“Jay Leno told me, ‘I haven’t seen a standing ovation since I’ve taken over.’ Then he told me that he never even got a standing ovation. 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.’ That was one of the best days of my life. That whole set changed my life.” – Jo Koy
Jo Koy: Hello?
Guy MacPherson: Hey, how are you? You’re an early bird.
JK: No, no, not at all.
GM: Why did they schedule this at 8:15 then?
JK: I was in a dead sleep.
GM: So was I. I know most comedians aren’t early risers so I was wondering why they scheduled this so early.
JK: I know, right?!
GM: So you live in Los Angeles?
JK: Yeah, I live out here. Just bought a place, actually.
GM: Oh, you’re doing well.
JK: Yeah, yeah. I bought it in Studio City. It’s really nice.
JK: Yeah, thank you.
GM: A little Tacoma boy doing well.
JK: Yeah, man, 18 years later!
GM: Has it been 18 years since you started stand-up?
JK: Yeah. I started in 1992, man.
GM: I’ve seen you twice before.
JK: Oh, nice.
GM: At the JFL tour and also the Ethnic Heroes tour.
JK: I was also out there with Jon Lovitz.
GM: Ah, so I’ve seen you three times then. But in shorter sets. How long will you be doing at the Commodore?
JK: Oh, probably a little over an hour. About an hour and a half.
GM: Is this a tour of Canada?
JK: I think it’s Vancouver, Winnipeg and Toronto... I love Canada.
GM: You grew up in Tacoma. Did you spend much time here in your youth apart from comedy?
JK: In Tacoma I didn’t even know what a comedy club was. I knew that there were comedy clubs but I didn’t know, like, where they were or anything like that. I was in high school and I just remember saying to myself, When I get out of high school I’m going to become a comedian. But I never went to a comedy club or anything like that when I was living in Tacoma. I didn’t start going to them until I moved to Vegas. That was right out of high school. And they have a thousand comedy clubs there, you know? They’ve got so many comedy clubs in Las Vegas and I was going all the time, just going to comedy clubs and watching comics. Just falling in love, wishing that was me on stage.
GM: How long did it take before you got up the nerve to get up there yourself?
JK: Initially I went up right away. I went up right out of high school. I joined this competition in Vegas. My sister’s a singer and she was in this competition, also. So I went to go see my sister sing and there was this comedian that was in the show and my sister goes, “God, you’re funnier than him.” And then I went. I went and enrolled. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t even tell my sister I enrolled. And I was on this competition with my sister that no one knew about. And I bombed so bad. It was horrible, man. It was so bad. And I didn’t get back onstage for another... that was ’89 and I didn’t get back onstage until ’92 or ’93, so about three years before I went back onstage.
GM: In the competition, did you get five minutes or something like that?
JK: (laughs) Yeah! I got five minutes and I think I lasted about 30 seconds.
GM: Because you pulled yourself out or they said, Enough!?
JK: When you’re bombing, you just kinda say goodnight quick. I was up there for about 30 seconds and that’s when the bombing started. Maybe about 10 more seconds after that, I was like, Alright, I’m outta here. It was no more than a minute, though.
GM: Did your sister witness this?
JK: Ah, it was just bad. The first joke I said it was just complete silence. And then people started talking. And then people started talking to me on the stage. It was bad. It was bad.
GM: It’s a rite of passage. But even as a professional, you’re going to bomb on occasion.
JK: You’re not going to win them all the time.
GM: What’s your percentage now?
JK: I kill ‘em every time. (laughs) Usually if I do get somebody that talks, if I do get a heckler, I shut that down really quick.
GM: It’s learning the craft, right?
JK: Yeah. It’s just being confidant and delivering everything right. It doesn’t matter what kind of situation you’re in, as long as you know what you’re doing, you’re going to win that crowd back. You know?
GM: I know you do ethnic stuff. At least you did on the Ethnic Heroes tour.
JK: The stuff I concentrate on now... 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. I don’t do that. I just tell stories about my mom raising me and the funny stories I have about my youth. And it’s so funny, at the end of the show I’m always going to get, like, someone that’s not Filipino coming up to me. I’ll get a black couple or a white guy or a Latino chick that’ll walk up to me and go, “My mom is just like that.” It’s so cool to see another race come up to me going, “My mom did the same thing.” So it has nothing to do with my mom being Filipino; it’s just that every mom does the same thing.
GM: Like pointing with her lips.
JK: (laughs) Well, not that! You know what’s funny is my mom did point with her lips when I did that joke – that was a long time ago – but I did have so many people do that. They won’t say their mom points with their lips, but they’ll say something like, “Yeah, she’ll move her neck forward when she wants something.” You know what I mean? Or she’ll raise her eyebrows when she’s pointing up towards the ceiling. They’ll compare it to my mom. It was just so funny to hear all the different mannerisms from all them parents. So funny.
GM: Is your dad Filipino?
JK: No, my dad’s white.
GM: How old’s your son now?
JK: My son is seven now.
GM: Growing up in Tacoma, did you get over the border much just to visit?
