Comedian Jo Koy famously shot his 2017 comedy special Live from Seattle himself after Netflix passed it on — then turned around and bought it after watching Koy’s set, full of hilarious impressions of his Filipino mother. Two more hit specials followed, the one from 2019 Comes in Hot and 2020 In its elements, both of whom draw heavily on his heritage for laughs. So it’s no surprise that in Koy’s first starring role in the film, Koy plays a man who returns home for an Easter party with his boisterous, loving Filipino family. The comic, 50, is currently on its way for its funny is funny standup tour, spoke to EW about why Friday is a source of inspiration, how Steven Spielberg put Filipinos on the cinematic map three decades ago, and the ubiquity of roast pig.
WEEKLY ENTERTAINMENT: I’m Filipino and when I saw this movie going on I was so excited.
JO KOY: When we came up as kids, we didn’t have anything like that to be inspired by. When I was watching movies, you had to wait for the credits to find out if someone was Filipino. When I saw Dante Basco in HookAs I go through the credits, I think, “Oh, he’s definitely Filipino.” But that was our way of being indirectly inspired when I was a kid. And now I have that opportunity to offer this inspiration and this opening.
Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures Comedian Jo Koy’s upcoming film ‘Easter Sunday’ is the first studio film to focus on a Filipino-American family
Can you tell me how the movie came about and how it was made?
It’s kind of a dream that happened to me. It is real. I actually had to shoot my Live from Seattle specially myself. Because Netflix passed me on. And after I shot it myself, I brought it to them, and they loved it. They took it. If I hadn’t, they never would’ve given me the second, Comes In Hot† And that’s the one Steven Spielberg watched. Like? Steven Spielberg watched my hour? You’re kidding now.
They brought me in for a meeting in Amblin and I met Holly Bario and Jeb Brody, the two execs there, and they said, “Steven loves you, and he wants to know if you have an idea for a movie.” And I threw this movie idea literally to another producer named Dan Lin with Rideback Film. And they were [all] like, “Yeah, we’ll take it.” Eight months later we are in Vancouver, where we shoot the film.
What do you think Steven reacted to on your special?
He just loved the stories about my mother and our relationship… He just loved that dynamic, and he loved telling stories, and he said, “I want to make this story a reality.” And it’s not about making fun of Filipinos. It is first about a family who happens to be Filipino. And you get on with it. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, a mother is a mother. They all do the same mother things.
[It’s about] a family that lives in America like everyone else. And you’re going to have a relationship with this family because you know them. And oh, by the way, you’re also going to learn a bit about Filipinos along the way. So that’s pretty cool too.
One of the Easter Sunday pictures shows you and your character’s mother in front of a table full of food. Can you tell me about what’s happening in that photo?
The one thing I said the most when we were writing is, “I’m not going to joke about my family, and we’re not going to joke about our food and our culture.” That’s not what we do here. We’re going to represent my family, and we’re going to represent my culture. Of course we had the big lechon† We had to. So yes, there is a big pig on the table, but there is every birthday and every Easter. If I hadn’t included that [Filipinos] would have been crazy. But on the other hand I wanted to show you adobo† I wanted to show pancit† I wanted to show our spring rolls. I wanted to show what a spread looks like on our table and how delicious our food is.
Ed Araquel/Universal Pictures
Have you had a hand in any of the food styling? What was your input? Because it looked delicious.
Oh, that’s all my input. I mean, there were things on the table. I was like, “Hello. Get that off the table right now.”
Listen, if I give you one minute to represent your family, you’re choosing the best things your family has to offer, right? So I’m going to put the best on that table. I’m not going to put damn up there, even if that’s a staple, but I’m not going to do that for fun.
Did you introduce Steven to Filipino food?
Not yet, but I will. I didn’t realize this until I really started to think about it, but this guy loved Filipinos because he was in Dante Basco [Hook]† And that was in 1991. He let Dante run with it and no accent, nothing. He just hired him for his acting skills and he crushed that movie. It was Dante against Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams and Julia Roberts. That’s pretty bad. I don’t know if that’s what he meant, but he put Filipinos on the map.
Did your mother or your family see the movie?
Not yet. They’re going to love it. They have to. It is beautiful. And the woman Lydia [Gaston] that plays my mother, she is phenomenal. She was a beast. Destroyed it.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
One thing I often try to express is that when we turn off the light, we’re all the same color. We all laugh at the same thing. My story is recognizable to you, no matter what color you are. For some reason, when we turn on the light, we like to separate ourselves and not get it. And I just don’t understand what that is.
You are going to see many different ethnicities in this movie. We have an Indian man, we have a black woman, we have Filipino people. We have an Indian director for God’s sake. And you know what? Nobody cares. It’s just a movie about a family. And once Hollywood sees this as the norm, it can do so without always being so specific. A mother is a mother, a son is a son, a grandson is a grandson. And we can all talk about it. I want this movie to open other doors for other people, different ethnicities to celebrate their culture.
The film is set over the course of one day, Easter Sunday. Why?
Well, Easter is exactly that day when Filipinos all come out. I mean, it’s busier than Christmas. That was the meaning of that day. I felt like it was an indirect way of saying this is for Filipinos. I don’t think many people celebrate Easter as hard as we do. And then I also wanted to do the framework because I was such a fan of Friday the film. They did it in one day. Let’s do it in one chaotic day.
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