RACE & COMEDY. Comedian Jo Koy poses for a portrait in Los Angeles on
March 2, 2021, to promote his book, Mixed Plate: Chronicles of an
All-American Combo. Released in August, Mixed Plate is an
ideal companion to Koy’s stand-up with its humorous — and at times
painful — origin stories behind some of his most popular bits. The book
shows how Koy’s mixed-race background ultimately shaped his brand of
comedy and his determination not to give up on his childhood dream. (AP
RACE & REJECTION. Comedian Jo Koy poses for a portrait in Los Angeles
on March 2, 2021, to promote his book, Mixed Plate: Chronicles of an
All-American Combo. Koy’s Filipino roots shine brightly in the book.
He may be the first comic with a memoir that’s part recipe book. There
are instructions on how to make Filipino dishes like lumpia and chicken
adobo. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
From The Asian Reporter, V31, #9 (September 6, 2021), pages 1
Comic, Netflix staple Jo Koy talks race, rejection
By Terry Tang
The Associated Press
Like many famous comics, Jo Koy had early struggles at comedy clubs.
But, unlike them, the half white and half Filipino comedian could only
seem to book spots on ethnic theme nights like "Wonton Wednesdays" and
"There’s a lot of comics that had to do it. I’m not just saying
Asians — Black people, Latinos, anyone that was ‘other’ had to do these
themed shows. And it sucks," Koy recalled recently.
Segregating comics may sound bizarre and offensive in today’s world,
but that underlying racism "baked into" the comedy club circuit was
acceptable in the early 2000s, according to Koy. How he went from there
to being a Netflix darling and having a movie deal with Steven Spielberg
is part of the career journey Koy, 49, tells in his new memoir.
Mixed Plate: Chronicles of an All-American Combo, released in
August, is an ideal companion to Koy’s stand-up with its humorous — and
at times painful — origin stories behind some of his most popular bits.
The book shows how Koy’s mixed-race background ultimately shaped his
brand of comedy and his determination not to give up on his childhood
"I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. It was a long road," Koy
said. "And when I finally got to this point in my career, I just looked
at my manager. I was like, ‘Man, I would really like to tell people, you
know, this struggle, and how hard it was to really get here."‘
With the help of a writing partner, Koy, born Joseph Glenn Herbert,
lays bare how he grappled with his mixed-race identity as a child
growing up in Tacoma, Washington. He doesn’t shy away from deeply
personal topics including an older brother with violent schizophrenia
and a father who left when he was only 12 years old. (The book also
documents their reconciliation.)
"I’ve always been open to just letting people be inside my life," Koy
said. "So when I said I was going to write a book, of course I’m going
to tell them everything. Or else, you’re not going to really know the
story of how I got there."
Koy, who has sold out stadium shows, has aspired to make people laugh
since age 11. He didn’t "speak school" and was never interested in
conventional pursuits like college. For him, earning $5 doing stand-up
on an open mic in a coffeehouse was more thrilling. By the 1990s, he
followed his mother and stepfather to Las Vegas and started doing comedy
contests and small clubs there. In 2001, he decided to make the big move
to Los Angeles.
The comedy club circuit wasn’t exactly receptive to his bi-racial
"You come to Hollywood, and they have no idea what they’re looking at
— as horrible as that sounds," Koy said. "‘What’s your story? We don’t
get it. Where do we put you?’"
Koy took whatever gigs at clubs like The Improv and the Laugh Factory
— even the ethnic "theme nights." Meanwhile, he juggled as many as three
part-time jobs. By 2003, he also had to factor in his newborn son.
In the book, he recounts performing at the Laugh Factory while a
then-unknown Tiffany Haddish would be off to the side watching his son.
"We had that that little bond of ours, you know, that we both had
seen struggle," Koy said. "I love Tiffany, that she was there during
that process. She still is in my life to this day, which is even more
Seeing his toddler son play with his mother, it hit Koy that family
life could be funny fodder. While mimicking his mother’s accent and
mannerisms is now classic Koy, he initially hesitated for fear of being
labelled "the Filipino comic." But he saw that all audiences seemed to
find anecdotes involving his mother relatable.
"That’s when I knew. I was like, ‘Oh, I got something good here. I
know how to do it now,’" Koy said.
His Filipino roots shine brightly in the book. Koy may be the first
comic with a memoir that’s part recipe book. There are instructions on
how to make Filipino dishes like lumpia and chicken adobo. He wants to
keep being "an ambassador for Filipino food" and culture.
With three Netflix comedy specials under his belt in the last four
years, including one filmed in Manila, Koy said people often think that
the streaming service discovered him. But like other times in his life,
he was rejected by them for their 2017 comedy slate.
Determined to give them a reason to say yes, Koy put on his own
special. He booked a theater in Seattle and paid for a high-quality crew
to film it. The final product was enough to elicit an offer from
Since then, Koy has built a reputation as an in-demand comedian. With
plenty of on-screen experience including being a panellist on Chelsea
Handler’s old E! talk show, "Chelsea Lately," Koy seems one sitcom or
film away from the next level of stardom.
One of his Netflix specials got Spielberg’s attention. The director’s
production company, Amblin Entertainment, is producing a starring
vehicle for Koy, Easter Sunday. Based on Koy’s own experiences,
the movie comedy follows a family gathering on the titular holiday.
Even with all these opportunities, Koy’s mother sometimes asks him if
he’ll drop stand-up for a regular job "with benefits."
"I don’t think about retiring. I’m gonna die on that stage," Koy
said. "That’s kind of hard to explain to an immigrant parent. They don’t
understand that. But you know what? We’re all enjoying this."
Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press’
Race and Ethnicity team.
Jo Koy is scheduled to perform November 21, 2021 at the Theater of
the Clouds at the Rose Quarter in Portland; January 21, 2022 at the Hult
Center’s Silva Concert Hall in Eugene; and January 22, 2022 at Seattle
Center’s Climate Pledge Arena.
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