Whether he’s performing well-honed stand-up or holding of-the-cuff court on TV shows like “Chelsea Lately,” Jo Koy knows how to win over a crowd.
The laughter spurred by the comedian is doubly enjoyable because it arises from material that is never mean-spirited.
“My whole key is I like to make fun of myself a lot,” Koy said. “Sixty-percent of my act is me self-deprecating myself. People just relate more when you tell the truth about yourself. They say, 'I guess I’m not so weird because I’ve done that, too. I feel that way, too.'’”
Koy will be keeping it real on Nov. 13 when he takes the stage of the Silver Legacy Casino. He’s likely to showcase a few of his imitations, from comedy colleague Jon Lovitz to world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao and the fighter’s fawning Filipino posse.
The send-ups are wickedly accurate, but undertaken with fondness. Affection also is the hallmark of the stories Koy -- a single dad who was raised by a single mom -- shares about his close-knit family.
His son is heading towards his teens, so he’s likely no longer as publicly absorbed with his "ting-ting.” The comic’s mom Josephine, however, continues to provide her son with a never-ending source of comedic material.
Fans can’t get enough of Koy’s imitations of “DJ Josephine,” her handle on the Las Vegas radio show she hosts. She’s both critical and doting when it comes to her beloved “Josep,” taunting him over his lost keys and then fretting he’ll be slipped “a roopie” at a bar.
“Every city I go to -- even on Instagram and Twitter -- everyone always says ‘Josep’ to me,” Koy said. “I go to a meet-and-greet and people say, why didn’t you bring your mom with you?”
Koy strives to make his portrait of his mother go beyond stereotype.
“When I do my mom’s voice, I get into character and it’s like my mom’s on stage,” he said. “I make sure everyone knows that it’s not just a funny accent. It’s really how she acts. You think culture and race separates us, but when it comes to raising kids, every mother is the same.”
Koy himself felt a little different from his peers as a child, given his mother is Filipino and his father -- who was in the Air Force when they married -- is white. “When I grew up in the '80s, you didn’t see any mixed kids,” he said. “I kind of talked white and I had these green, almond eyes. Kids were like, ‘What are you?'”
A born comic
He is, among other things, a born comic.
Koy, 44, was born Joseph Herbert and raised in Washington state. Early on, he showed a penchant for making people laugh. He watched comedy shows religiously at home and at school became better known for his attempts to entertain his peers than for his academic prowess.
“I was in trouble almost seven years,” Koy said. “I was honored when they called me class clown in the yearbook.”
After high school, Koy moved to Las Vegas and enrolled in UNLV. When he realized his future lay in comedy, he dropped out, cutting his teeth on the Las Vegas comedy scene. He started at coffeehouses and eventually landed a regular spot at the MGM Grand’s “Catch a Rising Star.” At some point, he also acquired his stage name, inspired by an aunt who nicknamed him “Joquoi,” Filipino for joker.
If you want to make it in comedy, you need to hustle.
Koy began to organize his own shows, renting the Huntridge Theater and selling tickets to his gigs. He burned and sold his own comedy DVDs, encased in throwaway jewel-boxes contributed by a friend who worked at “Blockbuster Video.”
The grind eventually paid off.
In 1994, Koy was spotted by a talent coordinator from Los Angeles, an encounter that landed him an appearance on BET’s “Comic View.” He performed across the country and caught his big break in 2005 when he earned a rare standing ovation during an appearing on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
Koy, who was working at Nordstrom Rack at the time of his “Tonight Show” triumph, admits there were periods where he was tempted to throw in the towel -- especially after he became a father.
“They’re expensive, children. I used to wonder, should I quit and just get a full-time job already? Have insurance for my son? It was depressing,” he said. “I knew if I stuck with it, though, my time would come. I just didn’t know when. All that outside crap is a distraction when you’re pursuing your dream. My journey was just going to take longer.”
Koy debuted his first hourlong Comedy Central stand-up special, “Don’t Make Him Angry,” in 2009, followed by his second, “Lights Out,” in in 2012.
It was Koy’s stint as a regular panelist on Chelsea Handler’s comedy talk show “Chelsea Lately,” which ran from 2007 to 2014, that brought him onto many people’s radar. He found working with the wry host to be a treat.
“Chelsea is the person you see on the show,” he said. “It’s not an act. You can feel how organic her relationships are. That’s what I miss about the panel. She’s a very giving person. When you spend time with her, you want to pay it forward.”
Koy’s career continues to move forward. Most recently, he wrapped a pilot. Having filmed pilots before and seen them canceled, Koy knows you have to tuck and roll in the mercurial entertainment industry. Still, he has high hopes.
“I want to get past where I’m at -- everyone should,” Koy said. “Right when you hit it good, you shouldn’t be chilling. Don’t be happy where you’re at. That’s what life is all about, chasing bigger and better dreams.”
What Koy is happy about is the way his craft has grown over the years.
“I love my style. I really do try to make it very conversational. That’s the style of humor I enjoy listening to,” he said. “I’m happy with how the structure is moving: tag here, call-back here. After 26 years, the formula is like a second language.”