Comedian Jo Koy gambled everything for his career – and it paid off

Comedian Jo Koy gambled everything for his career – and it paid off

Jo Koy
Words by Augustus Welby

Jo Koy’s latest Netflix special, Comin’ in Hot, was filmed in front of 8,000 fans at the Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Koy’s next special, derived from his Just Kidding world tour, will be recorded there too. The Pacific Ocean state has become like a second home for the American comedian.

“They were the first audience to really make this whole thing a phenomenon,” Koy says. “After my first special Live From Seattle hit Netflix my first big show was in Hawaii and we sold 22,000 tickets in less than four days. We sold out six or seven shows in two days. It was crazy.”

Koy’s been performing stand-up comedy for 30 years. He appeared regularly on the late night talk show Chelsea Lately and is a recurring feature of the enormously popular Adam Carolla Show podcast. But Koy’s fanbase has blossomed since Live From Seattle arrived online in March 2017.

“I worked hard to get the fanbase that I had, but Netflix showed the world who I was,” he says. “The ability to pass that content around through Netflix is undeniable. One person can share it with a thousand people across the world and that’s what was so cool about Netflix.”

Capitalising on this increased exposure, Koy followed up with Comin’ in Hot in June 2019. He’s still coming to terms with how rapidly his star has risen.

“I can’t believe the arenas that I’m playing on this tour,” he says. “I’m doing two Forums in Los Angeles and I’m doing two Chase Arenas in San Francisco and I’m doing two arenas in Seattle and then of course I’ve got the Australian tour… It’s nuts. I’m also doing Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai. I’m pinching myself.”

After a couple of decades of moderate commercial success, Koy was eager to reach a larger audience. He saw Netflix as the optimal avenue for achieving this goal. His partnership with the streaming service has more than delivered, but it didn’t come without a fight.

“I kept coming at them. At least every month I was like, ‘Please come see this hour. I want to be on Netflix. Please’. Eventually they just turned me down,” Koy says. “That’s when I was just like, you know what, I’m going to shoot it myself and pay for it myself and cut it up myself and then I’ll shop it to them.”

When you watch Live From Seattle, Koy’s laughter is suffused with desperation. The typically extroverted comedian deposited his life savings into its production on the off-chance Netflix would pick it up.

“Every single penny that I’ve worked for 27 years [to make] went into that special and the person I wanted to sell it to already said no,” Koy says. “I had so much pressure on me that night and I knew I had to be really, really funny.”

The material on Comin’ in Hot focuses on the peculiarities that come with raising a teenage boy and how these compare to Koy’s own teenage years. Koy’s relationship with his mum, who’s Filipina, also takes up a significant chunk of his act.

These days, Koy’s renowned for exploring the quirks and idiosyncrasies of his mum’s background as well as his own Filipino-American identity, but it’s an area he avoided for several years.

“For 14 years I didn’t talk about my mum at all. I didn’t talk about being Filipino and if I did talk about being Filipino, it wasn’t really specific. I remember the day I started talking about my mum, I was just like, ‘Oh this is what I need to do. This is my voice’.

“In the past I could only go up on stage if it was funny in my head. Now it’s like, ‘I like this idea, let’s see what I can do with it’. I’m not scared anymore to take chances or just be free and open and honest.”

Jo Koy comes to the Plenary at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Sunday December 15. Grab your tickets via Ticketek.