There’s one thing people need to know about comedian Jo Koy: If you turn him away, he will find his way in through a side door. In fact, Jo has made a career of getting people to say yes using his charm, resourcefulness and perseverance.
For example, about 26 years ago, Jo landed a spot on BET’s “ComicView” by walking up to the security guard with a fake headshot and résumé.
“It was all fake. I didn’t open for anybody on that résumé. It was all full of s–t,” he told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man” episode. He fed the security guard a line that he was a local comic and said, “A lot of people like me. If you don’t mind, I’d like to open up, if you could just talk to the promoter.”
Instead of telling him to get lost, the security guard went and got the promoter.
“I’ll give a big shout-out to Yvette Anderson. She was promoting all these BET shows and she came up to the front door and I handed her my résumé and I said, ‘I’m a local comic. Can I just do like five minutes of warmup?’” She said the talent was already booked, but she offered him a ticket near the stage and said she’d look over his résumé.
“Don’t get mad when I do this — it was a black show. Every comic was late. Even the host,” he told me, which made me laugh even more.
The audience was getting restless, so Yvette asked if he could go up and perform. He got a standing ovation and caught the attention of comedian Bo P Barnes, who was that night’s host.
“He goes, ‘Who the f–k is this guy?’ [He said,] ‘By the way, you funny. You want to be on “ComicView”?’ I go, ‘Yeah.’” They flew Jo out for the next week’s show, and that’s how he got on BET.
“And that was that moment where I was like, ‘I’m in. I’m in right now.’ So that changed my life right there.”
At 51, his life continues to change, and his comedy breaks barriers. He regularly tells hilarious stories about growing up with a Filipina mother, an act that inspired his new movie, “Easter Sunday,” which is a window into the Filipino American experience. Oh, and the movie was produced by Steven Spielberg’s company.
“We’re at 2022 now and this is the first film ever by a major studio, Universal, DreamWorks and Amblin, that’s putting an all-Asian cast on the big screen. It’s just mind-blowing that my mom has lived in this country for 51 years and this is her first time actually seeing her culture being represented on the big screen.”
It’s amazing to think that he almost gave up on comedy. A few years ago, he was hoping to land a Netflix special but was given a big fat no.
“I didn’t understand, because I was crushing everywhere. And I’m to the point where I kept calling them and they were not showing up. And then finally they just said, ‘We don’t want it. We’re going to pass’ … So we shot it ourselves.
“I paid for the whole thing. We paid for it. We shot it. We rented out the theater, we sold the tickets for it and we cut it. And by the way … two days before we shot that special, [Netflix] called up my manager and they said, ‘Hey, we heard Jo Koy is shooting a special. We just want you to know — we really don’t want it.’”
After it was filmed, Jo started shopping it around, but Netflix called right away.
“Literally, we got a phone call like … ‘Don’t shop it anywhere. We want it.’”
It led to a crazy momentum. If he hadn’t shot that special himself, he said he never would have made his second Neftlix comedy special, “Comin’ in Hot,” in 2019.
While filming at the Blaisdell theater in Honolulu, he added another accolade to his trophy case. He sold out 12 consecutive shows, breaking Mariah Carey’s record there.
“I think I sold 23,000 tickets. We beat her by like 1,000 tickets,” he said.
And one ticket was extra important. “That’s when Steven Spielberg watched. And that’s how I got this movie — from that special.”
Jo, a single father of one son, is obviously a guy who bets on himself. But the reason he didn’t quit and he filmed that initial special was his son.
“[If] I quit, he’s going to see a quitter. He’s going to see a guy that chased his dream and gave up on it … A guy that took no for an answer, instead of showing them why they should have said yes. I didn’t want to show him that lack of confidence … I want to win in front of him. And this is how I’m going to win. And he got to witness all of it.”
Now the whole world is witnessing it: how a Filipino American kid who wanted to be a comic after seeing Eddie Murphy‘s “Delirious” is killing it right now.
Oh, and Jo dropped one last nugget at the end, which I would have led with, because it’s a pretty big deal.
“I’m playing MSG in November,” he said.
And you can guarantee, I’ll be in the audience … laughing my head off.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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