"Comedy can have sharp, offensive edges and still be funny," the author points out. Illustration by Paul Eric Roca
Culture Spotlight

I don't find Jo Koy funny

He’s basically balikbayan Boys Night Out. 
Jam Pascual | Jan 12 2020

Jo Koy ain't funny.

I mean, I guess he is for some people.

Here are a few snapshots of his demographic: titas who scrutinize your waistline, jaded Gen X-ers desperate for a torchbearer to Rex Navarette, and bozos who think “It’s just a joke, bro!” is the pinnacle of clapbacks.

He’s loud, sure. I’d grab a beer with him, maybe. And then listen to him ballyhoo about the novelty of balut, like check it out dude it’s a fucking duck embryo swimming in its own pee bro! That’s crazy bro! Ain’t that crazy, bro? Like, wow dude, I’ve literally never heard that before!

But otherwise he ain’t funny.

More funny personalities:

I know I’m souring his homecoming. He performed this weekend to a sold-out show at Solaire, and will also perform on the 14th in Cebu and the 15th at MOA Arena. At his shows, he is regularly greeted by droves of kababayans who pay to hear someone tell them things they already know about the Filipino condition. He’s gonna say some shit like “My mom used Vicks VapoRub to cure everything!” and everybody’s gonna keel over and slap their knees like “Hahaha! I know what that is! I spent a lot of money just to hear about cultural touchpoints I already joke about with my friends!”

Then he’ll maybe imitate a few Asian accents⁠—because Asia is a monolithic identity for a lot of comedians, including comedians of color, apparently—and people will guffaw, like that same gag hasn’t been busted out by a dozen movies directed by Shawn and Marlon Wayans. Proud to be Pinoy!

The comedian in his last Netflix special. Photo from ABS-CBN News

It’s not even a matter of him being politically incorrect or offensive. I’m not offended.

Jo Koy is inoffensive and boring.

(On millennials) "Is that what they're called? Pussies?"

Like a lot of people, my first encounter with Filipino standup comedy was Rex Navarrete. I don’t know why we owned a copy of his “Bastos” CD (the same way nobody knows where their dads get their Aubrey Miles DVDs), but we did, and I mean, I was less than 10 years old and hollering at all his bits. Y’all know the classics. SBC Packers, Maritess and the Super Friends, and that one bit where some poor schmuck dies in a balikbayan box trying to smuggle himself home, and the priest presiding over the funeral spoofs (spoofs!) The Smiths. “If a balikbayan box, kills the both of us…”

The thing about Navarrete is, although he was crass, politically incorrect, and greasier than a flap of Chickenjoy skin, he joked about his homeland in interesting ways. At the risk of defanging a joke by explaining it, Maritess and the Super Friends was funny as f*%k because it commented on the concerns of domestic workers by situating them in the extremely American superhero genre. Like, Maritess is an illegal alien but Clark Kent isn’t? The man’s Kryptonian! He gets away with not being legal ‘cause he’s white!

That shit was subversive.

I’m not saying Jo Koy has to break the mold with every punchline he pukes up. It’s just a shame the man who seems to have taken it upon himself to rep the Pearl of the Orient (and his fans signed off on that by the way, hoisting upon him the role of national jester and mouthpiece) is basically balikbayan Boys Night Out. And that’s a damn shame.

I'm half white, half Filipino, that's what I am. Which means my dad was in the military. That's not even a joke. That's real shit.

Maybe it’s gratifying to see and hear some caterwauling the most intimate, nuanced parts of your culture at full blast on a Netflix special. I really do get a rush when I see Jo Koy tell white America that the ancient secret to cooking good rice is the line on your finger. Or how the best thing about munggo with rice is if you dig hard enough you might find like, measly portions of shrimp. It is always a tragedy, I believe, for any brown person to be ripped away from their homeland by forces larger than them, and then dropped in a shitty school system where white kids make fun of his lunch. And it is a triumph, in some ways, to take those third culture kid circumstances and turn them into an art that makes people laugh.

It’s just mediocre art.

He has this one bit in his “Comin’ In Hot” special where he says Filipino moms are really good at being indirectly racist. He tells the story about how, when his sister’s black boyfriend comes to the house, she makes the man fried chicken and asks Jo to hide her purse. That shit is real. Lord knows we have hella racially prejudiced Pinoys here, who think the best way to react to Xi Jinping of the Hundred Acre Wood threatening our country’s sovereignty is making “ching chong bing bong” quips.

But Jo Koy doesn’t stick to that. In that same special, he tells a black dude in the audience that he has to embrace the “I love fried chicken!” part of his stereotype if he wants to brag about having a comically huge dick.

Again, it's boring. Dude likes to put “difference between men and women” passages in his routine, too. God, who am I watching, Jeff Foxworthy?

I'll tell every woman in here right now. I got a small dick. But I got good credit! Can a big dick buy you a house? This little motherfucker can.

We are living in a world where Dave Chapelle and Louis CK have proven, even though they’ve fallen off the wagon, that comedy can have sharp, offensive edges and still be funny. We’re living in a world where Key and Peele set a standard for how clever jokes about race and masculinity have to really make a dent.

And you’re telling me Jo Koy, blasting his heritage on a global stage, is out here channeling Mikey Bustos? Please.