Jo Koy on Raspberry Bibingka, Racism in Hollywood, and Working with Steven Spielberg

The superstar comedian is coming back to do a show in the Philippines.
IMAGE Netflix

To say that JoKoy has been successful in his craft is an understatement of epic proportions. For those who live under a rock, the Filipino stand-up comedian already has several Netflix specials and is on a promo tour for his first-ever Hollywood movie– - Easter Sunday– - which was produced by no less than THE Steven Spielberg. But instead of becoming all “Hollywood” on us, he has held on even tighter to his Filipino roots. 

Esquire Philippines chatted wth the superstar comedian. Here are excerpts (shortened for clarity).

Esquire Philippines: How are you and how did you feel when the trailer for your new movie Easter Sunday dropped and seeing an all-Filipino cast?

JoKoy: Yeah, that was a great moment. You know, when I was a kid In America, I was dreaming about being a comedian, dreaming about being an actor in 1985. So I like watching movies on the big screen and I remember watching a movie with Rob Schneider called Deuce Bigelow.

I remember watching it and hearing the dad character say “Your mom made your favorite dessert, raspberry bibingka.” And I remember my jaw dropped and I was like “Did he say bibingka?"

That one Filipino word inspired me even though he said it wrong. It meant everything to me, because right there, it said Hollywood is recognizing us. But it bothered me enough that 20 years later when I finally met Rob Schneider, I asked him why he said “raspberry” because it doesn’t exist. And he told me the story of how he wanted to include bibingka to pay homage to his mom, and the producers didn’t want to include it because no one knows it’s a dessert. So he fought for it for weeks and compromised by adding raspberry. 

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And now you have probably have the first Hollywood movie with a cast of almost all Filipino actors

JoKoy: Exactly. So that's the kind of racism that Rob had to deal with just to put a Filipino word in, but that one word inspired me. So it's like people don't understand the struggle that we have to go through here in Hollywood just to get a Filipino word in. So imagine what I had to go through just to get my story out. 

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Talking about getting your story out, how did you get to do a Hollywood movie with Steven Spielbeg no less?

JoKoy: I didn’t actually approach Steven Spielberg. I just came out with my special Coming In Hot and when I shot in Hawaii, we got the phone call from Steven and he's like, “I love your story. I want to make a movie about it.”

And you know, what's crazy is I'm such a Steven Spielberg fan, and I'm not saying that because he made my movie. I'm saying that because I remember watching Peter Pan in the theater and Rufio came out onto the scene, and we're talking about Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, like this is an all-star cast. 

And I remember going, “That's a Filipino!” And I remember, I couldn't even watch the movie anymore. I couldn't wait for the credits to roll just to see what that guy's name was. And when I saw Dante Bosco, I was like, “I knew it! Filipino!” I was so inspired as a kid, I was like “Okay. I could make it in Hollywood because Dante did it.” So full circle. Cool circle. Here we are, I'm with Steven Spielberg. I think Steven has always had some kind of passion for Filipino culture. 

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Speaking of passion and inspiration, where do you get fresh ideas for your standup? Do you attend family gatherings just to get material? 

JoKoy: No, you know, that's funny. I love to just make people laugh. I never just sit there in the back of the room, looking for an opportunity to make a joke. I have stories from my childhood that I like to bring up, but then I also like to talk about the child that I'm bringing up right now.

I love embracing our culture and I love telling our story, but I also love just doing standup man and staying fresh. 

Your son has featured in your standup many times, has he shown any indication that he wants to follow your footsteps?

JoKoy: I know he's gonna probably eventually do it because he's so funny! He's so naturally funny and I can't wait because I feel like he’s going to get on stage real soon. That's basically a dream come true for any dad. And he's gonna be better than me! 

You’re going back to the Philippines for a show this August, can we expect more shows and more movies from you? 

JoKoy: Oh yes definitely! I can’t wait to see you all! We've made a movie and we're making more, I promise you that! Thank you so much for the support!

Tickets to JoKoy Funny is Funny, happening on August 31, 2022 at Mall of Asia Arena are now available at all SM Tickets outlets.

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