Jo Koy Shares Emotional Story of Experiencing Racism as a Child: 'We're Not Going to Do That Anymore'

At a recent event promoting his film Easter Sunday, comedian Jo Koy — who is half white and half Filipino — opened up about enduring racism in his youth

Jo Koy attends the 2018 GQ Men of the Year Party at a private residence on December 6, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California.
Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty

Jo Koy is opening up about the challenges he endured in his youth.

During his appearance at "Joy Koy's Rise for Comedy Night brought to you by Easter Sunday" on Tuesday, the comedian — who is half white and half Filipino — spoke about his upbringing and the tough moments he faced because of his heritage.

"My mom came here in the late '60s — immigrant mom with no identity, trying to find somebody that looks like her, goes to the TV and what does she see? You just see a really s---y depiction of what an Asian is," Koy, 51, said on stage at Rideback Ranch in Los Angeles. "And when I say Asian, I mean a whole entire group — that's another thing we had to deal with, they just put us in a group. My mom would go to church every Sunday, and church was about the one time where she felt like she had an identity."

"It wasn't about race that day on a Sunday," he continued, switching into his mothers' voice occasionally. "She'd just be there because 'Everyone believes in Jesus, Joseph — Black, Mexican, white, we all believe in Jesus.'"

"But the minute she left, it became separate," he recalled. "It sucked to see my mom go through that. There was no Facebook, there was no Instagram. There was no TikTok where she can build a community. She couldn't go to Google and search 'Filipino community' like these kids can do today. My mom had to physically find her friends. And as funny as that s--- sounds, just imagine being in her shoes. She's in church, listening to the sermon, but also looking for other people that look like her."

Jo Koy Easter Sunday event
Simon Kim Photo

During the event, in which Koy shared the stage with comics including Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Cheng and Andrew Lopez, he shared that in his work, "it's fun to use humor to talk about issues like that," adding that he loves being able "to tell my truth." This led to him telling another story in which a young boy used a racist gesture in front of him.

"When we tried to win a TV at Sears because we didn't have enough money [for one], it was me [and my siblings] filling out these raffle tickets. We filled out like a thousand," he recalled. "We won. We won the f---ing TV! And then we went up the escalator, it's like 1985, and my mom loves little kids. My mom sees this little kid and she's like, 'Hi, what's your name?' The kid turns around and pulls his eyes back and [giggles]. I [didn't] know, the giggle was because ... I [didn't] understand that type of normalization. Why would that be funny?"

Koy explained that that's what his mother "had to go through" but such behavior was "accepted back then."

"Our depiction on TV that she was watching was that's how you treat f—king Asians. You watch a cartoon, and it's any kind of Asian — pails on their shoulder [grunting and giggling]. And Asians had to sit there and just take because that's normal in America," he said. "And that happens to my mom, this is exactly what my mom said. She goes, 'It's OK, Joseph. He's just trying to be funny, that's all.' But the pain that's inside, she doesn't want to show me that she's hurt. I had to watch that happen."

"We're not going to do that anymore," he added.

2022 Cinemacon Portrait Studio
Ben Trivett

Koy detailed his experiences with racism ahead of the release of his film Easter Sunday. Premiering on Aug. 5, the movie follows a man who returns home to spend Easter with his Filipino American family. The comedy is based on Koy's life experiences.

"[Universal Studios] is a huge studio shining a light on a culture you know about but don't always see on screen," he recently told Variety. "You'll laugh, you'll cry and it will be beautiful. And maybe you'll realize we're not all that different from you."

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Chelsea Handler and Jo Koy attend the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 03, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Frazer Harrison/Getty

Koy celebrates the arrival of his major feature film as he goes through a very public breakup with girlfriend Chelsea Handler. When she announced their split on Instagram, Handler, 47, asked fans to "continue to root for both of us."

"And let's first start by all going to the theater on August 5th to buy tickets to Jo's new movie EASTER SUNDAY and Filipino PRIDE!" she added. "Let's go!"

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