Comedy specials filmed in massive venues often force you to remember that there must be jumbotrons or something projecting this performance for the cheap seats. Enough superstar comedians naturally film their specials in these kinds of locations because they can fill them, but the performance almost always would make more sense in a more intimate venue.
Not so with Jo Koy, whose second Netflix special Comin’ In Hot was filmed in a dizzying 8000-seat Honolulu arena, and yet still brings the energy at the back of the house to his level regardless. He can’t even be dwarfed by the two-story letters spelling out ‘JO KOY’ behind him. It should be insane for Koy to single out one member of the audience in the front row for some crowd work, but when he does, he makes the moment interpersonal enough that this doesn’t register. That guy is no longer just 0.000125% of an audience.
Koy has to be given credit for working through the special, basically never taking his foot off the gas pedal or giving the audience a second to breathe. Unfortunately, it’s also one of those specials where the audio feels heavily edited to let laughter surge in one-to-two second bursts, keeping with the special’s breakneck pace at the expense of clarity.
Comin’ In Hot spends a good amount of time covering topics like Filipino-American identity and fatherhood, but the highest points of the special center around Koy’s relationship with his mother. One memorable exchange sees her wanting him to go fetch any free stuff that might be around, especially by making sure to ‘get extra’ of whatever is offered. “You know what ‘get extra’ means?” says Koy. “Steal!” It’s well-observed, personal and gives us the most insight into Koy himself.
The rest of the time, however, Koy is content to play in less specific, more expected territory. For example, he jumps at the opportunity to dunk on young people—what do you call them… “Gen X? Millennial? Pussies?” The fact that Koy, who was born in 1971, is himself a member of Generation X seems to indicate that this material isn’t terribly introspective. Same goes for stretches that hash out repetitive ‘tells-it-like-it-is’ takes. The special spends a lot of time dipping into generalities like this, and that’s when the size of the arena and the performance begins to feel unsubstantiated. Koy has proven he’s better than this when he wants to be, and hopefully he’ll eventually realize that.
Graham Techler’s writing has been featured by McSweeney’s and The New Yorker, and he performs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @gr8h8m_t3chl3r.