Directed by Michael McKay
Starring Jo Koy, Andrew Lopez, Joey Guila
It seems like people living outside the Philippines have a deeper appreciation for the significance of June 12 more than those of us living here: A year to the day after dropping his last Netflix special Jo Koy: Comin’ In Hot right on Philippine Independence Day, the Filipino-American standup comic is back on the streaming giant with Jo Koy: In His Elements.
But this time, instead of a conventional standup routine, he’s brought along a passel of friends from the Filipino diaspora and taken the camera out of the auditorium and into the streets of Manila. The result is less a comedy special and more of a curious mix of two other Netflix comedy offerings: Tiffany Haddish’s 2019 pay-it-forward comedy special Tiffany Haddish Presents They Ready, and Everybody Loves Raymond co-creator Phil Rosenthal’s culinary travelogue show, Somebody Feed Phil. And if you think that sounds like a scattershot pitch, it’s really not: Because Netflix only gave its marquee comedian an hour to deliver the goods (60 minutes is the standard running time for a comedy special), Jo Koy ends up serving everything he wants to serve with more focus.
Everybody that Koy includes in his entourage has a role to play. To open the show, he introduces longtime friend and breakdancer Ronnie and uses their time together to highlight a B-boy dance jam set in the Tenement, the sprawling housing complex in Manila which was also featured in Rafe Bartholomew’s 2013 National Geographic docuseries about basketball in the Philippines, Pinoy Hoops.
While Bartholomew’s series cuts more incisively into the Filipino psyche and Koy’s excursion eventually falls back onto platitudes about dreaming big, Koy ends the segment on an unintentionally poignant note, as he gathers Ronnie and Filipina DJ CherishTheLuv and, indicating their ramshackle surroundings, reminds them to be grateful for their privilege.
Koy also brought along three rising Filipino-American standup acts: Andrew Lopez, Joey Guila and Andrew Orolfo. Among the three, Orolfo gets the most laughs for a joke about using the Richter Scale to gauge penis size: “That’s been my favorite joke to tell as of late only because I can tell where the dudes are at in the joke when I look at you and tell it.”
But all three deliver cutting insights about growing up both Filipino and American…and ultimately feeling like an outsider in both cultures. Lopez, who uses his uncanny resemblance to Coco Martin as a jump-off point for his routine, talks about being the only Person of Color in blindingly white Iowa: “Yo, you heard about the Mexican kid having a disease?” Lopez alleges his schoolmates said about him when they discovered his actual heritage. “He’s got Filipino.”
More funny personalities:
- Dave Chapelle will be with his Filipina wife when he comes to Manila for 2-night show
- 11 of the funniest Filipinos we follow online
- These men climbed the Kamuning Summit and survived to tell us of their journey
- Q&A with Jo Koy: “At the end of the day, your mom isn’t any different from my mom”
Watching Jo Koy’s other specials, his habit of parodying the Filipino accent can get grating; not because it’s annoying or offends my PC sensibilities, but because I feel it’s become a tic he uses to get easy laughs. While he does that here too for a shoutout-skewer of Manny Pacquiao, he brilliantly turns it around in another joke: the story of how his mishearing of a beloved aunt’s nickname for him—the comedian was actually born with the most quintessential of American names: Joseph Glenn Herbert—gave him his stage name.
By giving himself so little time to shine and ceding the spotlight to others, Jo Koy manages to sharpen his delivery to its most cutting, and comes up with his funniest and most touching material to date. “I brought Netflix to the Philippines, man,” Koy boasts at one point during his monologue. “Are you kidding me?” With the big-hearted, affectionate Jo Koy: In His Elements, bringing a streaming giant back to the motherland is the least of Koy’s accomplishments. And we aren’t kidding.
Jo Koy: In His Elements is currently streaming on Netflix
Photos from Netflix