Laughing) Yeah, I guess. Look, I would be happy attracting two-percent of those millions of YouTube viewers. That still amounts to hundreds of thousands of people.
What comedians act as your inspiration? Who makes you laugh?
Eddie Murphy. I was already a fan of stand-up comedy. At the time I was more impressed with the curse words than the content. My mom got cable and HBO and I was able to watch Delirious. I remember thinking that I wanted to be this guy. Mom, get me a red leather suit right now. I will wear it to the seventh grade prom. I knew when I got out of high school that I was going to be a stand-up comic. It got to the point I was watching Bill Cosby Himself and Whoopi Goldberg’s Around the World in 18 Motherfucking Days, two of the best one-man shows I had ever seen.
Let’s see how honest I can get you. You named a few of your comic touchstones. Who has never once made you laugh?
(Laughing) That’s so bad! That’s a horrible question.
Danny Thomas never made me laugh. He’s dead. I can say it.
I don’t want to do this!
Pick a dead person.
I will be honest...no, I can’t. I can’t say it.
Spell it. You baby you! The cemeteries are filled with dead comedians to choose from.
(Laughing) I can’t do it. I’m sorry. You’re so mean!
Thank you. I’ll get you out of this. Do you remember the first joke you ever wrote?
Yeah. It was a stupid joke about stealing. It didn’t make anybody laugh. It was horrible. I had just been introduced to shoplifting by my older sister. She said, “all you have to do is stick it in the bag and leave.” Let’s do it, right? We had this thing called the BX, the Base Exchange, because my dad was in the military. I’m sticking these albums into a bag. I had already bought one album, but I wanted to steal two more. There is this guy standing right next to me looking at a Michael Jackson album. I come to find out he’s the undercover cop for the store. Here I am talking to him and he’s looking at me wanting to say, “You’re stupid, kid. I’m about to bust you.” I walked out and that same guy grabbed my arm and said, “I need to look in your bag.” I thought I was going to prison. My dad and the cop worked up this plan to scare me to death. My dad was shouting, “Stick him in prison! Throw him in jail! Learn your lesson!” I was in the fifth grade and standing in the BX crying like a baby. It was so funny, man. When I tried to turn it into a joke, nobody laughed. It was just me talking about me stealing.
What’s on the horizon?
I just shot my second one hour special for Comedy Central. It’s called Lights Out. People who come to Spreckles are going to get a sneak peek before it airs in January. Once it airs, that’s it. It’s a wrap. I can’t use those jokes anymore.
Since this is a film blog, I have to ask you one movie-related question to justify my existence. What’s the first film you remember your parents taking you to see?
*The Fish that Saved Philadelphia” starring Dr. J.
With Gabe Kaplan?! And not to dampen your childhood memory, Pittsburgh, not Philadelphia, was the town said fish saved.
That’s right. Dr. J played for Philly. With that being my first movie, it’s no wonder I went into stand-up.
http://www.stubhub.com/jo-koy-tickets/jo-koy-san-diego-12-3-2011-1704744">Click for tickets.