Jo Koy Talks ‘Easter Sunday,’ Las Vegas Debut
Jo Koy remembers the days he was this guy at work.
He worked for minimum wage at Foot Locker in Las Vegas while moonlighting at the Mirage. But above all, he was selling himself and a dream.
To that end, he would rent the Huntridge Theater and stage his own comedy shows, then pester his colleagues for help.
“I would literally walk up to people at work and be like, ‘Hey, are you gonna come to my show? Can I charge you $20?'” Koy recalled.
He funded these early shows himself. “It was $800 at the time to have the theater, which was a ton when you worked at Foot Locker. Then the insurance was $250, and I was paying other artists $250 to go on plane, plus I gave them money to eat. I would be invested about $3,000 in total for each show,” he says.
Koy actually went door to door in Vegas selling tickets. And what about those people who gave work a quick yes, thinking it would relieve it? “I would legitimately go to their house, walk to the front door, knock and say, ‘Hey man, I need my 20 bucks for these tickets’…and they were giving me the 20.”
Cut to 2022 and Jo Koy eating pizza with her publicist on a hot summer day in Los Angeles. They wait backstage at one of the world’s biggest multiplexes for the premiere of their new film ‘Easter Sunday’, produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. This movie is just part of the reason the 51-year-old Filipino American is poised to take over Hollywood.
In “Easter Sunday,” opening August 5, Koy portrays a single father with a teenage son struggling with their noisy and dysfunctional Filipino American family on Easter Sunday.
Then there’s his fourth Netflix special, “Live at the Los Angeles Forum,” which premieres September 13. Koy is also set to sell out T-Mobile Arena as the first comedian to headline the venue on Nov. 19.
“I was offered a residency at a hotel that I won’t name but I declined,” reveals Koy, who has a home in Summerlin and lives there part-time. “I said, ‘If I go back to my hometown of Vegas where I started, I can’t do a residency. I make an arena. “
Review-Journal: Are you excited to play T-Mobile? Does this feel like a full loop moment?
Jo Koy: Do you know how many concerts I attended at T-Mobile? I always said to myself, “I don’t just want to go here. I want to play here.
You grew up in the Philippines, where your father was in the US Air Force, but moved to Vegas after high school.
My grandmother, who lived in Vegas, had cancer. I lived in Tacoma with my mom, and when I graduated from high school, my mom said, “We’re moving to Vegas. Five days after graduating, I was living in Vegas and driving my grandma to chemo while going to UNLV. It was in 1989.
Your closely-knit family is the premise of “Easter Sunday.”
It’s about family, including my mom and aunt fighting and mom cooking the big dinner, and all these big personalities in a room. Ultimately, these are people you just want to shower with love. Yes, it is a Filipino family, but that concerns everyone. It is my family; it’s your family. Your family does what my family does. We all fight over stupid stuff in families, but at the end of the day, we’re together and we understand. Family is the most important thing.
How does it feel to have Spielberg producing your family?
Unbelievable. A dream that becomes reality. Turns out he’s a fan. I offered him this movie and the minute the pitch ended, I heard, “We’ll take it.”
Was there a point during your struggle to get to where you thought about quitting acting and acting?
Sure. It was 2015 and Netflix said no to me after I pitched them an idea for a comedy special. I couldn’t believe they were saying no. If it wasn’t me producing these shows at the Huntridge, I would have been crushed. But those early Vegas shows taught me that I could produce a special myself. Hey, I heard no before. My thought was, “Let’s show them why they should say yes.”
Does part of your spine come from being bullied as a child because you’re Filipino?
Oh yeah. I will tell you a story. My mom and dad were divorced, and my sister and I really wanted to win a JC Penney raffle for a new TV. We literally sat at JC Penney where my mom made us fill out about 1,000 raffle tickets. We won! We were so excited and took the escalator to claim the TV. My mom says “Hi, you’re so cute” to a little kid on the other escalator. Immediately, he turns to her, pulls his eyes back and frowns. … Everyone around made fun of the kid saying, “It’s okay to do that to Asians.” Luckily, we live in a time when that’s not OK.
And now we live in a time where your face is all over a giant billboard for the movie or your Netflix special.
It’s crazy. I was on Sunset in LA with my son and nephews. Boom! This giant billboard is my face, and my son says, “Hey, that’s my dad.” … I was so proud because my face is our community, our ethnicity. We receive love. It’s a big moment.
What does this mean for your 19 year old son?
Finally he can see dad’s grind. When he was younger, he didn’t understand. I missed birthdays and Christmases. I was there to do shows. Now he sees that and enjoys those days. He sees how difficult it is to pursue a dream.
This film also celebrates the incredible food lovingly prepared within the family. Do you have any favorite foods?
Right now, I’m chewing pizza in a movie theater. Honestly, the popcorn and the pizza are with me. But, again, I also love an amazing Filipino breakfast of sunny eggs, fried rice, tocino or sweet pork strips, tapa. Delicious. My last special, I was in the Philippines and had this breakfast at a food truck. I sat on the steps with my friend eating. It was perfect.
What’s a good Sunday for you if you’re off?
Either time with my son or my family, or I’ll drive to an open mic night anywhere, even a cafe. I’ll find that mic. If I find a scene, I’ll go up and play.