JK: Never. Never. I always heard about it. My friends always said how cool it was, but we were too poor. We couldn’t afford it to drive up north to go to Canada. We pretty much stayed local. It was a single mom, you know what I mean? My dad and my mom divorced when my sister was 11 and I was 10, so not too much money to go have fun.
GM: Is it true that you’re one of the few comics to get a standing ovation on The Tonight Show?
JK: It’s true that I got one. That was from Jay Leno. He told me, “I haven’t seen a standing ovation since I’ve taken over.” 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.
GM: Oh, how so? You don’t hear that much these days about comics on The Tonight Show saying that.
JK: Yeah, The Tonight Show changed my life. 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. Like, I was working three jobs at the time. Well, two jobs. I considered it three jobs because I was also doing stand-up. But I had a job at a bank and I was also working at a shoe store.
GM: And did you go in the next day?
JK: Of course! I went into work and people were recognizing me, like, “Oh my God, you were on The Tonight Show.” And it was just so cool because a lot of important people were watching that day. Carlos Mencia was watching and he called me. We had the same agent and he actually called me directly and 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. And then I got a commercial deal. I was like the spokesperson for a cellular phone company because the owner saw The Tonight Show. And I was getting all these college gigs because The Tonight Show is a great reel when you submit it. The kids are like, “Oh yeah, this guy is awesome!” Yeah, I literally became a working comic 24/7. I didn’t have to worry about working part-time anymore. All because of The Tonight Show.
GM: That is really rare these days. You used to hear that back in Johnny Carson’s day, that somebody would go on and it would change their career.
JK: I remember when I got The Tonight Show, a lot of comics were coming up to me and they were like, “Don’t think it’s gonna do anything.” They were being nice about it but they were just, like, warning you: “It’ll be good tape. You’ll be able to submit it to the comedy clubs now and they’ll look at you better.” Yeah, it didn’t have the same oomph that it had. But when I went up, I don’t know what it was but it changed my life. It was the best. It was literally the day my life changed.
GM: What year was that?
JK: Gosh, that was five years ago.
GM: So you had a young son, then, too.
JK: Yeah. I was 13 years in the game.
GM: You mentioned touring with Carlos Mencia. He’s a lightning rod for controversy.
GM: What’s your take on him? Is he deserving of praise or scorn?
JK: With me, 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.
GM: And he never took any of your jokes.
JK: Yeah, I mean, that was also a big thing. They were saying that about Ned. That was so unfortunate. It catches up to you. You can’t do stuff like that and not get caught or whatever it may be. He’s never done that with me. He’s never taken any of mine. But unfortunately he did get caught by some very big guys with voices that people like to hear. He got caught by the wrong person. There were several that caught him, actually, and went public with it. So hopefully people will learn from that. If there’s up-and-coming comics, be careful, this game is very well protected by other comedians. Unfortunately there’s nothing that we can do to protect our jokes but we can all watch out for each other. And that’s what basically happened.
GM: It hasn’t affected his career, though.
JK: I don’t really like to elaborate on Mencia, you know what I mean? But we haven’t been on tour together (laughs)...
GM: Are you still friendly?
JK: He’s still going strong. The guy’s still doing his thing. He’s still playing theatres. I don’t know about 18,000 seats anymore, but I don’t think he’s hurting at all. In fact, I was with him in Houston. We weren’t on the same show together but we were in the same venue together. I did two shows. I did the 8 o’clock and the 10 o’clock and he did the 12 o’clock. And it was kind of cool to see both our names on the marquee at the same time. It was kind of neat that my shows were sold out and so was his. Back in the day, no one knew who I was; I was just the guy opening for him. Here it is now and the fans have a choice. You know what I mean? I thought that was really cool.
GM: I notice you call him Ned still.
JK: Yeah, yeah, well, that’s his name. His friends call him Ned. When you meet him in person, probably not with you because you’re doing an interview, but if you were at his house eating, he would come up to you and go, “Hey, my name’s Ned. What’s your name?” That was the first thing he said to me when I met him. He goes, “Please call me Ned.” That’s his childhood name. That’s what he grew up as. Just in this business Ned’s not going to make it. Mitzi Shore’s the one who named him Carlos. And Mencia is like his mother’s maiden name, or something like that. His real name is Ned Holness. He never hides that. He’s always said it. When Rogan called him out on it, he already had that out there. His production company is called Nedlos. ... I don’t know. I don’t want to sit here and defend him or whatever it is, but he did get caught. But I also want to say if you watch his first special, he said that he was Honduran. You know what I mean? I’m not trying to defend the guy; I’m just saying. It wasn’t like he was exposed; he did expose himself. But he did get caught and I don’t agree with that part. He got caught.
GM: You gotta watch what you say when you say, “He did expose himself.”
GM: You don’t want that out of context.
JK: Yeah, yeah.
GM: Do you bring a deejay along on your shows?
JK: Yeah, I got a guy that opens for me. He does a little crowd work; gets the crowd going. It’s kind of cool. It’s a nice little element to the show that’s a little different, you know? It’s more enjoyable than just playing a house CD. You got a guy up there that’s entertaining the crowd while he’s playing the music.