Jo Koy not coy about show that changed his life
Back when Johnny Carson ruled the late-night airwaves, a comedian could make a career with one shot on the venerable Tonight Show. But with the advent of cable and competition, all eyes aren’t focused on any one channel anymore. So now when a standup comic books an appearance on a network talk show, it’s a nice credit for the press package and provides “good reel” for club bookers, but that’s about it.
Or at least that’s generally how it works these days. Jo Koy is the exception that proves the rule.
Five years ago, 13 years into his comedy career, the Tacoma native appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, and he hasn’t looked back. His five-minute set received an unheard-of standing ovation.
According to Koy, who plays the Commodore Ballroom on September 13, Leno told him, “I haven’t seen a standing ovation since I’ve taken over.” Koy is speaking to the Straight from his new home in Studio City, California. “Then he told me that he never even got a standing ovation. It was really nice, man. Even the producers were running up to me. ”˜That was amazing. We haven’t seen something like that in a long, long, long, long time.’ It’s pretty amazing. That was one of the best days of my life. That whole set changed my life.”
He’s not exaggerating. At the time of the taping, Koy was working two day jobs: at a bank and a shoe store. “That’s literally the moment where I became a full-time comedian. It was the day after that show. So much stuff happened for me.”
From there, he became a spokesperson for a cellphone company, got tons of college gigs throughout America, and started opening for comedy behemoth—and lightning rod for controversy—Carlos Mencia.
Mencia happened to be watching Koy’s spot and called him directly. “He put me on this huge national tour of 110 cities. So I was in this tour bus making all this money opening for Carlos Mencia,” he says. “I loved Mencia. What he did for me was amazing. He changed my life. He took me on the road. He put me in venues that I never thought I would ever play in my life. He was at the Toyota Center one night in Houston, Texas. That was 18,000 people that came to this show and here I am opening for him. It was ridiculous.”
Koy doesn’t want to wade too deep into the Mencia joke-stealing controversy, in which several comedians levelled accusations, but will say this: “That was so unfortunate. It catches up to you. You can’t do stuff like that and not get caught.”
Koy has played Vancouver with the Just for Laughs Ethnic Heroes of Comedy tour and opening for Jon Lovitz, but those were short sets. Now he’s here as a headliner in his own right. His material, he says, concentrates on family. “A lot of stuff’s on my son and a lot on my mom. I tell these jokes about my mom and about her being a Filipino mom. But I do it in a way where it’s my mom—I’m not saying Filipino moms do this,” he says.
He’s come a long way, not only from his star-making TV appearance, but from his humble upbringing—all the way up the I-5. Surprisingly, despite having grown up in western Washington, he’s only spent time in this city professionally.
“My friends always said how cool it was, but we were too poor,” he says. “We couldn’t afford it to drive up north to go to Canada. We pretty much stayed local.”