A close-up of comedian Jo Koy in a black tuxedo, holding a microphone while hosting the Golden Globe Awards.

Jo Koy’s Downfall Is No Surprise

Writer Andre Lawes Menchavez shares how growing up in the Filipino community, these “jokes” were common

Jo Koy as host of the Golden Globes.

Rich Polk

By now you’ve probably seen the social media firestorm aimed at comedian Jo Koy after his unfortunate hosting gig at the 2024 Golden Globes on Jan. 7. While Koy succeeded at becoming the first Filipino to host the show in its 81 years of running, he did not succeed at meeting the bare minimum of what a comedian in this role is expected to be—funny.

From jokes about Barbie’s "big boobies" to a random comment about Taylor Swift’s love life, Koy performed like he was on a mission to piss off audience members, and those watching at home, one by one. While noticing his punchlines weren’t landing, Koy cowardly went off-script and began to throw his writers under the bus before mentioning he got the gig last minute. The real-time reactions from powerhouse actresses in the crowd to his jokes and the social media pushback he received in the days following proved that Koy’s unfortunate hosting came across as unoriginal, cringe, and borderline problematic.

But Koy’s crash and burn with his attempt at “comedy” was no surprise to me, and it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone Filipino or familiar with his work. Because ultimately, Koy’s comedic style embodies so much of the toxic humor we’ve become accustomed to from our elders as Filipinos. And also, Koy created his career off of using questionable material in his routines, often relying on Filipino stereotypes as the punchline with self-degrading humor—typically including making fun of his mother’s Filipino accent. It’s a schtick that was funny three decades ago but I would argue has expired through the test of time, and doesn’t quite land the same with today’s audience.

Koy represents a certain generation of comedy, and a big part of Filipino culture, that I have always had an issue with. I can recount so many family parties growing up where my titas and titos would make jokes about someone at the table, or a celebrity on television, or a distant relative they’d love to tsismis (gossip) about—and the jokes they would make would always be just a little bit sexist, homophobic, or racist. It’s commonplace for Filipino elders to randomly bring up the most out-of-pocket comments, excusing the potential problematic impact of their words simply because “it’s just a joke.” It’s very Koy comedy-core.

I recall the times the titos would poke fun at my younger cousins and their sudden growth in weight, pinching a roll of belly fat while laughing. I remember the titas snickering with each other about the thought of one of their daughters bringing home an “itim boy” (a Black person), laughing at the thought of it. Growing up as a young queer kid especially, it became customary for a family party to include a large plate of food and a heaping serving of homophobia—the searing jokes about my femininity in its early development, from the way I spoke to how I moved my body. I was called a girl when I identified as a boy growing up, triggering my gender dysphoria early on, which ultimately did play a big part in stunting my own gender exploration that I have, 25 years later, come to harness as a non-binary person.

But, despite the impact of all of these jokes, they’re always excused with a laugh, even when the result of these jokes can seriously impact the lives of our community—especially considering Filipinos have some of the highest rates of mental health issues out of all Asian communities.

So, Koy idiotically reducing Barbie’s gravitas to her body parts and expecting a laugh, bombing completely, and not understanding the weight of his words is not a surprise, simply because I’ve been surrounded by a generation like Koy my whole life.

Just like my elders, Koy was quick to defend his jokes, calling critics “soft.”

But ultimately I’d rather be soft than follow Koy’s lead and rot with age. Times have changed and it’s completely possible to do an incredible monologue and be a fantastic comedian without looking like a babbling idiot reliant upon tropes and unoriginal sexist remarks for a laugh—ask Trevor Noah, for example, who gave a stellar hosting performance at last year’s Grammys.

What also isn’t surprising about this situation is the opposite end of all the negative social media responses we’ve been seeing, such as Asian folks coming to Koy’s defense on social media. From Asian creators with huge followings supporting Koy on his Instagram post to the many X users who openly defended his blunder because of history being made, once again we are met with this paradox of representation politics. Similarly to how in Filipino culture, every problematic joke is absolved because it’s supposed to be funny, we’re seeing how mediocrity from problematic Asian figures are often overlooked because it’s in the name of representation.

People online have emphasized the need for the public to give Koy more credit and leniency given he did something monumental for our representation as the first of our people to achieve this spot. But what I urge people to understand is, if the goal of representation is to rewrite and retell our own narratives and abilities by ourselves to the world, what good is this representation if it is counterproductive, outdated, and mediocre?

In Koy’s first stand-up set since the Golden Globes, he pleaded to the crowd in response to the backlash: “Can we fucking laugh at ourselves?”

And laugh at his own culture he sure does, and did once again during the monologue, when Koy mocked his mom’s Filipino accent while talking to Meryl Streep.

Koy misses the point completely at the criticisms he is given, not only during this fiasco but from younger Filipinos who have been criticizing him for the last decade. After making his career off of laughing at his own culture, I wished he’d understand that it’s not that we can’t laugh at ourselves, it’s that, at this point in time, do we really need to laugh at ourselves when we’re given space?

Thinking about this point specifically reminds me of the stories of assimilation so many Asian Americans have gone through. There are countless times I’ve deduced my Asianness when I entered new spaces myself. In pursuit of love in the past I felt I needed to be a submissive partner because that was what was expected of my Asian body. In undergrad, I’d bite my tongue when I’d be told microaggressive comments from new friends I’d make as the only Asian person in large groups of white people. In my master’s program, despite all my accomplishments, I downplayed my abilities, took the secondary roles of leadership and allowed other voices and ideas to take precedence over my own.

So yes, we can laugh at ourselves. We can submit, bite our tongues, downplay parts of us—but ultimately, we shouldn’t have to anymore.

Multiple things can be true at the same time, and we can’t allow this Golden Globes fiasco to be a situation downplayed and ignored when it could be a perfect opportunity for our community to look inward and assess how we can evolve ourselves and each other for the better.

And while I stand by my criticisms of Koy, of our culture, of the way we assimilate, and of the way we so easily put people on a pedestal for the sake of representation, I do believe Koy deserves some grace and room to grow from this experience. He deserves his flowers for dedicating so much of his life to his craft that ultimately has given Filipinos a space in entertainment. But multiple things can be true at the same time, and we can’t allow this Golden Globes fiasco to be a situation downplayed and ignored when it could be a perfect opportunity for our community to look inward and assess how we can evolve ourselves and each other for the better.

While on the surface they were just a bunch of bad jokes by an outdated comedian in dire need of new material, it’s more than that. Koy is a figure that represents so much of the toxic humor in our culture that for decades we’ve swept under the rug, becoming some of the causes of so much of our community’s childhood trauma. Koy is a reminder to us all that surface level representation means nothing when we’re using the space we are finally given to deduce ourselves or other communities, counterproductive to advancing our narratives. It’s without a doubt monumental for an Asian person to host and be on that stage, but we can do so much better.

Published on January 22, 2024

Words by Andre Lawes Menchavez

Andre Lawes Menchavez (he/him) is a Filipinx, Indigenous and queer community organizer who uses journalism as a tool of activism, constantly seeking to lift up marginalized communities through his work. He received his bachelor of arts degree in law, societies and justice at the University of Washington and his master of arts in specialized journalism—with a focus in race and social justice reporting—from the University of Southern California. Find him on Instagram at @itsjustdrey.