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Comedian Jo Koy Creates His Own Universe

The world renown comic chats about sharing, manifesting, and why he loves CBD.

Comedian Jo Koy Creates His Own Universe
Courtesy of Mandee Johnson Photography

Jo Koy and I connect by phone and I’m immediately struck by his relaxed presence on the other end of the line. For a guy who’s winding down a monster tour, only to pick back up in a few weeks, he’s awfully calm. And perhaps a calm demeanor is what’s needed when you have two Netflix specials and you’re regularly selling out arenas. To keep you level. Whatever Jo Koy is doing, he does it very, very well.

Where did your inspiration to pursue comedy come from?

Jo Koy: Right around 10 or 11 years old I saw “Eddie Murphy Delirious” and was like, “I gotta be him.” I was so in love with Eddie Murphy. The charisma, the stage presence. The way he told a story. His characters. Everything about him. That’s when I knew I had to do stand-up.

So something clicked watching “Delirious.”

Jo Koy: I always knew what being funny was, but I didn’t know what a stand-up comedian was until I saw that special. Then I was like, “Oh my God.” I was addicted. I went to see Eddie Murphy live on The Raw Tour at The Coliseum when I was 15. That was the craziest thing to see. 17 or 18 thousand people in an arena to see one guy tell jokes. I remember my mouth dropped. “They’re all here to see this guy? This is amazing.”

Then you go on to break ticket sales records selling the most tickets in Honolulu, and you continue to break other ticket sales records. How does it feel to go from seeing Eddie do it, to now, you’re doing it?

Jo Koy: It’s just crazy man. I can’t believe it. I’ve got two sold out shows at The Forum. Then two sold out shows at Chase Arena, where the Golden State Warriors play. It’s crazy. Even just saying that to you is crazy. It’s just like…holy shit, man. I went from booking coffee houses in Las Vegas, to renting out theaters, to Improvs. And now I’m doing arenas. It’s hard to wrap my head around it. But I always said, when you put it out there man, it happens.

I was doing this AOL interview in New York about three years ago, and I was asked “Where do you want to go now?” At the time, I was doing theaters. I was like, “One thing I love about Kevin [Hart] is he’s doing arenas and he’s showing everybody that that’s possible. He’s able to do an arena, and that means I can do an arena.” I remember as I was saying that, but in my head I was like, “Yo—shut the fuck up, Jo. That’s a tall order, bro. Why are you saying that out loud?” But I’m glad I put it out there because there was something in me that was like if “I don’t say it out loud, it’s not going to happen.”

That night, I went back to my hotel room and I texted my manager. He’ll show you the text, it’s pretty cool. I go, “Bucket list venues: Forum or Staples, The Opera House in Sydney Australia, Radio City Music Hall, The DAR.” The DAR is the Constitutional Hall where “Delirious” was shot. And I go, “I can retire after I play these, but I want to play these ASAP.” Then he responded, “Let’s go.” That was at like two o’clock in the morning. I remember popping out of bed to text. I had to put it out there. I wanted it bad. And now here we are and those have all been crossed off. It’s nuts. But that’s what you gotta do, man. Set those goals and knock ‘em down. And then, set some more.

It’s like you had the intent and then you worked with the universe to speak things into existence.

Jo Koy: I was laying in bed and I was thinking about “Delirious.” I remember how it was shot, and I remember thinking all the house lights were on. I remember how cool the venue looked. And I thought, “Why haven’t I played that venue yet?” I Googled where it was and wrote it down. Then I thought, “Where else do I want to play?” I wrote down Staples, The Forum, Radio City Music Hall and then sent it to my manager.

I don’t mean to sound cheesy. A lot of people say, “See, it’s the universe.” It’s not even about that. It is the universe, but I don’t want people to just walk outside and yell up to the sky. The universe can be you. You’re your universe. Tell your universe what you want to fucking do. And then for some reason, everything inside you starts moving toward [what you want to do], indirectly. Without you even thinking about. You just start taking the proper steps in the right direction because you put it out there.

The alignment between intentions, thoughts and actions—that congruency—leads to greatness. And arguably, sold out shows.

Jo Koy: One-hundred percent. Like when they said “No” to me at Netflix for my new hour, I had an option: I could go on Twitter and tell everyone to cancel their subscription to Netflix because they suck and be all hateful, or, I could be like, “Hold on, hold on. You said ‘No,’ but let me go ahead and make it, and I’ll invest in myself, and I’ll produce it myself. Then let me bring it back to you because I don’ t think you really want to say ‘No.’ Let me just show you what you’re saying ‘No’ to.” And that’s what I did, which is essentially what that whole universe thing is. 

You choose what you want to put out there. Yeah, [Netflix] said “No,” But I didn’t choose to be like, “Man, fuck Netflix. They said ‘No’, they can go fuck themselves for the rest of their lives.” Which is what most people do. I chose to be like, “Hold on they said ‘No,’ but maybe they just don’t know what I’m talking about.” And then invest. Right now, we live in a generation where people don’t want to fully invest. And that’s fucked up.

You got trumpet players playing the trumpet in the middle of the subway that probably should be in a God damn orchestra, or symphony or jazz band. But right now, that opportunity hasn’t come. They’re like, “Well, fuck it. Let me go to a subway and show off my skills and eventually, that [opportunity] will happen.” That’s them calling out to the universe, right? That’s them putting their energy out there. And it’s the same thing with me. It’s like, yeah okay, you don’t want to invest in my stand-up. Well then, let me just show you. Let me invest. Let me do it myself and then give me an honest answer after that.

There’s a reason why your path has worked, and there’s a reason why a lot of people do not take that same path. It takes a lot of courage to be confident in your convictions.

