Link to our Facebook
Link to our Instagram

Jo Koy Went From A Shoe Salesman & Yacht Cleaner To An International Comic

3 December 2019 | 9:00 am | Anthony Carew

Joseph Glenn Herbert, aka comic Jo Koy, talks to Anthony Carew about being almost ready to quit comedy, before he was booked on 'The Tonight Show'.

More Jo Koy More Jo Koy

“I’m literally living a dream,” gushes Jo Koy. “I’m doing comedy for a living, getting to go to these places that I would’ve had to have saved up money to go visit. Like, are you kidding me? I get to go to Australia and perform? It’s a dream come true.”

On the heels of his latest Netflix special, Jo Koy: Comin’ In Hot, the 48-year-old American comedian, born Joseph Glenn Herbert, is returning to Australia. He’s found a broad audience for his stand-up, which is largely centred around the travails of family, and specifically his relationship with his son, also named Joseph. Where the younger Joseph is often the butt of the joke, Herbert says that his son “embraces it, and relishes it”: “At school, everyone he surrounds himself with is a fan of me,” Herbert laughs. It’s not often you hear a comic championing ‘family comedy’, but that’s what Herbert’s been drawn to.

“When I saw Eddie Murphy’s Delirious on HBO, I knew I wanted to be up there on stage, tell jokes for a living, and do that for the rest of my life.”

“It’s always been my favourite style of comedy,” Herbert offers. “Family-styled comedy, where you’re just talking about life, with self-deprecation. I loved Dennis Wolfberg, Brian Regan, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Ray Romano. I loved Whoopi Goldberg’s Around The World In 80 [Motherfuckin’] Days – that was one my favourite one-man shows. As a kid, I was always watching, non-stop... When I saw Eddie Murphy’s Delirious on HBO, I knew I wanted to be up there on stage, tell jokes for a living, and do that for the rest of my life.”

Of course, when he told his “old-school” Filipina mother about his dream, she didn’t approve. “She wanted me to go to college, get a job with benefits and security, and think about retirement,” Herbert recounts. “I went for college for about a year, but while I was there I wasn’t even opening a book. I was just there to pacify my mom. In my mind, and in my heart, I knew I was going to quit real soon, and just have part-time jobs for the rest of my life, until this [comedy] thing [took] off.”

Which is, Herbert marvels, “exactly what happened”. Having moved to Los Angeles – he grew up in Tacoma, Washington, and spent a stint living in Las Vegas – he worked a bunch of shitty jobs, mostly as a shoe salesman. At one point, he worked weekends cleaning up yacht parties at Marina del Rey in Los Angeles, where he’d finish work, then “run over to the Laugh Factory and perform, still in [his] waiter’s outfit.” But, this period dragged on for long enough he had his doubts.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

“When I hit 33 years old, I was like, ‘Ok, I think this is done,’” Herbert admits. “My career felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. My son was about a year-and-a-half old. I was more concerned about his wellbeing. I didn’t want to put him through the wringer because I was chasing a dream, and didn’t have enough money for diapers. I thought I should get a full-time job. I started working at a bank part-time. But, I was still going for it. I wasn’t going to give up on it.”

Everything changed, however, when Herbert performed on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in 2005. “A lot of my friends were discouraging me from going on [the show],” he recounts. “They were like, ‘If you do that, it’s going to make you look bad.’ Some guys were like, ‘It’s not going to do anything for you. Don’t think that it’s going to change your life, ’cause it won’t.’ I was getting a lot of discouragement. Then, when I did it, shit, it changed my life, man.

“I was selling shoes at a shoe store, and I did The Tonight Show that night, and I got a standing ovation. And the next day I got a commercial deal, and about two months later I was able to quit all my jobs, because I was on the road, steady, by that point. The Tonight Show literally changed my life. Ross [Mark] and Bob [Read] – those were the two guys that booked me on it. Every time I see them, I walk up to them and hug them. And just thank them for changing my life.”