Jo Koy: Rocking arenas with laughter

Photos from Jo Koy’s Facebook and website

He plays to humongous, sold-out theaters and arenas in mainland US and Hawaii—this bald-headed Fil-Am stand-up comedian who answers to the name of Jo Koy, a pet name for Josep (pronounced with a Filipino accent and without the “ph” sound by his mother). His specials, available for streaming in Netflix, must come with the warning: Buckle your seatbelts and prepare for an hour of laughing out loud until tears are streaming down your eyes.

Born Joseph Glenn Herbert to an American father and a Filipino mother, the 49-year old Jo Koy is just about the only Pinoy one knows who has joined the contemporary comedy mainstream. His bionote in his website www.jokoy.com mentions how he once played in Las Vegas coffee houses for several years before he hit it big time when he appeared in talk shows such as “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”


He is also generous to his young Fil-Am stand-up comedians to whom he has given breaks by inviting them to grace his shows like he did when he did a comedy special in the Philippines.

What makes him tick? He mines the rich potential of overbearing and hovering Filipino mothers (watch his video clip about how Vicks Vaporub is the cure-all of his mom, even when he complained of pneumonia, or how she recycles commercial plastic containers into his school lunchbox to his mortal embarrassment before his schoolmates), Filipino traits and habits, even his son’s puberty. It is the shock of recognition that leaves his audience in stitches

Who hasn’t had a stage mother push a talented child like Jo Koy before house visitors to “do the Michael Jackson” when she discovered he could do the moonwalk dance moves. She did this to him until one day he protested that it had to stop because he was 33 years old already.

He is not above giving green jokes and crying “F___k you’s!” about the size of a Pinoy man’s penis and his son’s worry that his won’t grow beyond the adolescent size he’s blessed with. Or poking fun at the plentiful vowel sounds of the Hawaiian language that makes it difficult for him to tell one street name from another.

The spoken languages of the Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese are not spared his ridicule. One nearly has to agree with him that Korean sounds like it’s coming from a haunted house, that Japanese spoken by men sounds like emanating from the diaphragm and when spoken by women, it’s all the same whether it’s a 12-year old or 74-year old who speaks it, that spoken Vietnamese sounds like a full sentence per word said in rapid-fire fashion.

Perhaps the most outrageous joke, based on an Asian reality, is how he was raised to cook rice by his mom. After two washings of the uncooked rice, Jo Koy was taught to measure how much final amount of water goes into the electric rice cooker. He sticks up his middle finger and points with his thumb at the line of the inner hand. Yes, the gesture looks obscene, but that is the truth in every rice-eating household.

He cuts a hyper-manic figure onstage as he appears in a simple get-up of sweater, tight-fitting jogger pants and sneakers. He works the mic and only has a high stool as prop. Behind him is his name cut out in gigantic letters. Sometimes there’s a DJ on stage left who provides the background music.

But the real delight is finding out that Jo Koy writes and performs his material. He doesn’t have a team of ghost writers to do it for him. The material is fresh and seems to emerge from a pot of adobo cooked lovingly by his mother. (Chicken adobo, by the way, is his favorite dish. It has gained the admiration of his childhood friends.)

The man even has his own merchandise already, the latest items being signed black t-shirts with his name “Josep!” screaming in front, black denim Levi’s jackets with the words “From the Ghetto to the Getty” printed on the back and Funko Pop collectible figures of himself. He has a Facebook page where his video clips are archived and can be visited again and again for laughs on blue days. In the same page, he has started a weekly Thursday clip on the outrageousness of Tagalog words and expressions, especially learned from his mother like “Ha?” and “Tanga!”

Jo Koy’s Filipino upbringing may have been traumatic to some extent, but for certain it will be an endless and rich source of comedic material for years to come. This funny guy is just peaking.

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