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Jo Koy’s jokes are not for everyone. They’re racist, sexist, risqué, and mired with stereotypes. But the fans who go to his shows know that. They’re prepared to be stereotyped – probably even slightly offended – just to have a good laugh.
Anyone could be the butt of a joke. Are you a short-haired woman with glasses clutching a Louis Vuitton purse? Prepare to be called his mom. Are you a Filipino nurse? Jo Koy would point that out. Are you an African-American named Malcolm? Get ready to be on the receiving end of a banter about the whole African-American race.
I remember watching his show Jo Koy: Live from Seattle on Netflix with my conservative Filipino parents and even they were laughing hysterically at jokes I could never say myself.
But that’s just what they are – jokes. And Jo Koy makes sure that he’s the biggest joke of all. He doesn’t mind getting laughed at. While other kids were dreaming of becoming doctors some day, Jo Koy or Joseph Glenn Herbert was dreaming of becoming a comedian.
I only learned about Jo Koy through Netflix, probably just like the way most people did. I thought he was an overnight success. But when I read his memoir, Mixed Plate: Chronicles of An All-American Combo, I was in for a surprise. Jo Koy’s Netflix success was already a culmination of several years of hard work, the biggest break he had been waiting for for over 16 years of trying to make it in the standup comedy business.
How I saw Jo Koy was no different from how we see Filipino immigrants who are living the good life in foreign lands. How lucky are they, we say. But luck has definitely little to do with making it abroad.
If Jo Koy was lucky, he wouldn’t have endured years of working several menial jobs at a time so he could provide for his son. He wouldn’t have had to work at Nordstrom Rack stacking shoes a day after he had just sat across from Jay Leno for an interview on The Tonight Show. But he had to because he couldn’t afford to drop everything and simply follow his passion.
It’s the story of every Filipino immigrant we know. It’s the story of your titos and titas, your mom or your dad. It’s the story of Jo Koy’s mom who raised a family in America by hustling to make ends meet. It’s the stories that made the perfect recipe for Jo Koy’s tragedy and comedy.
Every unfortunate event has found its way into his acts. How his mom would ask him to grab every free thing he could like ketchup packets and table napkins from fast food chains because his birthday is coming up. How his son – who has a debit card – has no idea what it’s like to scour the house for coins lying around to buy a vendo machine cookie for lunch.
Jo Koy is just like every other Filipino who manages to crack a joke even in the midst of tragedies. Take these Taal volcano evacuees who modeled some of the odd clothes donated to them, making everyone who saw them chuckle.
But this is not to romanticize Filipino resiliency. Jo Koy is definitely not one to do that. He doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships he faced like poverty, racism, and all his failures – he acknowledges all that. And he wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
Now that he, too, has become a Filipino immigrant living the good life, he makes sure to take as many Filipinos as he can with him. He has taken his son, his ex-wife, mom, dad, step dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces including those in the Philippines under his wing.
“I’m gonna invest [my money] in my family’s next generation. I’m gonna open doors for them that weren’t opened for us when we got to this country,” writes Jo Koy in his memoir. “So maybe, just maybe, they’ll have to sacrifice a little less, and be able to do a little more.”
He’s also opening doors for other “half-breeds” as he calls Asian-Americans like himself who want to enter not just the comedy business but the whole entertainment business. In his show, Jo Koy: In his elements, he brought Netflix to the Philippines and brought Filipino acts to Netflix.
What used to be Jo Koy’s own dream of making it in the comedy business has become an advocacy to show the Filipinos to the world – and leave the racist stereotypes surrounding his kababayan to his acts.
Mixed Plate: Chronicles of An All-American Combo is a book that would make you laugh, wince (apparently, Jo Koy is accident-prone), and cry. It will inspire you, comfort you, and remind you that if you’re chasing after a dream, it’s okay that it’s taking time especially if you’re also hustling to stay alive. It’s okay if it’s not the kind of dream that society deems acceptable.
We only get one chance at life, one chance to chase after the kind of life we want for ourselves and for the ones we love. So we might as well do whatever we can to achieve it. As Jo Koy has shown us, it would all be worth it – and it makes for a great standup comedy act. – Rappler.com