Jo Koy
Jo Koy Image Credit: Supplied

Filipino-American comedian Jo Koy isn’t afraid to speak his mind — whether he’s on stage joking about his parents’ divorce when he was a kid or during an interview with Gulf News where he reveals his passion for supporting the underdog.

To him, ‘funny is funny’ no matter a person’s background, race or nationality, and his earnestness about this cause comes from a real place — his own life and sometimes difficult upbringing. He aims to show audiences just what that adage is about when he brings his ‘Funny Is Funny’ world tour to Dubai at the Coca-Cola Arena on May 14 as part of Dubai Comedy Festival.

Koy, who was born Joseph Glenn Herbert Sr to an American father and Filipino mother, got his big comedy break in his 40s after years of climbing up the stand-up ladder. Over the years, he has enamoured the world with his relatable sense of humour — one that has ultimately kept him booked and busy.

Filipino-American comedian Jo Koy
Filipino-American comedian Jo Koy Image Credit: Courtesy of Mandee Johnson Photography

He recently filmed his fourth as yet-unnamed special for Netflix and is gearing up for the release of his movie ‘Easter Sunday’, a true blue family comedy about a Filipino family that Koy is proud to say has been co-produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.

The funnyman also hopes to give back to the comedy community with a production company he aims to launch with his girlfriend, comedian Chelsea Handler, that will offer a platform to comedians who aren’t the usual fare.

Jo Koy and Chelsea Handler Insta-1652190653372
Jo Koy and Chelsea Handler. Image Credit:

In a Zoom call with Gulf News ahead of his Dubai return, Koy opened up about his big plans to make the city laugh, what the future holds and why he’s proud to tell his unique story.

How does it feel to be coming back to Dubai after I’m assuming, quite a long break?

This is going to be my first show overseas [since the pandemic]. So already that’s been missed. Last time I think I was [in Dubai] was 2019, wasn’t it? I can’t remember when but it’s been three years... And it’s been that way for the world ... So I’m looking forward to that; interacting with other people that had to go through the same [thing]. We all went through it and it sucked, life sucked. And now we get to go back out and experience each other and laugh at each other and talk to each other. And I get to finally hear your stories and you get to hear mine.

What can fans expect from your show?

It’s all new. The last time I was in Dubai, you saw one routine. And now it’s completely different... So I have a lot more to say. I just shot another Netflix special. It’ll be my fourth one for Netflix. And you guys get to see it before anyone else does. That doesn’t air until September.

Jo Koy Live from Seattle-1652190662952
A still from 'Jo Koy: Live from Seattle' Image Credit: Netflix

What are some of the topics that you talk about in your comedy that get the most love from fans? And does it vary from city to city or audience to audience?

You know what, I can be in Wichita, Kansas and do the same routine that I’m going to do in Dubai and it doesn’t matter the cosmetic make up of the audience, it doesn’t matter the [demographic], the ethnicity in the room — funny is funny. And it doesn’t matter if I’m talking about my mother, it doesn’t matter if I’m talking about my son. They’re laughing at the fact that it’s a family joke... it works and resonates across the board.

Why do you think people identify with your sense of humour as much as they do?

I think what they love the most is the honesty, right?... I think that’s what they love the most, that I’m saying things that they relate to that they probably would never tell anybody in the office. It’s kind of like a little bit of therapy, because it’s therapy for me.

When I talk about my sisters getting kicked out of the house at 17, that’s therapy for me because I’m not alone. That was a sad moment in my life but I made it funny and then I got people coming up to me at the end of the shows going, ‘my sister did the same thing’ ... you don’t feel alone.

Your Filipino-American heritage is obviously very important to you. How do you bring that across in your comedy and celebrate it?

It’s so important to me. That’s my voice, that’s my identity. My mom’s voice needs to be heard. I live in a country [where] we have a lot of cultures ... But unfortunately just a handful get to talk and be heard. And it’s not fair. To sit there and go through 500 channels on cable TV and not see one show about a Filipino or even see a Filipino being represented, it hurts. I sit there in my mom’s shoes sometimes. And I’m like, imagine how she feels when she’s flipping through the channels and she can’t find anyone on TV that sounds like her, looks like her, talks like her. So if I’m able to just give one hour of my time, and give them a voice and give them an identity, and give them something to be proud about, well that’s what I’m going to do. I hope that inspires other ethnicities to do the same — celebrate their culture and give their culture a voice, a sense of pride.

