Jo Koy has managed to build up a pretty big following in comedy, over the last few years especially. He has had multiple specials on Netflix, some specials on Comedy Central, and managed to play theaters and even arenas all throughout the country. And he also happens to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever gotten to interview.
As of today, Jo Koy is stepping into a new venture; Actor. Koy is starring in a new comedy for Universal, titled Easter Sunday. The film – which is produced by Steven Spielberg – follows Koy as a comedian who goes back to the Bay Area for Easter, which he coins as the “Filipino Super Bowl.”
The film takes a large focus on family, something that has become a prominent theme throughout Koy’s stand-up. As such, you definitely feel like the movie is sort of an extension of what you see onstage when you watch Koy’s act. It also features some pretty great performances from a supporting cast that includes Tia Carrere, Brandon Wardell, Eugene Cordero, Lou Diamond Phillips, Tiffany Haddish, and the film’s director, Jay Chandrasekhar.
We spoke with Koy during the Universal press junket about his first time acting on film, his family attending the premiere, his earlier work, the movie’s funny cameos, and his biggest takeaway.
To start, the movie is so rooted in family, with a family-based atmosphere that surrounds it. So I’ve got to ask, how has your own family responded to it? Have they seen it yet?
Here’s the cool thing. No one has watched it yet. They’re waiting for the premiere. So that’s the cool thing. So we all get to see if in front of people together. We get to respond and react that day. My son didn’t want to watch it until I got to do this red carpet with him.
Is he excited for that?
Oh, he’s so excited. You’ve got to see him. I think he’s ironed his shirt twice already.
Because I’m sure they’re thinking “How is this person representing me?”
Yeah, yeah. For sure.
Now stand-up was always your dream, and we’ve talked about that before. But let’s talk acting. Was that something you always wanted to do? What was your thought process?
Oh, I love the acting process. I love the acting coach. I love memorizing lines. I love all that stuff. It’s such a challenge. It’s hard. I’ve got such an appreciation of actors. Sometimes I don’t understand how they do it. I really don’t.
It’s brutal, man, to learn those lines and then not get the part. It takes a lot. It takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of mental strain to do that. And then also to be rejected. You have to have this armor to be able to take something like that. So a big appreciation of that.
In the film, your character has this thing he’s known for. And he says “I’m so much more than that. I’m so much more than the Bud Zero guy.” Do you have your own experience where you had something early on where everything was latching on and you’re like “There’s so much more than this. I want to show you!”?
Yeah, for sure. That would be my Tonight Show set. It haunted me for years because I got a standing ovation, I loved it, I got to quit all my jobs, I was part of this cellphone campaign where I was the face of it because of my Tonight Show set.
But as far as those jokes were concerned, I didn’t want to be known for those jokes. It was just the times that we were in, back then, that was the style of humor that was acceptable. And now I’m like “Eh.” I cringe. It’s my earlier sh*t. I just go like “Ew.” It was like “You’ve got to see what I can do now.” But for years, that’s what people would quote me as.
Well hopefully that’s gone away, now with all your Netflix special.
Oh yeah! Now!
In the film, there’s so many comics surrounding you. There’s so many great cameos. Was that important to you with your first film? Like “I want my friends in it.” Did that help at all?
That was the one thing I said when I got this deal. Of course Jimmy was going to be in it, 100%. Of course Eugene was a blessing that we got him. Then of course I asked for Tia. I had to have Tia in this. Then on top of that, Tiffany was a phone call. That’s all that was. I literally called Tiffany and I said “You’re in this movie. I want you.” And she said “Alright. Just tell me when.” And we got her.
And it was during quarantine. We had to quarantine for 14-days. So the two weeks we had her, we only had her for 3 days, because she quarantined for 4. So we only got her for 3 days to tape, and then she had to fly to Budapest to work with Nicolas Cage. So she still did that with us. On top of that, while she was filming with me, she had to take scuba lessons because she was doing Shark Week the week after. It was crazy! That’s how much love Tiffany gave this movie.
And that scene’s hilarious. The whole movie’s funny. The last thing I’m gonna ask you is what is the biggest takeaway that you have from the film? Just your favorite thing in there? I’m sure it’s hard to pick.
No, it’s actually easy. My favorite thing is, of course, the balikbayan box. When we’re filling the balikbayan box, it brought me back to my childhood. And I just want people to understand that it’s more than just an immigrant coming to this country and you think that they’ve made it. And you don’t realize that they’ve left a lot of family where they’re from. And now, they’ve taken on a lot of responsibility to take care of those people.
So when you work with a Filipino or work with any immigrant, just understand that there’s a lot more riding on their backs than anyone else. They’re smiling at work, but remember their paychecks are going to somebody else, soon.