Aspen Laugh Fest: Jo Koy on parenting, skiing and upcoming specials (podcast)
Comedian Jo Koy can't go more than a few days without doing stand-up. When he does, withdrawal sets in.
"When I take a week off I look like a crackhead in the corner of the house, like, 'Man, I need to tell a joke! Where's the stage at?'" Koy, who headlines the Aspen Laugh Festival on Saturday night, said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. "I go crazy. I talk to myself. I think of jokes and try to work them out of my head."
He learned on a recent trip to Hawaii that he can't even take a vacation without a stand-up outlet.
"I was in Maui for three weeks and I went to an open mic bar," Koy, 47, recalled with a laugh. "I was like, 'Oh, I've just got to go up!' The next thing I knew the whole island was at this bar because Jo Koy was there. I had to do it."
Koy, who last year was awarded the Stand-Up Comedian of the Year prize at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, may be the hardest-working man in comedy right now. His two sets at the Wheeler Opera House this weekend come in the midst of his "Break the Mold" world tour, which follows his recent taping of a new hourlong special for Netflix premiering in April. He is due to tape yet another hour of new material in June.
Koy plans to showcase new stuff from both upcoming specials in Aspen and, as always, do some improvising onstage. He also remains a regular on Adam Carolla's popular podcast and hosts his own, "The Koy Pond," weekly while he's also developing a new animated series.
"I love to improvise," he said. "I think that's the gift that God gave me, so I'm exercising that muscle. I love going up and riffing in front of the crowd. If I can walk away from an hour set and say, 'Alright, I got one new joke,' I'm happy."
Koy retires jokes after he puts them in a special, which has kept him generating new material and new stories constantly in recent years. But it breaks his heart, he said, when he has to retire a good joke.
"I look forward to them introducing me because I know that I'm going to hit that joke that night — I can't wait because I know I'm going to crush it," he said. "I can feel the energy of the room. I love that feeling. I can't even explain that energy, but it sucks when the special hits and I'm like, 'They're gone.'"
His most recent special, 2017's "Live from Seattle," focused largely on his upbringing — he is the son of a Filipino immigrant mother and an American military man who left the family when Koy was a boy — and on raising his own young son. He riffs on childbirth, compares his son's privileged life to his tougher early days, and mines his son's bad hygiene and adolescent hijinks for laughs.
His son, now 16, is still providing ample fodder for Koy's act.
"I'm dealing with a teenager," he said with a laugh. "I'm living with a dude now. He thinks he's cool, but I think he's just a dirty-ass roommate and I've got way too many stories about him."
So far, his son has been alright with his dad mining their relationship for stand-up material. Though, as teen angst has set in, Koy has learned to be sensitive to the kid's feelings. He said he makes sure to turn punch-lines back on himself, rather than just making fun of his boy.
"I always put my son's feelings first," he said. "If he doesn't want me to talk about it, I won't. But for the most part he's cool with it."
And, he noted, dad's comedy is what keeps him in a good private school and cool toys — his last special has an inspired bit about yearning to get him a hoverboard — and he occasionally has to remind his son: "Your stupidity gets us good s—, Joe!"
Koy is a magnetic storyteller, vividly and hilariously portraying his mom and his son and his sisters with the help of some chaotic physical comedy and goofy impressions. Unsurprisingly, he grew up loving storytelling comics like Dennis Wolfberg, Richard Jenny, Eddie Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg.
"I couldn't stop watching that," he recalled. "I loved the characters and relating to the stories. It was just a natural thing for me to do that onstage when I started doing stand-up. I had to talk about my mom, my son, my sisters."
The advent of the podcast era has given Koy both a new outlet and a new workshop for developing material. He grew his international fan base through his regular guest spots on Carolla's show and spun off with his own weekly comedians' group chat in March 2016 on "The Koy Pond."
"It's the best hour and a half of my life," Koy said. "We go in there with nothing and we try to build something. … It's freestyle talking, it's joke-writing, it's exercising that improv muscle. It's great."
But his most personal project these days, and the one he's most excited about (based on the enthusiastic "Yes!" he bellowed when asked about it) is "This Functional Family." Koy has been working for seven years on this autobiographical animated series and recently signed with TruTV to bring it to the screen.
"That thing is my baby," he said. "It's my life and it's cool to see TruTV support it and understand it and get my story out there."
In preparation for his Aspen debut this weekend, Koy has been teaching himself to ski this winter at Lee Canyon outside Las Vegas, enthusiastically — perhaps over-enthusiastically — jumping into the downhill skiing with some comical results.
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"No instructor, no nothing," Koy said of his foray into snow sports. "Just 'f— it, full-force down the mountain into a tree, flat on my face. I even slid down the mountain backwards with my head facing the bottom of the mountain. Do you know how embarrassing that is?"
Koy is bringing along his son and other family members for the Aspen Laugh Fest to test his burgeoning skills on some bigger hills, though he'll be sticking to the greens and blues.
"I see people go down the black diamonds and I don't know how you stop!" he said. "I watch people go down the black diamonds and I'm like, 'Well, that guy is going to die.'"