There’s a famous quote from Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" when Brutus describes the effect success has on some men: “... 'tis common proof that lowliness is young ambition's ladder, where to the climber — upward turns his face; but when he once attains the upmost round, he then unto the ladder turns his back.”
In short, when some achieve success, they turn their backs on all the little people. For comedian Jo Koy, whose climb to reach the level of visibility and success has been anything but easy, reaching the top seems to have had the opposite effect. Indeed, he has a motivational message for all the dreamers out there.
“At 30 years old, I actually started to think I should just throw in the towel,” says the 47-year-old who will be bringing his routine to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center this Friday, the second stop on his “Break the Mold” tour.
Thankfully, he didn’t. After years of performing in Las Vegas coffee houses, he landed the break of a lifetime, performing live on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" where he received a standing ovation. Since then, Koy has had two successful comedy specials on Comedy Central (“Don’t Make Him Angry” and “Lights Out”), has released a third stand-up special on Netflix “Jo Koy: Live From Seattle,” and has appeared on countless episodes of "Chelsea Lately" as a regular guest.
Having come out on the other side of his own journey, he wants you to join him.
“So many of us tend to follow in the same footsteps as our families, and fall into the same patterns and stereotypes, the same mannerism and cycles. Let’s stop!” This is the message behind the concept and title of “Break the Mold.” Growing up in Washington state, the son of an immigrant Filipino mother, he was urged from an early age to do something practical with his life.
“If I had listened to my mom, I would have ended up being a nurse,” he says. “Either that or a mailman. My family has nothing but nurses and mailmen. I wanted to do something different.” He instead chose to follow his dreams of becoming a comic, which were fueled in large part by visions of Eddie Murphy performing on TV and in movies.
“Thank God I said ‘no’ to my mom and fought with her. She was an immigrant mother who came from poverty; the last thing she wanted was to see her son struggle,” he says. His advise for others questioning their path? “Don’t let anyone talk you out of pursuing your passion.”
Ironically, incorporating stories about his family into his comedy, whether talking about his mother’s obsession with Nintendo Wii or his 15-year-old son’s adventures in puberty, seems to have been central to his own liberation as a comedian and a storyteller.
“For the first 10 years, I didn’t want to talk about my mom,” Koy says. “I said to myself they are not going to get it. But in year 13, I hit this stride. It was when the Wii first came out and my mom was addicted to it. I just went on stage and told the story and everyone loved it. People started bringing Wii controllers for me to sign after the show.” He adds, “I realized then it wasn’t about ‘explaining’ my mom. It was about just telling the story and being vulnerable.”
Koy continues to be open about his life in his comedy, and for the most part friends and family love being included, reveling in their own indirect sort of fame. He says his son’s friends, whenever there’s a party, have the TV tuned to his special. And it’s a good thing, too. Like any loving father, Koy wants his son to be proud of him: “It would crush me if my son didn’t like it (his comedy). I would walk away otherwise. His acceptance has meant everything to me.”
Charleston audiences can “Break the Mold” with Koy at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center on Sept. 7. It’s worth noting that the material in “Break the Mold” will eventually be turned into Koy’s second original stand-up special for Netflix