One funny weekend
Top comics Paul F. Tompkins and Jo Koy tape their newest Comedy Central specials at Glendale’s Alex Theatre Friday and Saturday
By Carl Kozlowski 10/06/2011
There are two kinds of comics who tend to make a splash on the national scene: those who figure out how to appeal to everyone in the room, like Jerry Seinfeld or Bill Cosby, and those who might have a smaller audience base but whose fans are utterly passionate about them, like Patton Oswalt or Lewis Black.
This weekend, the Alex Theatre plays host to the latest Comedy Central special tapings of two comics whose careers definitely fall into the latter category: Paul F. Tompkins on Friday and Jo Koy on Saturday. Both men enjoy cult followings and have found their niches in putting highly original spins on jokes about their personal and family lives, though their backgrounds couldn’t be more different.
“The evolution of my standup is that it’s more personal now, and I draw on my own life as the source of my comedy,” explains Tompkins, whose special will be his fourth for the network. “The stories I’ll be telling in this hour will be centering around various jobs I had in show business and out — from day jobs and television and film. That’s the theme of the show.”
A Philadelphia native, Tompkins has plenty of workplace material to choose from, as he — like most performers — bounced around plenty of meaningless jobs while keeping his real focus on climbing the ladder in the comedy world. Asked for a taste of the new stories, he recalled a past gig he had at a rather unusual video store.
“In Philly, I worked in a video store that was all beta, called Beta Only,” he notes wryly. “That was my last job I had before I moved to Los Angeles. Beta was basically over at this time. We didn’t have a whole lot of customers, and it didn’t occur to me until years later that maybe it was a front for money laundering. It was either a front or a really terrible idea.”
Since moving to LA in 1994, Tompkins has landed a series of hot gigs, including working as a writer and performer on the legendary HBO comedy series “Mr. Show” and having his own regular segments on the original Craig Kilborn version of “The Daily Show” and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” in addition to an HBO special. His most recent claim to fame, however, is hosting his own live monthly show at the Largo club in West Hollywood and his own “Pod F. Tompkast.”
Tompkins also made a big move in his offstage life recently, marrying actress Janie Haddad. And, as he faces the pressure of filling the 1,300-seat Alex Theatre — one of his largest venues yet — he’s thankful to have a loving partner fully supporting him.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’m able to make the performance adjustment, as I’ve played all sizes at this point,” says Tompkins. “The biggest fear is getting people in there, and the challenge is shrinking the room. How do I make a place this vast feel like a small nightclub?”
For his part, Jo Koy — who was raised in Seattle by his Filipino mom and Caucasian dad, but started his stand-up career while caring for his grandmother in Las Vegas — faces live audiences for 300 shows each year. He has parlayed his wildly successful touring career into being hired as the national ad spokesman for Boost Mobile phones and also has established himself as a favorite panelist on the popular late-night E! Channel talk show “Chelsea Lately.”
Jo Koy built much of his act around stories of him interacting with his mother, who famously calls him “Josep!” instead of his actual birth name of Joseph, and says that his new special will feature a lot of material about his current life as a single dad to an 8-year-old son.
“We’re calling the new special ‘Lights Out,’ because we thought it would be a cool slogan for the tour and the style of comedy I’m doing,” explains Jo Koy, who derived his stage name from Filipino slang for “joker.” “This one’s going to get a lot deeper with my son. He’s 8 now, so there’s a lot more stories about him. I’m going to open up old stories with my mom and really bring those to life. It’s a lot more personal, and I can’t wait.”
While his ultimate career goal is to be a movie star, as the son of a career Air Force officer, Jo Koy has a special affinity for performing for US troops. He hasn’t performed in the Iraq or Afghan war zones yet, but he makes a point of visiting veterans’ hospitals along his tour stops and visiting wounded soldiers.
“In Washington, DC, I visited the VA hospital and gave out T-shirts and DVDs to amputees,” says Jo Koy. “I never cried so hard in my life, ‘cause here’s a 20-year-old with his arm missing. When you’re part of a military family, you have respect for a soldier.”