Book notes: Mixed Plate by Jo Koy

Mixed Plate by Jo Koy book summary review and key ideas.

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Mixed Plate: Chronicles of an All-American Combo by Jo Koy

Synopsis:

A stunning, hilarious memoir displaying Koy’s “wide-ranging comedic talent and abundant wells of perseverance” (Kirkus Reviews, starred). Mixed Plate illuminates the burning drive and unique humor that make Jo Koy one of today’s most successful comedians.

Well guys, here it is – my story. A funny, sad, at times pathetic but also kick-ass tale of how a half-Filipino, half-white kid whose mom thought (and still thinks) his career goal was to become a clown became a success. Not an overnight success, because that would have made for a really short listen, but an All-American success who could give my immigrant mom the kind of life she hoped for when she came to this country, and my son the kind of life I wished I’d had as a kid. With all the details of what it felt like to get the doors closed in my face, to grind it out on the road with my arsenal of dick jokes, and how my career finally took off once I embraced the craziness of my family, which I always thought was uniquely Filipino but turns out, is as universal as it gets.

In this book, I’ll take you behind the mic, behind the curtain – okay, way behind it. From growing up with a mom who made me dance like Michael Jackson at the Knights of Columbus, to some real dark stuff, the stuff we don’t talk about often enough as immigrants. Mental health, poverty, drinking. And show you the path to my American Dream. Which was paved with a lot of failure, department store raffle tickets to win free color televisions, bad jokes, old VHS tapes, a motorcycle my mom probably still hates, the only college final I aced (wasn’t math), and getting my first laugh on stage. 

In this book, I get serious about my funny. And I want to make you laugh a little while I do it. I’m like Hawaii’s favorite lunch – the mixed plate. Little bit of this, a little bit of that. My book Mixed Plate is, too. ” -Audible


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Opening thoughts:

I’m so excited to read this book because Jo Koy is one of my favorite comedian and he’s also Filipino. I especially enjoy reading memoirs of people I respect, so I’m looking forward to this one.


Key notes:

  • He absolutely loves making people laugh and escaping reality for just a few hours to enjoy themselves
  • Although he’s made people laugh, he’s never really opened up about personal struggles

Chapter 1: the American way

  • The American dream to them was having stuff so they can fit in with their neighbors
  • His dad was the epitome of white and straight edge
    • His mom, like most third world cultures, was a pure entertainer
    • He says he gets all of his talent from her
  • His mom managed singing band groups in the Philippines who performed for military people
  • Mom and dad fell in love, and his dad proved his commitment by marrying her and adopting her two kids from a previous marriage
    • Eventually they had him
  • His mom didn’t believe in chance, she believe in making her own odds
    • She followed the blueprint of work hard, be practical, provide for her family, and send the leftovers back to normal
  • The cultural revolution was actually happening in the military
    • On military bases, mixed kids like him where the norm and they were all accepted 
  • When he finally got exposed to the real America, he started to feel awkward and out of place because people would constantly ask him what he was

Chapter 2: my great escape

  • Being funny, not only to kids but also to adults, was his super power ever since he was little
  • He took things that made him weird, turned it around and made it funny
    • Being funny was his way to fit in and cope with reality
  • As a kid, he idolized and looked up to his older brother Robert
    • But eventually he started to do drugs and had an episode with hard drugs
    • He later developed schizophrenia
  • Robert’s mental health issues started to tear their family apart, and he would become uncontrollably violent when he was triggered
  • There was so much tension in the house, nobody wanted to be there
  • One day, his dad abruptly left
    • And they didn’t talk about it because talking about those things wasn’t a part of Filipino culture
  • He begged his mom for HBO for the millionth time before he finally got it
    • His whole life focused around watching standup comedians

Chapter 3: this crazy thing called divorce

  • His parents got divorced, which was weird during that era in the 1980s, and his father distanced himself from them
  • Soon they adopted his other sister Gemma
  • Understandably, his mom was bitter about their father because she was an immigrant left alone in Washington without knowing anyone else and left to raise 4 kids
  • They eventually found a Filipino community gathering at a church every two weeks where there was always a ton of Filipino food
  • If his first superpower was making people laugh, his 2nd was dancing
  • Whenever they needed help, it was the Filipinos who took them in and accepted him even though he was only a half breed
  • They were so poor that he stopped bringing food to school for lunch and wouldn’t get a free meal ticket or ask his mom for money, so he would scrounge for change and maybe eat a cookie
  • When his older sister Rowena turned 18, he moved out because their mom’s rules were too strict
  • The families in the Filipino community loves gossip and always talked about each other but then meet up

Chapter 4: I was right. You should have Died

  • In high school, he was constantly dealing with violence at home with his family and being so poor he wouldn’t eat lunch for many days
  • Most of all, he was very aware and missed having a man in the house, a father figure to hang out with
  • All Filipino moms look and act the same
    • They also were strict with her daughters and put their sons on a pedestal
  • His mom never physically attacked him except for once, but her assaults were emotional and with words
  • He kept trying to get new jobs but he sucked at all of them and kept getting fired
  • He got into a really bad motorcycle accident and was in the hospital for months
    • His mom brought him a cake
    • He knew that his mom wasn’t evil, just very stubborn and would never apologize for anything
  • He realized that her attitude and strong will is also why she was able to survive as a single mother immigrant

