Just For Laughs: A talk with Jo Koy
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca
It’s early in the afternoon of July 25, and comedian Jo Koy is hurting.
Not the dramatic, emotional kind of hurting, but the physical “ouch” kind. Before he conducted the phone interview with me, Jo took a swim, and unfortunately bumped his head on the pool wall, which resulted in a large bump on top of his head.
“I got a huge knot on my head, and it’s probably going to take a huge chunk of Alaskan ice from the local fish market to shrink this bump down,” he said. “Here I am, just days before I leave for Just For Laughs and I am going to end up on stage with a bump on my head that looks like a horn!”
These days, that should be the only pain that Jo goes through. He is enjoying a thriving career in comedy in which he is a popular performer on the college circuit, notched up numerous TV appearances that include VH1, “Chelsea Lately” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”, and he is about to release a brand new hour-long stand-up special. And on July 30, nine years after his first Just For Laughs appearance (which earned him a Gemini Award), Jo returns to the festival to star in a one-night-only solo show at the Monument National Theatre on St. Laurent Boulevard.
“Just For Laughs had been great to me and my career. It’s a festival that’s meant to be in Montreal, because Montreal audiences really know how to appreciate comedy,” he said. “It was thanks to my appearance at the festival in 2007 that I got my first appearance on Leno; in fact, I found out about it the moment after I did my set during the New Faces show. This was a very life changing event for me, and it sure beat my previous job, which was working in the shoe department at Nordstrom (department store).”
Jo Koy was born Joseph Glenn Herbert in Washington State of European and Filipino descent, and knew from an early age that he wanted to become a comedian. “I was always in love with the art of stand-up comedy. I always watched the hour-long comedy specials on HBO and followed Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg, who were my comic inspirations,” he said.
And it was during those early years in stand-up that Joseph Glenn Herbert decided to transform into Jo Koy. “Jo Koy was actually a nickname that my aunt gave to me,” he said. “But I would go onstage as Joseph Glenn Herbert, and the audience would relentlessly heckle me because of my name. So I decided to change it to ‘Jo Koy’, so that the audience’s attention would be diverted away from it.”
Jo’s stand-up act is an energetic mix of characters, impressions, storytelling and role playing, with his mother providing a strong base for his act. “I always enjoy getting into character when I am onstage, especially when I do impressions of my mom. She is the moving force behind my act, and was always supportive of me. She is always fun to talk about and it gives a more personal angle to my comedy routines,” he said.
He also uses his stand-up routine to create awareness of the sleep apnea that he endures every night. “At one point, my sleep apnea was really bad, to the point that it was quite unhealthy,” he said. “I was in a constant state of denial about it, but after I decided to include that matter in my stand-up, people were complementing me after my shows and told me that they had sleep apnea, too.” As well, Jo raises money through t-shirt sales at his shows and through his website to benefit research into curing Lupus, a mysterious, devastating disease that has struck his sister.
Currently, Jo just completed a new stand-up special filled with brand new material. He is not only the star of the special, but has also written and produced it. “This time, I get to wear all the hats with this special, and I have had a lot of fun going through this process. It’s been one of my favorite moments in my comedy career,” he enthusiastically admitted.
…And a bump on the head certainly won’t stop him from wearing those hats from now on.
For more information – or to purchase tickets for any Just For Laughs show – go to www.hahaha.com.