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An interview with comedian Jo Koy, Comedy Central premieres "Jo Koy: Lights Out" on Sunday

Comedy Central premieres
Comedy Central premieres "Jo Koy: Lights Out" on Sunday, April 1, at 10pm. [Photo courtesy of Comedy Central]
Comedy Central

Comedian Jo Koy, a regular round table panelist who has been on E!'s "Chelsea Lately" literally several dozen times, has a new hour-long special premiering this Sunday night. We had the chance to talk to the busy comedian, who has a full schedule of theatre gigs on his plate, in addition to promoting his special, about what aspects of his life made it into his new act and what's been important to him as he came up. Find out more about Jo Koy and his schedule of shows at his website. Jo Koy next makes it back to the LA area in June for a string of shows at the Brea Improv. Preview a clip of "Lights Out" here.

This Sunday Comedy Central premieres "Jo Koy: Lights Out," you've worked with them before on other occassions, other specials, right?

Jo Koy: It's my second one! My second hour special. My first one was "Don't Make 'Em Angry" and this one I'm most excited about. This one was shot in my hometown, Los Angeles, and in this time I talk a lot more about my son, and a lot more stories about my Mom, the two things I really like to talk about. I really enjoyed it. I also got to introduce my grandmother into the act, another character involved in my special.

You originally got into comedy in Las Vegas, am I right?

Jo Koy: Yeah, that's where it first started. See, my hairdresser at the time, when I had hair [laughs], I used to have this dyed blond hair. I was crackin' him up and he was loving it, and he was like, "My God, you should be a comedian!" And I don't know why I said it, because normally I was too scared to tell people that I wanted to be a comedian, but for some reason I blurted out, "Yeah! I want to get to LA and become a comedian!" And he said "I've got this friend who owns this coffee shop, come with me and I'll introduce you to him, he has a comedy night every Wednesday, he'll put you on." So here I am walking over to the coffee shop with this apron around my neck and this dye in my hair getting introduced to this guy who owned the place. That's how it all happened, I owe it all to this guy, the hairdresser, I wish I remembered his name, but if it wasn't for him pushing me that day, I don't think it would have happened any sooner than it did. It was awesome, thank God I had hair. Soon after that is when it all fell out, by the way, completely.

He left the dye in too long, when he walked you over there to the coffee shop.

Jo Koy: Yeah! He did!! That was when everyone was bleaching their hair.

You lost your hair but gained a career in comedy. It's bittersweet.

Jo Koy: Exactly! That's a great one, that's classic. I really do owe both of those things to him.

You're family was there in Vegas, family is a big part of your comedy.

Jo Koy: My grandmother was there, and she had cancer, I was originally with my family in Washington and my Mother said, "I have to be with my Mom" so we all moved down there to be there with her. She lasted a long time, she was only supposed to survive for less than a year, she had a very bad breast cancer diagnosis, but she ended up surviving for about 6 years. Those were good times because I hadn't known my grandmother but because we went there and I was helping care for her, I really got to know her. 

In your act you talk about her humor and how you see that in yourself, and then the humor you see in your son. There's a lineage there.

Jo Koy: It's so funny how life really works, right? I always told myself I'd never be like my mother if I had a kid, but here I am, the same thing, I don't know how this happened. The same type of disciplining, the same kind of forcing him to perform in front of people, not buying him things when I could afford whatever he wanted, it's crazy! You know, he asked me for a Bakugan, first of all, he has a ton of Bakugans, but it's only a $6 toy. Of course, I said, "No Joe, you can't have another one." And he said, "Why, Dad?!" And I said, "I don't know, Joe, it's just what my Mom did to me. You'll understand this type of discipline later." [Laughs]

There's also the subconscious reason that those Bakugans really hurt when you step on them.

Jo Koy: Yes! They do hurt! They're never in the ball form, they're always open and in the robot form, they're land mines. I don't need more of those around the house.

Even though you're a very active, touring comic, you're definitely around your son enough to have the effects you talk about in your act.

Jo Koy: Oh yeah, yes, it doesn't stop. He's such a world of joy, I love being a parent. That's literally when my life changed. I was a loser, well, I wasn't a loser, but I was a guy who knew he had a talent, I knew I wanted to be a comedian, but you tend to be lazy when you get into that kind of art form. There's a lot of open mics, a lot of comedy clubs, whatever money I could make was OK with me, as long as I could pay the rent, eat food, and tell jokes doing it was good enough for me. But then when a baby comes into your life, you're like, "OK, damn! I need benefits, I need diapers, I need to be a man, you know what I mean? I need to buy food for my son, I need a car, and a car seat, so that stuff is really important. It was the kick in the ass I needed. Literally the day he was born was when I knew I needed to step up my comedy and really go out there and attack it.

The fact you are doing these theater shows all of the country and another hour-long you definitely made it happen. You're a regular on "Chelsea Lately," just this last week as a matter of fact. You take so much "abuse" from her on that show [laughs].

Jo Koy: Yeah, she's always been like that with me, I love her, she's always had my back. I knew her before the show. I used to open for Jon Lovitz and she used to be the emcee, and that's how our relationship started. I was there when it all happened, when she was broke Chelsea, when she had no money, I was there when the E! executives were coming around and she was telling me about the show, and the next thing you know she's got this big show. I got a phone call from her and BAM, I'm on it, and it's been a beautiful ride. I can't thank her enough, she's a big part of my career, and God bless her, she's doing this for a lot of comedians. Whatever "abuse" she wants to give me I'll take it [laughs].

She seems to be very supportive of the people she brings to work on the show.

Jo Koy: She's such a giving person, I've never met anyone who gives like she does. You know what she is? When I was a kid and I would watch standup comics do the "Tonight Show," and if Johnny Carson liked you, he'd wave you over to the desk, that pretty much meant you were about to be the most successful comedian in the country for the next few years. That's basically Chelsea, she's like the new Johnny Carson, not as far as how the format of the show is concerned, but it means that she's got that golden touch. If you're part of the panel it means she likes you, she thinks you're good, and that she thinks other people will like you. It's gives what you do some kind of [official] validation, and it's pretty cool, man.

I see that you have a pretty busy schedule through July, including about 1/2 a month in Kentucky, what's it been like bringing your act to these different parts of the country?

Jo Koy: I really love going anywhere. It's neat seeing people that aren't necessarily part of my demographic who really get the jokes, I love it. There's nothing better than having a cowboy go [in cowboy drawl],"Hey, tell us about 'Josep!', tell us about your momma!" And they cry laughing, that's the best part. I've been really blessed to have come up with something that I can share and that people can really get into.


"Jo Koy: Lights Out" premieres at 10pm, Sunday, April 1, on Comedy Central