You’re dating Chelsea Handler, who’s also a pretty hilarious woman. What is it like dating a comedian?

I love it. She understands my world. Her fame is massive, her reach is different. And it’s just beautiful that she’s now Filipino [laughs]. I’ve officially made Chelsea Handler Filipino now and she’s accepted the role and I love it. It’s fun to go on stage and talk about our relationship and it’s fun to just see this type of a relationship that’s not really normal in Hollywood. You get to see something like this now and it’s fun. It’s like I said earlier, it’s proof that it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are — funny is funny and love is love.

I read that Chelsea and you were working on a production company that will uplift comedians of different backgrounds.

That’s right, and not just different backgrounds, but just giving help to people that need help, that are not being looked at. And it’s not fair. Just because you don’t say things that are our norm and [people think] ‘oh, we don’t get it’ so change your act. No, we’re not going to do that anymore... Funny is funny. I know I keep saying that but it’s like, everyone gets a voice, everyone gets a chance. I don’t care what your ethnicity is, I don’t care what your religion is, I don’t care what colour you are. I don’t care. Tell me something that’s funny and I’ll relate to it. Talk about your mom, talk about your food, talk about your kids. I guarantee you, I’m gonna laugh.

So what’s next for you?

I’ve got a movie with Steven Spielberg! ... ‘Easter Sunday’ comes out August 5 ... theatrical release only, worldwide, and it’s produced by Steven Spielberg, Amblin, DreamWorks, Universal Pictures — they paid for the whole thing. And the only reason why I got that deal is because Steven Spielberg watched my second Netflix special, which was called ‘Coming in Hot’. He watched that, brought me in and he fell in love with the stories about my mom and my son. He wanted to know if I had a movie idea and I pitched this movie and he paid for it.

Tell me what the movie is about.

It’s exactly what it is. It’s everything that I talk about onstage coming to life. And I love it. It’s comedy. It’s chaos. It’s love. It’s Filipinos. It’s the first all-Filipino cast movie made by Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks. So it’s a great moment in movies. I hope I inspire other ethnicities to pursue this. I can’t wait to see a Korean family and I can’t wait to see an Indian family ... Talk about your life. Talk about your experiences and get it out there. And I hope this movie inspires everyone else to do the same.

A project that is close Koy’s heart
My first one, ‘Live from Seattle’. The first Netflix special I did was called ‘Live from Seattle’. I paid for that completely out of my money, all my money. None of it came from Netflix. It came out of my pocket, it was my credit card, I paid for it — a lot of money.

The reason why that was so special to me is because Netflix said no to it. They didn’t want it, they weren’t gonna pay for it. And even though they said they didn’t want to pay for it, I went and shot it myself. And then when they found out that I was paying for it, they called me and said, ‘hey, we heard that you’re making a special. We want you to know that we don’t want it.’ And I still didn’t stop, I still shot it. And then I cut it up, and I brought it to ‘em. And when I brought it to ‘em, it was undeniable. They had to buy it. It was that good.

So it meant that much to me. It meant that much to me because I personally took it on, but it also meant that much to me, because if I didn’t pursue it I never I’d never be talking to you right now. I’d probably be retired, because I was 45 at the time. I really thought that it was over with at that point, that I wasn’t gonna get any help from anybody and that I was never gonna get my voice out there. So I bet on myself and I won, and that’s why ‘Live from Seattle’ will be the most special special in my life. It was the most pivotal moment in my career. And it was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. But I’m glad I did it.


“I got my comedy from my mom. She’s just naturally funny. She can’t write a routine to save her life. But you can’t mess with my mom’s chops. She’s got it. She’ll knock you down. And I know that’s where I got my comedy from.”

Don’t miss it!

Jo Koy will perform at the Coca-Cola Arena on May 14 as part of Dubai Comedy Festival. Show starts at 9pm. Tickets start from Dh180 and are available online. Dubai Comedy Festival runs from May 12 to May 22.