Robyn Van Swank
Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Jo Koy is totally a Vegas guy. The onetime UNLV student is currently riding high on his third stand-up comedy special “Live From Seattle,” released on Netflix earlier this year, and he’s back on the Strip to perform at Treasure Island on September 1. (Find ticket info here.) Koy has family living in Las Vegas—including the mother and sister that work their way into his act all the time—and co-owns a restaurant here, too, Yojie Japanese Fondue in Village Square.
His busy tour schedule has kept him away for months, but he’s happy to be back in Vegas, as he explained during a recent phone interview.
Your special was shot in Seattle and that’s where you’re from. Is that still one of your favorite cities to perform? Oh yeah, hands down. I can’t get enough of it. I think it’s an entertainment town, they just love to be entertained. Everyone is in the house so much because of the rain, so when they finally go out, they really go out. And they gravitate to comedy. Tacoma is actually my hometown but if you live within 40 minutes of Seattle, you say Seattle.
Is the audience there a lot different from the Vegas audience? The coolest thing for me is that I’ve been blessed with a nice following. The people that come to see me are fans, and that happens in Vegas, too. The Treasure Island show is close to being sold out. So I’ve been blessed in that aspect. Back in the day when you would play Vegas, it was a different animal. Comedy is not the first choice in Vegas for entertainment. It used to be that you were going to see a show but comedy would be the thing that someone just gave you tickets, and the [comedian] will try really hard to make you laugh.
What’s it like for you performing in Vegas now? You have a lot of strong connections to the city. I treat it like I do any other city, in that I’ve got a lot of locals coming to the show. And I get to see my old co-workers, too, a lot of them come through. It’s crazy. It’s like, I used to work with you at Champs! I worked at the Boulevard Mall, back before there were so many places to shop. I remember when the Forum Shops opened.
You have so much hilarious material that focuses on your family, and now you have a son who is getting older and he’s a bigger part of your act. Has your family growing up helped the evolution of your act? I think the storytelling is always there. My son, oh man, I think every year I’m getting 25 to 30 minutes of material from talking about him. He just keeps growing. But I have so many mom stories I haven’t told yet that I want to talk about. In the [Netflix] special I tell the story of my mom and sister fighting and my sister moving out of the house, and as much fun as it is to say on stage, it actually brings back a lot of bad memories. I remember the first time I did that bit in front of them and my heart was pounding. I really wanted to shine a light on that and make it fun, and now my mom and sister have been best friends for years, but for years they just did not get along. It was traumatic. It’s definitely fun to tell that joke and laugh about it, but man, it goes a lot deeper than you think.
Have you ever told family stories on stage that upset your mother? There’s one I’m working on right now, and I told her about it, and she was like, “You CANNOT tell that story, Joseph! Joseph! Come on! That’s too much information!” But now that she said that, I have to talk about it. I have to put it all out there.
Now that your son is older, a teenager, what does he think of your comedy? My son loves it, especially now with Netflix. He always knew I was a comedian and your jokes kind of live on the internet, but it’s not like Comedy Central was playing nothing but stand-up and archiving everything. So I don’t think my son really identified with it, never really got it. He never felt it. But with Netflix, on the other hand, he’s seeing his friends watch it, and their parents are watching it, and he’s seeing their reactions. He gets it. And it’s pretty cool. All his friends are wearing my T-shirts. But I did make fun of one of his teachers on this last special, and when it came out all of his teachers walked up to me and said, “Okay, which one is it?” That was a true story.