Jo Koy JFL42, Toronto ON, September 20
Published Sep 21, 2018There are few comics out there willing to write new jokes midway through a set in front of 3,000 people at an esteemed comedy festival. There are fewer who would call out to a friend backstage and ask them to write down the ones that worked.
But Jo Koy's effortless confidence on stage during a performance of his Break the Mold tour allowed him to do both, and charismatically so.
After priming his entrance with an excessively boastful video projection of large golden letters spelling out his own name, Jo Koy cooly walked on stage in joggers and a zip-up hoodie. "Sorry, you guys, I'm tired today," he warned the audience a few minutes in.
But any so-called tiredness did not prevent him from captivating the room for an hour.
Koy's versatility is perhaps one of his greatest strengths as a comedian, and it shone during his performance. From conversational crowdwork, spot-on impressions, and shorter bits, to longform stories and genuinely inspiring life lessons, the man does it all, and with a cool and comfortable stage presence that commands respect.
Opening his set with a review of accents from various Asian countries, his short quips about the differences between each one ("Koreans sound like they've just smoked a joint, Vietnamese sound like they've been railing cocaine") kept the audience roaring with laughter every few seconds. The stereotyped impressions were "dumb," he admitted to his audience, almost daring the room not to laugh.
But his smooth progression into longer-form stories about growing up with a single first generation immigrant mother of four took him into vulnerable territory. From being tasked with snagging free napkins at McDonald's while his Mom struggled to make ends meet, to bringing Filipino dishes to elementary school for lunch and being ridiculed by his predominantly white classmates, Koy paints a picture of what it's like to grow up feeling different, without being preachy or overtly political. What's more, Koy is not afraid to hold a pregnant pause mid-story — after all, he breaks each one with an impression or punch line that leaves his audience in stitches.
He brought his show to an end with a few motivational takeaways. Preaching to an 8-year old audience member named Aidan — whose parents he told had no business bringing him to this show — Koy recounted pushing for success despite countless adversities, like getting chased by mall security while flyering cars when he was coming up, and being rejected by Netflix for an hour-long special twice and resorting to paying for production of one himself. "When someone says no, you tell them yes," he lectured to Aidan, before quickly catching himself: "I did not mean to turn this into a TED talk, you guys."
After closing with an equally inspiring lesson about how a high credit score can make up for a small penis (he knows firsthand), Koy walked off stage to a standing audience. His hour of moving stories and masterful impressions kept each viewer connected to him in a way many standups only ever wish to do.