Chapter 5: Fred and titty baby

  • His mom’s new boyfriend Fred was the stern and firm father figure he needed
    • He needed someone to call him out and give him the honest truth. To be straight up with him
  • Fred was his hero because he was able to beat up and stop his brother Robert
  • He lived with Fred and Gemma while his mom was in Vegas waiting for them to graduate high school and move there

Chapter 6: looking for gold

  • He started to pursue his dreams to become a standup comic, but he had no idea how and he was terrified of it
    • Also, it was unheard of to pursue something in entertainment, especially for Filipinos
  • His dad finally stepped up and up apologized for not being there
    • It was the last time his dad ever let him down and would be there for him since then
  • He knew he wanted to be a standup comic since she was little and decided to get off his ass and go for it
  • He would watch comedy specials back to back and study the masters and their craft

Chapter 7: the first laugh

  • His first time on stage was a comedy tournament and he completely bombed
    • But he remembered that his all-time favorite comedian Eddie Murphy also bombed many times but he never gave up
  • He opened up to his dad about his dream to be a comedian, and his dad encouraged him
    • His dad always wanted to be a pilot but ran out of time, so he told Joe not to make the same mistake
  • He went to go buy a camera with his mom so I can record his sets
    • He confessed that it was a terrible feeling that his dream is to become a comedian but it seems like she’s not proud of him and doesn’t care about his dream
    • This was the first time she was speechless, and then she decided to buy him a camera

Chapter 8: live from the hustle

Reader’s note: It’s crazy how much delusion played into Jo Koy’s early days starting out. He would dream he was making it big and having people die of laughter when the reality was the exact opposite at the time.

Reader’s note: He really does have a complicated relationship with his mom. He knows that she obviously loves him but she always gives him a hard time and wanted him to fit into her expectations. I think this is a testament that things may not always be perfect in your life but you can’t make excuses. He showed that you have to go for it and even stand up to the people you love most.

  • He had an opportunity to perform at DEF jam as an unofficial opener and killed it
    • He fed off the energy and interacted with the crowd, what he does best
  • He needed to find a stage name, as Justin Herbert wasn’t working
    • In Filipino culture, they love coming up with a nicknames
  • He started off by taking any gig he could find
    • Eventually he was touring and getting paid to do comedy, and even appeared on TV
    • He even won a comedy competition
  • He kept his 9-5 disposable job so that he could be free at night in case he booked a gig
  • His dad was ridiculously supportive of him and helped out anyway he could
    • His mom was the opposite
  • His mom was a contradiction because she simultaneously supported him and gave him a hard time
    • He understood that she came with the tension between two desires: a desire to help his son become happy and successful, and the desire for safety and security
  • The first show he put together was a huge success thanks in large part his mom and the clothing brand Dada

Chapter 9: king no more

  • He got really good at promoting and producing shows and hustling, but he really wanted to be a comic and make people laugh
    • He decided he had to move to LA to do it
  • In LA he had to start from the bottom again
    • He also faced a lot of systemic racism that was just how Hollywood and America did it for a long time
  • There are some exceptions like Eddie Murphy and Chris rock, but for the most part the conception was that high paying white audiences wanted to see white comedians
    • Non-white comics knew they had to accept doing themed shows or ethnic shows to get their start
    • It wasn’t overtly racist, but known
  • He knew he was funny and got a lot of cheers from the crowd, but he realized he needed to open up and tell the audience about him in order to break through
  • Slowly the comedy scene started to be more diversified
    • Those ethnic nights showed that funny is funny, and they didn’t need to be segregated by ethic nights

Chapter 10: the tiny game changer

  • He met this half white half Filipino girl name Angie and they instantly clicked
    • The next thing he knew she was pregnant and gave birth to their son Joe
    • It was the best day of his life, but he was scared because he was now father and had to figure out how to do it right
  • Filipinos love babies
    • His mother was supportive of whether or not he got married, and just wanted him to be a good dad
  • He considered getting a full-time job with benefits for his son, but he knew long-term the best way to provide for his son was to be successful at comedy
    • His mom even bought him a new car to drive his son around because it was safer than his old car
  • He and Angie got divorced because they realized they were better off as friends than as a married couple
    • However, his mom reminded him that he needed to be a good dad and provide for his son and ex-wife
  • He didn’t realize that he internalized the way his dad acted growing up and was being selfish with money
  • Angie finally woke him up and made him realize how terrible he was
    • He then promised that he would take care of them and that his success would mean their success
  • He had a family to support so he couldn’t stop touring and he couldn’t stop working his three jobs
    • He had to hustle
  • The humbling thing about entertainment is that you could be doing everything right and be the funniest guy in the room and there are still no guarantees
    • All you could do is have faith in your talent, your dream, and work harder than everyone else
      • The rest is on God

