Jo Koy Wears All The Hats; Self Produces a Powerhouse Special

Robyn Van Swank

Photo: Robyn Van Swank

Jo Koy just released his first hour special in five years and it’s a home run. From the moment Koy walks out on stage, he lights up the theater, with an energy that resonates with every joke, and his material crushes, whether he’s covering old familiar and favorite topics for long term fans like raising his son, and his relationship with his mother, or tackling new ground like his material about how women process emotion that he opens the show with. The audience is with him at every turn, and the laughter comes in roars. It’s one of the best comedy specials out this year, in a year flooded with strong offerings.

But what might be most remarkable about Koy’s special, is that in addition to sharpening his material and delivery to impressive heights, the entire special is self-produced and it looks spectacular. Jo bet on himself, and the bet paid off.  I talked with Koy about the new hour early one morning while he sat in his underwear on his couch doing press phoners, in a great mood. And he has every reason to feel like he’s on top of the world.

It had been five years since his last special, and he was more than ready to put together another hour, in fact, he had a few hours ready to record. Unfortunately, he said the networks just weren’t biting, so he decided to go out there, and get it for himself. It’s not that unusual these days for a comedian to produce their own hour, but Koy wanted to put together something that looked like it was created with a gigantic budget by the best in the business, and that meant a lot of work: booking a theater, designing the lighting, filming the show, even creating a logo, and none of it was cheap, or easy. “This special means a lot to me. You know I came out of pocket for this one. I put it together and wore all the hats on this one,” he said, pointing out that doing everything yourself is stressful, but rewarding.

“It’s so funny because when we did this. We totally wanted to make sure that we got the best. So we didn’t skimp out on the budget. I even told Joe, my manager, we gotta get the best of the best.’We could do it the cheesy way, and present my work and hope for the best. Or we can spend a ton of money, and make it look just as good as … Not just as good, but equally as good as my product. You know what I mean?”

They chose the Moore Theatre in Seattle, which looks spectacular in the special, with three tiers of fans cheering wildly for Koy. “You know what’s crazy, is they made it look a lot better than it does,” he said.  “It is a beautiful theater, it’s like a staple in Seattle, like everyone knows the Moore Theatre. Pearl Jam performed there, it’s pretty cool and when you’re from Seattle, it’s kind of like a dream to perform there. So that was my dream, was to play at the Moore Theatre.”

Everything from the lighting (“we did hire the best light guy in the business”) to the logo had to be perfect.  “The light guy, he does all of Bruce Springsteen’s lights on tour, and we hired him. And he told us, hands down, ‘I’m going to make this the most beautiful theater you’ve ever seen,’ and he did that, but those lights cost a lot of money.” Koy also went in big for the logo that served as his set, a 20 foot tall black monolith. It was important to him, he explained, that it be perfect. “I came up with the idea to make it black. They didn’t want a black logo, and I stood my ground. I was like, it has to be black. It just has to. I wanted it to be subliminal, but I wanted it to make a statement. Like I wanted you to see it in some shots and not see it. And they were just totally against it. They were like, “Come on, do something red, something big, something that will pop.” I was like, ‘No.’ I came up with it. It was beautiful.”

Beautiful, but also costly. “That logo cost me so much money. It cost me sooo much money. I mean we’re talking like almost 20 grand for that logo, and to see it get destroyed at the end of the shoot was heartbreaking. But that was the cost that we had to do. We had to make it. It couldn’t be just some skimpy projector, and put some type of logo on the wall. We couldn’t just put a poster back there, or a painting of me. We had to build something. You know what I mean? It had to stand out.”

The one thing he couldn’t control, was the audience, but even that went perfectly. The fans who showed up were hyped even beyond his expectations, and you can feel their over-the-top enthusiasm when you watch the special. “That crowd was so full of energy, man. I remember when I got there, they were wrapped around a full city block. I’m not even joking! They wrapped around a city block. It was nuts, man. And they were full of energy. The minute they walked in, you could just feel it. You know how you feel the energy? It’s just that energy was in the air. That’s what it felt like, and I couldn’t wait to hit that stage.”

And of course, after it was shot, edited, and packaged, Jo and his team still had to sell it, preferably not out of the trunk of his car. Which meant sweating it out until they had a buyer. The special was shot in March, Jo said, and by Thanksgiving they knew they had a home for it- Netflix. And almost a year to the day, after he shot the special, it premiered on Netflix. Not bad.

It all paid off, because the feedback for Koy’s special has been incredible- he’s already landed on at least one list of the Best Specials in 2017, and he’s been hearing from plenty of fans. “Oh it’s been phenomenal. The response has been nonstop. My Twitter, my Instagram, my Facebook has just been nonstop, and it’s been a lot of fun to see the people’s response.”  And wearing all the hats, sweating out every detail, has made the results feel even sweeter.

“Oh, I couldn’t believe it, when we finally edited it out. I was just like how cool it looked, and how good the set came out, how well it sounded,” Jo said.  “Yeah we did it. We did this. So yeah, I’m so proud of it.”

Watch Jo Koy: Live From Seattle exclusively on Netflix and follow Jo on Twitter @JoKoy.

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