The American Filipino star talked to us ahead of his Abu Dhabi gig.
With race and identity hitting the headlines, it can often feel like we can’t address serious issues with a sense of humour. Comedian Jo Koy has charmed audiences with his fresh, funny, American Filipino take on the world. As he’s coming to Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on 28 October, FACT spoke to the man behind the mic to get to know him better.
Born in Nevada, United States to an American father and a Filipino mother, Jo’s love affair with comedy began when he was a child. He recalls: “I fell in love with comedy when I was nine years old and heard Richard Pryor. I fell in love with the art of stand-up and storytelling, and I thought he was the greatest storyteller. Then I saw Eddie Murphy’s Delirious and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was at that point that I knew I was going be a stand-up comic for the rest of my life.”
Jo started his career in 1994, and would play at comedy clubs in Las Vegas. He was spotted by a talent scout, and starred in the TV show, ComicView. His Netflix comedy specials include Jo Koy: Live From Seattle, Joy Koy: Comin’ In Hot and Joy Koy: In His Elements. Plus, he has two Netflix specials in the pipeline, which will potentially include material from the upcoming Abu Dhabi show.
One of the defining features of Jo’s comedy are his heartfelt stories. His humour is all about storytelling, as he mixes black comedy, observational jokes and tackles identity politics. One of his #trending videos is how to tell Asians apart by their accents. He is unafraid to make fun of his Filipino family and upbringing, hoping that it will bridge rather than build gaps. So, his comedy doesn’t cater to any specific group, but speaks to shared human experiences.
He explains: “Comedy is the rawest form of entertainment. It’s honest, genuine and one thing I love about it is that it’s just like music. It’s the most universal language. Laughter and stories bring us together. I love being able to tell my story about my life, then go to the UAE and somebody goes, ‘hey, my mom does the same thing or my son does the same thing’. That has nothing to do with your ethnicity. Life is funny.”
“People see my comedy as attracting Filipinos. I’m like, ‘well I’m in West Virginia, no Filipinos came to my show’. The population of Filipinos in West Virginia is very slim. So, the demographic was very white. That’s what I love about stand-up, as it’s not about your ethnicity. We think that we should be divided and separated because of who we are, but once you hear it in a joke or you hear a funny story, you realise that funny is funny.”
Jo’s tour takes him around the world and he has gigs scheduled in Amman, Manama and across the United States. He reflects: “I never like to make changes to my delivery and timing. My pace? Yes. I do make adjustments. It has nothing to do with the UAE, it could be London. The minute I get on stage, I figure out what the crowd wants and we go from there. And it’s just that’s the art of stand-up. You’ve got to figure it out.”
On his first trip to the UAE, he was impressed by the French café L’Eto (“we went there three times”) and the safety (“in America, you leave your phone, it’s gone). He shares an only-in-the-UAE story about how he lost his phone in a mall – he was convinced it would be stolen, but it was exactly where he left it. He adds: “As far as visuals in the Middle East, you have a perception and then you go and then you’re like, ‘they lied to us the whole time’. Everyone is so happy, nice, loving and so well taken care of. Oh my, it’s better.”
When it comes to the future of comedy, Jo believes that the Internet has been a game-changer. It has connected comedians with audiences, and transformed the entertainment landscape. Now, comedians from different corners of the world can share their unique perspectives. He enthuses: “What we’re doing right now would have been unheard of in 1989. It’s a really big beautiful thing that’s happening, and we’re all connected. It’s beautiful that’s happening with stand-up – it is exploding and I love it. Our time has come.”
Get ready for silliness, sarcasm and, of course, stories. Jo, your time has certainly come.
GO: Visit https://abu-dhabi.platinumlist.net for tickets and more information.