Jo Koy on Comedy: "It's Truth"
Being a father isn't really that different than being a comedian. A lot of it is trial and error. There's no right way to tell a joke, and there's no right way to raise a child. You never really know when either is ready to be sent out into the world, and you're always scared of how people will treat them. But one day, you just do it and hope for the best.
Jo Koy is a comedian and a father, sometimes at the same time. That's evident when you hear his act. But while talking to Koy, you get a sense of just how important family is to him. It's everything. And if he deals with it a lot in his act, it's not because he has nothing else to talk about. It's because everything else seems bland by comparison.
Jo Koy is on tour now, and is waiting for the green light from Comedy Central to shoot his third special. He's a regular on Chelsea Lately and has a podcast with former South Florida radio DJ, Michael Yo, called The Yo & Jo Show.
Jo and I talked about some of these things, and he kindly opened up about the darker parts of his family life. And just when I thought the interview was over -- like any proud father -- he couldn't resist telling me one more thing about his son. It's not just an act. Jo Koy is a family man.
You can see all this for yourself when Jo comes to the West Palm Beach Improv, February 14 to 16.
New Times: So are you working on your third special now?
Jo Koy: This is going to be my third one, man. I'm so excited about this one. I get to see my son grow through my act.
How old is he now?
He's 10 now. I watch these specials, and I get sad. I'm happy, but I'm sad at the same time. I'm like, "Oh my God, my son's growing right before my eyes."
Is he hitting puberty now?
Yeah, it's there, man. He's already showing me. It's kind of creepy (laughs). He's like, "Dad I think there's a hair on my ball."
Is the third special done now, or are you still in the writing process?
No, it's pretty much done. I'm waiting to get green light. They already said that we're going to do it, so I'm just waiting for a time.
So is this special is going to be dealing a lot with family?
Yeah. I'm going to do some relationship stuff too. I'm going to start talking about dating on this one. But for the most part, you know, my son just gives me so much material. To me, it's something I enjoy talking about as a father. I also feel it's very relatable, you know what I mean? I always have people coming up to me going, "My son does the same thing," or, "My daughter does the same thing." I like that. I like my jokes to be more relatable and more personal. More than just being joke-y and writing something witty about whatever is going on.
Has Chelsea Lately really helped your career? Do a lot of the fans of the show come out to see you?
Yeah. You know what's crazy is I started with Chelsea. I knew Chelsea when she was broke. And she was opening for Jon Lovitz and it was a good time. To see this just blow up and Chelsea become the powerhouse that she is is just amazing. And I'm just happy and honored to say that I was a part of that. I got to see both sides of Chelsea. I got to see the up-and-coming Chelsea, and then the Hollywood mega-star that she is. And I love it. I'm so honored and happy to be a part of that, to be a part of the beginning stage of that show when celebrities were hard to book. They wouldn't even do her show. And now it's like, wait in line. And that's just so cool to see.
There's a part in your second special, Lights Out, that I really loved: at the very end, when you bring you son out and you're holding him up and the crowd is standing up, cheering for both of you. You and your son look genuinely proud and happy. Was that a cool moment for you?
Oh, it was the best moment for me. That's one of those things where you dream about it, you know? Like, "Oh, if I ever get that one moment I'd like to bring my kid out." You ever watch a boxing fight, and after the fight the fighter is holding his son or his daughter?
It's kind of like that. When you see that as a parent you're like, "Man, I want to do that." You know what I mean? At my biggest moment in life I want to share it with the one I love the most. And that would be my son. It was great just to share that moment.
Yeah, you did act like you just won a fight at the end of your special. A lot of comedians say good night and walk off stage, but you looked really happy and proud, and you were high-fiving the audience.
Yeah. I love it. I mean, when you work 22 years to get to where you want to be, and finally be able to shoot that special that you've always dreamed about -- I can't walk off the stage and just act like it was another day. That's that moment I've been waiting for my whole life. So, I'm going to savor it like it's a really good steak (laughs).
So, going back to your son: I know you talk about him sometimes and he enjoys your act, but do you get any feedback from his friends?
Yeah, they all know who Joe is. He's kind of like a little celebrity.
His friends like your act?
Oh, yeah. They love it. And my son loves it. He's not embarrassed yet. Because this next special is going to be kind of crazy.
You really deal with some adult content and you don't try to shield him from it.