Jo Koy: We live in a generation now where people are like, “I can’t believe they said ‘No’ to me, that’s fucked up, I deserve it.” Yo dude, we all deserve it. You know what I mean? We all deserve one billion dollars. Every single one of us on this earth deserves everything. And you can get it. You’re allowed to get it. You just have to go get it. And that’s what people forget. It’s so fucking frustrating. People are like, “Why did Rebecca get a tv show? I’ve been doing it 30 years and that bitch’s only been doing it 10.” Yeah, and? What does that have to do with anything? She got it because she made it happen! You can make it happen! Rebecca made it fucking happen. Why don’t you recognize that first. And the reason why you’re not making it happen is because you’re too fucking busy complaining about Rebecca making it happen. Why don’t you shut the fuck up about Rebecca, appreciate that she got it, and learn from it. “Oh, Rebecca did it? That means I can do it.” And that’s what people fail to do, man.

It’s like if Rebecca was making sandwiches, and the person complaining was making the same sandwich for 30 years, Rebecca comes in with something hot, and it’s like, she just made a better sandwich!

Jo Koy: Make a better fucking sandwich! Maybe you should add lettuce, mother fucker! Get better meats. Quit buying shitty bread. It’s funny that you said that, but it’s so true because that’s the metaphor, right? Maybe what you’re doing just needs a little work. Maybe you need to change it up. Maybe you should stop pointing the finger at other fucking people and fix whatever is broken with you. 

It’s the hardest thing to look at yourself and say, “Oh. These behaviors, actions, thoughts aren’t serving me.”

Jo Koy: I saw people who used to open for me get Netflix specials. I could have been like, “Yo, fuck that. That dude used to open for me. Why would he get one over me?” I could have done that. I could have been that guy. Instead, I was proud. You know what I mean? I was like, “I saw him before Netflix saw him.” I used him as a motivation.

And you also helped his success in some way.

Jo Koy: Exactly. I was proud of him. It was Chris D’Elia, by the way.

Growing up as a Filipino-American obviously influences your point of view. Is there a greater purpose to your comedy or are you just up there making people laugh and you call it a day?

Jo Koy: Hell no, bro. One thing that was always important to me—you already said it—was point of view. That’s the key. What do I want people to know about me? And make that my story.

When I was growing up, I had a lot of identity issues being a half-white half-Filipino kid with a military father. Coming up in the 80s, there was no Internet, there were only three channels on tv, and there was nothing [on tv that had people] who looked like me. I wanted to be a stand-up comic, but my inspirations were a black guy; Eddie Murphy, a white guy; George Carlin, another white guy; Brian Regan…Richard Jeni, Dennis Wolfberg. Those were my inspirations, which were great, but I didn’t have anyone who looked like me. No one telling my story. No one giving me something that I could relate to or identify with.

That’s why the second most important part of my stand-up is talking about my mom. I wanted to tell my story and I wanted it to be relatable. I wanted people to be like, “I’m not Filipino, but my mom does the same shit your mom does,” and indirectly give my mom a voice. Give Filipinos a voice. And now, people recognize Filipino culture. They know about what we do. What we sound like. And they know we do shit that’s just like you. That’s what I’m proud about. That maybe I’m inspiring Filipino kids to go, “Oh yeah, Jo Koy does [stand-up] and I wanna do that. I don’t wanna be a nurse, I could be a comic.” You know what I mean? I always wanted that. I wanted to be like, if you’re half-white half-Filipino or if you’re Asian or whatever, just know that it’s possible to make it in stand-up. 

It’s why I wore the Filipino flag on my chest when I did The Tonight Show. I remember looking at my mom and telling her, “I’m doing this because I want Filipino kids to be like ‘I can be on The Tonight Show like him.’” My sister, Gemma, hand-stitched that flag on my chest. It was a Nike track jacket, and my sister sewed it on for me just before I went on stage. I still have the jacket in my closet and I always look at it.

How is cannabis and/or CBD part of your lifestyle?

Jo Koy: It’s obvious cannabis is the healthier choice. One thing I don’t like is chemicals, and I try my hardest to not even take Excedrin when I have headaches. I’m so happy we live in a time where cannabis isn’t looked at as illegal. There’s no “Where’d you get that, a dark alley? Did you hide that in your butthole?” Now, it’s very open. There’s a dispensary right next to the sushi restaurant at the bottom of the hill by my house. I’m glad my son is growing up in a time where [weed] isn’t looked at as illegal, but rather the healthier choice. I love that.

And I love that we have oils now, too. CBD oil, I love that shit. It’s the healthier choice for people like me who have bad knees. You apply the rollers and go. I don’t want to take a chemical that’s going to make me shit blood. Why would I do that?

What inspires you to stay humble?

Jo Koy: It’s not so much trying to stay humble. That’s just the mindset I’m on. It’s the energy I’ve always been on. As a young kid, I used to love watching documentaries that would show someone’s grind, the steps someone took to accomplish whatever it was they did. I always related to that because it felt like the person [in each documentary] always started in the same position I was in. Which was, broke as shit. 

Not having anything, then being able to have something, and then sharing it. Whether it’s  limelight, energy, knowledge…we’re all in this for the same reasons. We’re all trying to make our family happy and make sure the people we’re responsible for get fed.

I enjoy seeing people smile. If I’ve got it, I share it. The giving culture is in my blood. When we say that Filipinos don’t have much but you go to the house and we’ll feed you, it’s because we’ve got sharing instilled in our DNA. Sharing, man. That’s what it’s all about.

Follow @jokoy and check out https://jokoy.com/ for tickets and tour dates.

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