Ten years after hitting it big, late-night regular Jo Koy is in top form and killing it across the country, and this fall he comes to the Warner Theatre.
“I didn’t know how many people watched The Tonight Show until the next day,” says Jo Koy, who appeared on the show in 2005 while still working at Nordstrom Rack. “They’d say, ‘Oh my God, you were awesome! Can I get this in a size nine?’”
In 2005, comedian Jo Koy catapulted to fame after performing a fnely honed routine on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno extolling the glories of orange chicken and our country’s new tagline, “America: Made in China.” Since then, he’s been selling out shows nationwide and becoming an audience favorite on Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea Lately. This fall he’ll bring his act to the Warner Theatre. We caught up with Koy to talk about his humble beginnings, his material, and his plans for the future....
You’ve said that famous people tend to forget where they were before they got famous. What were you doing before this? [Working at] Nordstrom Rack.
No way! When? Until The Tonight Show.
Where you got a standing ovation. I couldn’t believe when I got that standing O. I knew [that routine] like the back of my hand, I knew how I was going to say it, where they were going to clap, how they were going to respond, but I didn’t know it was going to take off like that. I mean, it was really crazy.
And then you woke up the next morning and went to work at Nordstrom Rack. You want to know the funny thing? I didn’t know how many people watched The Tonight Show until the next day. I was working in the shoe department, and I swear, every other woman was like, “Weren’t you on The Tonight Show last night?” and I’d say, “Yeah, that was me.” And they’d say, “Oh my God, you were awesome! Can I get this in a size nine?” It was like a quick praise, then right back to reality.
How long have you known you wanted to be a comedian? Since I was 10 or 11. I knew [immediately] when I saw Eddie Murphy in Delirious on HBO. I was always the funny guy… but when I saw him perform, I was like, “Oh, I defnitely have to be this man. I need to be a stand-up comic.”
Were there any other infuences? Eddie Murphy was really it for me. I [saw] Raw live— that concert of his that was made into a movie. I took my mom’s credit card and bought the tickets, and my mom thought she was taking me to a movie. She had no idea. She had to drive me all the way to Seattle. Then of course all the other guys came into play: Richard Jeni, Brian Regan, Damon Wayans, Chris Rock—those guys added to it for me.
Before moving to LA, you spent 10 years playing coffeehouses in Vegas. [After a while] people were starting to come to these coffeehouses just to see me. I caught the eye of a promoter [Kevin Kearney] who had a legit comedy club called Catch a Rising Star. Right after I got off the stage at this open mic, he said, “Hey, man… I want you to open for somebody.” I called everybody I knew and said, “I’m about to make it!” I had no idea that was the beginning of a long, long journey. I thought [that] overnight… I was going to start working all the comedy clubs. Nope. It was another 13 years before I got The Tonight Show. But it was the best journey of my life.
Is television something you want to do more of? Of course! When I write my stand-up, I always write as if I’m trying to write a sitcom. My routine is always going to be very situational. When people watch my stand-up, they can actually envision a comedic situation. I love the art of storytelling.
“DC is a comedy town. It’s one of those towns that comedians just look forward to [playing].”—Jo Koy
And you’ve written a few pilots. I have had so many pilots—every year I get one—but you know how TV is. When people get a shot on a show that lasts more than two seasons, God bless ’em, because that’s not how it is these days. You can’t get sad about it. [Dave] Chappelle had 10 failed pilots [before he got Chappelle’s Show], and he tells everybody that story. I’m at number fve now, so I need fve more.
How do you like the DC audience? The best. The best. They’re a comedy town. It’s one of those towns—there aren’t that many of them—but it’s one of those towns that comedians just look forward to.
Why do you think that is? I don’t know, man. Maybe it’s how hard you guys work. Maybe it’s a high-stress area and people want to cut loose. Every show I’ve done out there has been killer. San Francisco, Washington, DC, Houston, Austin, Nashville… those towns, if you ask any comic, they will say the same thing.
What advice would you give to young comics? Enjoy the ride, don’t stop, and don’t be discouraged. Enjoy every single moment. Every day you learn something new about yourself, about the art form. And before you know it, you’re going to be 25 years in, doing the Warner Theatre. It’s that cool. Even though it sounds like a long time, it goes by in a couple minutes. October 2 at 8 pm at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW. For tickets, call 202-783-4000 or visit warnertheatredc.com