Yeah, I don't want to censor anything with my son. I know he's going to start cursing pretty soon also. He's probably already doing it and I just don't know. I don't know how to say it without sounding like it's a bad thing, but I just think, with my son, if I censor things it would just be me not being me. You know what I mean? I curse in my act. I talk about explicit content. And there's stuff that he can hear, but I don't want to look at my son and go, "Alright, cover your ears here." I know eventually he's going to know what that stuff is. You know, I don't look at it as being bad. I hope I'm not sounding weird when I say this, but I don't think I'm a bad person when I curse in front of my son or use bad words or whatever. He's going to eventually do it. I remember when I was 15, I had the dirtiest mouth in the world. And my mom and dad never cursed in front of me.
Yeah, if my parents knew some of the things that I was saying at that age, I think they might of had a heart attack.
Right? If my mom would have known the stuff that I was saying, oh, she would have killed me. Killed me. 14-year-olds have the dirtiest mouths, especially little boys. And that doesn't come from your household or anything like that. That just comes from your environment. They're kids, you know what I mean? He's either going to hear it from me, or 25 of his friends from school.
Going back to your mom: I know you talk about her a lot in your act, but do you think moms like her are going extinct? You know, the mom that laughs at you when you fall rather than run after you with a fistful of Band-Aids.
Yeah. That's such a great question. You know what, no. Because as a parent, I find myself becoming my mom and my dad. And I've heard that a lot from other people. When they become parents, they always say stuff like, "Oh, I'm going to be a cool parent. I'm not going to be like my mom and dad." But unfortunately, the way life is, you just become that fucking person (laughs).
I find myself acting like my dad. I find myself being like my mom, and it's sometimes embarrassing, and then I have that attitude of, "Oh well, I don't give a shit," which is kind of how my dad was. He was like, "Well, I don't care if I'm embarrassing you. I'm your father." And now I'm doing that with my son. It's so crazy because there was a point in my life where I used to be really, really cool, and now all of the sudden I'm the nerdy dad. You know what I mean? Like, what the fuck?
Do you still embarrass your son sometimes with typical nerdy dad stuff?
Yeah! It's crazy. Like, how did I get here? When did I become my dad? And I know I'm still cool, but my son and his friends, they'll definitely make you feel like the most un-cool person in the world. And that's just because they're kids and they don't give a shit. They don't care about the special. They don't care about Chelsea Lately, or anything like that. They don't even see that. They just see: your dad's old, and he's in the way (laughs).
You've been talking more openly lately about your family's experience with mental illness and your brother's experience with schizophrenia. Is that something you plan on tackling onstage in the future?
Yeah, it's something I've been wanting to talk about for 10 years of my career. The cool thing about comedy is, it's truth, but it's also exaggerated truth. We embellish on a lot of stuff, which I don't mind doing with other topics, but my brother's life and my life with my brother was just so emotionally draining, and very near to me. It's hard for me to find that joke. I want to do it, and it's something I've been wanting to do for a long, long, long time, but I also don't want to disrespect my brother or anything like that. I don't want to turn his life into a joke. But that's the thing about comedy. I have to find it, and I do want to talk about it onstage. I think people should hear that side of the story and what I went through. But every time I tell the story, it's always emotional, and as a comic I want to be able to find that funny. At least something that people can giggle at and laugh at. But also though, wow, that's some pretty deep shit, right?
Yeah, I heard you talking on Alison Rosen, and you were saying how you don't want to sound like you're making fun of him. You want it to be funny. That's got to be a tough line to walk.
Yeah, man. You know what I mean? That's my bro.
Alright, well I think that covers it, Jo. I have --
Guess where I'm going?
Where are you going?
My son's basketball game, man. He's got a home game.
What position does he play?
He's a shooting guard.
Are you one of those crazy sports dads?
I find myself yelling out, "Defense!" and then I'm like, "Alright, shut up, Jo." I don't want to be that guy. But it's hard. It's so hard. I live vicariously through my son. I never had the balls to play any sports. I always loved sports, and, you know, I didn't have a dad at home, we didn't have any money. It was kind of rough. I never had anyone pushing me to do it. My son was always playing basketball, but he was scared to join the team, and I forced him. I was like, 'Jo, you've got to do this. You're going to love it.' And this was the year he finally decided to do it, and I am ear to ear, man. Smiling. Love it.
Jo Koy, Palm Beach Improv, February 14 to 16. Tickets cost $25 plus fees and there's a Valentine's package for $54.72. Visit palmbeachimprov.com for times.
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