Comedian Jo Koy says “love” a lot. He also asks, “You know what I mean?” repeatedly through our interview, which is odd because I have no idea what it means to do stand-up comedy or have an 8-year-old son or be a regular character on Chelsea Lately. The 39-year-old comic strives to be relatable, which is why he gets the most satisfaction out of telling personal stories onstage. He tells stories about his mom because everyone has a mom, he says, whether she’s Asian and loves playing Wii, or not. He also considers himself a Las Vegas local. He spent 11 years after high school living here with his family and cutting his teeth doing stand-up. Koy, who recently shot a pilot to turn Handler’s book into a TV show and received one of the few standing ovations on Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show, will bring his comedy back home to Vegas on May 5-7.
How does it feel to come back to Las Vegas being so successful?
It’s humbling, I’ll tell you that much. When you’re with your mom and your family, where you came from, that’s awesome. It always brings back memories with my struggle that I had while I was here trying to be a comedian. The cool thing about Vegas is there was no place for an up-and-coming stand-up to go. Everyone is a headliner here. I wore every hat just to create my own shows. That’s what I love about this place. This is my home. This is where I became a comedian.
Is performing here different than in other cities?
Of course it’s different. It’s the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” There’s just a buzz when you walk into any casino, but it’s even more special when I walk in and there’s my face on the marquee and there’s a line down the hallway to get in.
Your act pulls a lot from your home life and has hints of self-deprecation.
It’s so crazy. I didn’t really choose a particular style, but I was so in love with the storytellers when I was up and coming as a comedian. I was so in love with Cosby and Eddie Murphy. When they talked about their families, that was the part that stood out the most. When Cosby talked about his mom and kids, or when Eddie Murphy talked about his drunken dad. It’s just so funny because you always have an individual in your family that’s like that person, and you can relate to it and that makes it even funnier. I enjoyed talking about my mom and talking about my son.
Koy isn’t your real last name, either.
That’s my nickname from my mom’s sister, my auntie Evelyn. The only reason I use Jo Koy is because my real name is Joseph Herbert, and when I first started doing stand-up, imagine 19 years ago this little kid trying to do stand-up at these bars and then the MC goes “Joe Herbert” and someone in the crowd yells out, “You mean Joe Pervert?” They were just making fun of my name and it got so annoying I got to the point where I just had to change my name or I wouldn’t be able to talk about what I wanted to talk about.
If the crowd isn’t feeling it, what’s your go-to joke?
Right now I’m doing a whole new act. I’m not doing any old jokes. They’ve all taken on a life of their own on DVD or on YouTube. The stuff that I’m doing now I really enjoy because it’s fresh and new. My favorite compliment is when people come up to you at the end of the night and go, “Dude, I’ve been YouTubing you all month and we couldn’t wait to come see your show and you went up onstage and you didn’t do anything we saw on YouTube.” That’s the greatest feeling in the world. Here they are they were expecting to hear all these jokes they saw on YouTube and then boom I go and do a whole new hour they’ve never seen.