Chapter 11: you’re the fucking man

  • He made it onto the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and wore a jacket with the Filipino flag on it in honor of Manny Pacquiao fight coming up
  • His comedy started to evolve as he slowly started talking about his heritage, then his son, and then eventually his mom
  • He started to learn that more than just trying to make the audience laugh, your way to success is to connect with your audience and don’t be afraid to embrace the silence
  • After finding success telling it’s about his mom, he realized he didn’t have to be afraid of people not understanding his background or Filipino culture
  • He finally learned that the best way to entertain tons of people, to transcend categories and even race itself, was by simply being his mixed up, half breed self
  • He was focused on making good money, but it wasn’t about greed
    • When you grew up like he did, making money is security and making sure his son didn’t go hungry
  • He was slowly getting closer to the real goal of spending more time with his son and bringing him and his friends lunch
    • They also had an annual two week trip to Hawaii without adults and all of his son’s cousins so they can spend it drama free and cement their bonds
  • He wanted to be best friends with his son, but he learned that it was a balancing act because he also had to be his father
    • Whenever he would tell a joke about his son, he would always make sure to make fun of himself even more because he didn’t want to treat his son like a friend if it could possibly hurt him
  • With his son, he knew the most important things were to communicate and respect and love each other, and he knew they would get it right 
  • When he started to make money, he wanted to splurge and provide for his family and loved ones
    • With Angie, more money he made, the more he took care of her and kept them three close as a family
  • He told his son that he won’t condone drinking, but he admits he did when he was 15
    • He will never interrogate him for his decision and said to always call him if he ever needed a ride without judgment
    • He feels like most of the reasons why teenagers drinking out of rebellion
      • But if you eliminate that stigma, it won’t happen as much
  • He knew that growing up was tough but the challenges of being poor and being with his parents made him stronger and shaped him into who he is today
  • He started to hit a wall with trying to break into traditional Hollywood media as they weren’t giving him any exposure

Chapter 12: immigrant revolution

  • He was focused on getting his own Netflix special because he knew that was his ticket to break through
  • He took the chance and produced his own special in Seattle hoping Netflix would buy it
    • He paid for everything and didn’t cut corners with production costs
  • Netflix bought his special and millions of people around the world became new fans
    • He started to sell out shows for the next 6 months
  • Even now, his mom still thinks he should have a real career to fall back on in case something happens
    • But even then, he’s still grateful to his mom for all her sacrifices which allowed him to get to where he is today
  • He was able to support his mom and Fred, his father figure in HS, and said that Fred could finally take care of himself
    • Fred opened up about his PTSD
  • He found out his dad was secretly visiting Robert, hundreds of times, way more than any of them
  • He knows his son has a lot of potential, both in comedy and other pursuits. But that’s for his son to decide
    • But he’s willing and able to help his son in any way he can
  • The name Jokoy came from his aunt calling him Jjo ko” or “my Joe”. And he is their Joe
    • He is a combination of what his family had given him
  • His relationships with his family are complicated, but that’s a sign of their depth

Readers note: I love all of these acknowledgments. It reinforces the idea he mentioned of being a product of other people’s help and support. Success is always a team sport.


Closing thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’ve already mentioned that I’m a big fan of Jokoy, so it was great to get an inside look at his personal life outside of what he tells us in his comedy.

One thing I really loved is how much he realizes that relationships with family are complicated. We have such confusing, toxic, and dysfunctional relationships with them, and yet still understand that we love each other and are trying our best.

I also really enjoyed how he has good self-awareness about his own shortcomings and regrets about how he’s acted in the past. I think it serves as a great example of how we can move forward from our past and strive to become better people every day.

Overall, highly recommend for anyone who is either a fan of Jokoy, or loves autobiographies of comedians as I do.


One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are so many good takeaways from this book, especially about resilency and pursuing your craft, especially in entertainment. However, my one takeaway will actually be about family:

  • When you have kids, there is a balancing act between wanting to be their friend and being their parent

I thought this was really insightful because I’m not a parent so I don’t know how this is. But for him, he loves his son so much and wants to be best friends with him. He also wants to be the father that he himself didn’t have growing up. But at the same time, he also knows he has to play the role of parent. He not only has to set boundaries and enforce discipline, but also make sure his son knows he’s there to support him as a father.

I think this is especially interesting when he talks about putting his son in his standup acts. As much as he wants to tell funny stories about his son, he knows he can’t just make fun of him because it’ll hurt him. Instead, he tries to make fun of himself even more so that he’s the butt of his own joke instead of his son.

I think this is a great thing to keep in mind as I also plan on talking about my friends and family in my comedy, but I have to make sure that I don’t become that guy who puts down his loved ones just to make an audience laugh.


Nutshell:

JoKoy recounts his experience growing up as a Filipino-American and eventually raising his son while pursing his dream of becoming a renowned standup comedian.


Similar books:


Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

4/5

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