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Comedian Jo Koy on Being Cursed Out by Chelsea Handler and Jay Leno’s Apology for Asian Jokes

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When comedian Jo Koy made his late-night stand-up debut on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno 15 years ago, he introduced himself as “Asian” as opposed to Filipino because he wanted to appeal to as wide an audience as he could. “But then I wore the flag on my chest to let everybody know that I was Filipino,” he recalls

This struggle between broad and specific has been the driving factor in Koy’s comedy ever since. But as he explains on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, it wasn’t until he started relaying the specificity of his personal experience as a half-Filipino, half-white son of an immigrant mother and a military dad that he really started connecting with audiences and ultimately selling out stadiums around the world.

“It was easy to go to the dick jokes,” he says of his early days performing comedy on the Las Vegas strip. “Because it was easy to be funny that way. But how can I tell people who I was without doing the basic comparison shit? Like, ‘Filipinos eat this, but white people don’t eat that, am I right?’ I wanted to do it the right way. I wanted it to represent my mom’s culture and my culture the right way. And give it a voice so people would relate to it and appreciate it. And I was willing to not do it until I figured it out, you know?”

Koy’s long journey to success, which he chronicles with humor and depth in his new memoir Mixed Plate, contained more hardship and trauma than even some of the most troubled comedians out there. But through all of the rejection—including some by Koy, who turned down high-profile projects he felt were beneath him—he ultimately prevailed, producing three hit Netflix specials and an upcoming movie based on his life called Easter Sunday that he’s making with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

Sometimes we see people and we see how they’re successful but no one really wants to dig deep and find out the backstory,” Koy says. “Why don’t you find out what they did to get there? And maybe that’ll inspire you. You don’t have to like me, but just love what I did and love my hustle.”

Below is an excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing—including stories about how his Filipino mom became the central figure of his stand-up act and why he refused to take no as an answer from Netflix—right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.

The hustle that you made along the way really comes through in the book, because not only are there things like the Live from Seattle........

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