SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA—If we talk about the performance of comedy, Filipinos have a long and abundant tradition of slapstick and joke-telling that enlivens our stage, cinema, and television.
Stand-up has become popular in the Philippines as well, and comedians dedicated to that craft regale audiences at comedy clubs and bars around the city.
Getting into the game are Filipino-American performers who’ve watched stand-up most of their lives here in the US, and are drawing upon their life experiences for material.
Among them are Jo Koy (Joseph Glenn Herbert) and Jeppy Paraiso.
Jo Koy has been performing since 1994, when he dropped out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas to pursue a career in comedy. The hard work and persistence has paid off. Today he sells out shows in the US and Canada.
Jeppy, on the other hand, is a newcomer. A chef and singer, he posted a short video of himself in character as a “Filipino tita” last Thanksgiving. The video went viral and he followed that up with videos for Christmas using the “Tita” character and two new ones, “Tito” and “Noel, Santa’s helper.”
Most of Jo Koy’s jokes are personal, and many hinge on an exaggerated take on his mother’s accent (“Josep!”), mannerisms (such as “flexing,” Koy’s term to describe her threatening gestures, our ‘aakmang lalaban
’), and mindset that reflects Filipino culture with its values and practices (her insistence that Koy take up nursing, and her use of Vicks Vaporub to cure all ills). Koy also draws heavily on his own feelings as his son grows up and his son’s reactions and behavior.
Jeppy, on the other hand, plays up the stereotypical Filipinos through his characters. “Tita” has a penchant for Louis Vuitton bags, gossip, and rumor-mongering (“Why she don’t wanna take jacket off? She’s pregnant!”). “Tito” swills beer, sings karaoke, and offers wine coolers to seven-year-olds. Noel has adobong
reindeer for his lunch baon and refuses to give Santa Claus his insulin injection because “it’s not in my job description.”
Both skewer race and racism. Koy’s sister has a black boyfriend (“He’s so dark, he’s nighttime!”) as does “Tita’s” niece (“You brought your boyfriend? [sotto voce] My god he’s black.”).
By poking fun at the Filipino prejudice against dark-skinned people, these two comedians expose an attitude that is a product of colonial mentality and an inferiority complex hardened in a Philippines that spent 400 years in the convent and 40 years in Hollywood.
Among their Fil-Am fans is Joanne, who has been a fan of Jeppy since she first discovered him late November. She has been playing his few videos over and over every night for the past couple of weeks.
She says: “Jeppy is just starting out so his material doesn’t seem complete; he’s just discovering what he can do. I’m glad that we have this new emerging Pinoy talent on American shores. He’s following in the footsteps of Jo Koy. I hope he’ll go further and have his own gigs.” She wants to watch Koy’s gig in San Francisco in January but five shows are sold out. A sixth one was added but it’s timed too late at night for her.
Warren, an airline supervisor, sometimes references Jo Koy’s jokes at work. “Yeah, he’s funny.” Ray, a teacher, shares Jo Koy videos with Pinxy friends.
We enjoy comedy because it shows us our follies and foibles in a palatable way. It scolds and teaches with humor. It holds up a mirror to our face and makes us guffaw at our own foolishness. In this manner, jokes are also social commentary.
We laugh at Koy and Jeppy’s jokes because they tell the truth about ourselves, our culture, and the way Filipinos have adapted to life in the US.
Dr. Ortuoste is a California-based writer. Facebook and