By Josie Moralidad Ziman
Special to the Manila Mail
ARLINGTON, Va, Whenever you watch a performance by stand-up comic and social media star Joseph Glenn Herbert – better known as Jo Koy – you might wonder if there weren’t two of them on the stage – the comedian and his mother Josie Harrison, a Quezon City native who obviously casts a huge influence on his 46-year-old son.
Mrs. Josie Harrison, 70, has always been the center of Jo Koy’s acts whenever the Filipino-American comedian is performing in the Unites States and other countries. Talking with the Manila Mail, she described her youngest son as a very kind, generous, loving funny, humble and respectful person.
“We are so much alike in personality, we face our daily life with a smile, we look at any given situation with a positive outlook,” she explained.
Jo Koy was only 13 years old when his parents divorced. He is the third child in the family. The eldest is Robert Herbert, Rowena Hazel Cook, Joseph and Gemma Herbert Simmons his adopted sister from the Philippines.
His biological father is Jack Herbert who is retired from the U.S. Air Force. She met him when she was working in Vietnam as an office manager for a Filipino band. Mrs. Harrison is candid about her family life raising four kids as a single parent. “I faced my life with strength and determination that my children will be raised with Filipino traditions and culture while respecting American culture,” she averred.
“I went to school on my own. I started from the bottom up. I worked 2 jobs to provide for the need of my 4 children. A banker during the day for Wells Fargo and a cashier/hostess at Denny restaurant at night. I did everything on my own,” she added.
Mrs. Harrison explained that she prodded Jo Koy at a young age because she wanted him to lead a different kind of life. She got pregnant at an early age and wasn’t able to finish college. “I emphasized to him to focus on professions such as being a nurse, doctor or lawyer. I made it clear to him that with these professions, he could be assured of a comfortable and secured life.”
However, Jo Koy decided to take a different path and dropped out in college and did some odd jobs from working as a store clerk to being a stand-up comedian in Las Vegas. He was discovered by a talent coordinator from Los Angeles which landed him his first television appearance at the Black Entertainment Television or BET. The nickname Jo Koy was given to him when he was growing up by his Aunt Evelyn, Mrs. Harrison’s sister.
Whenever Jo Koy is on stage he pokes fun at his Filipino heritage, culture and values. The subject of his jokes has always been about family particularly his mother Josie. When asked if she gets upset, she responds “I actually feel proud, great and excited. I don’t mind because it’s a real story.
“I am very proud of my son. He is now one of the top comedians in America and a millionaire. During his early comedy adventure, I wrote jokes on yellow stickers and stuck it on his bedroom door. Also, he performed in a small lounge here in Las Vegas somewhere around the University of Nevada Las Vegas or UNLV campus. It’s at the Bugzy, he didn’t get a good reaction when he delivered his first punchline,” Mrs. Harrison recalled.
One of Mrs. Harrison’s unforgettable experiences occurred when Jo Koy was starting his career as a comedian. “He was at home during the early days of his comedy career, one night I was watching TV when all of a sudden Jo Koy came rushing to our family room wearing nothing but his Fruit of the Loom underwear. He was pretending to be playing a guitar and he was singing the song that Tom Cruise sang in the movie “Risky Business” and I just laughed so hard,” she said.
She believes that there is celebrity blood in their family. She was a former radio host in Las Vegas. Her own biological mother Justina Gonzales was once a movie actress in the Philippines; her other daughter is a singer in Las Vegas. “My mother is “bolera” (joker) and Jo Koy likes to imitate the actors on the TV and he loves comedy shows. We like to joke each other in the family.”
She’s overwhelmed by the popularity of his son with so many sold out shows “I can’t imagine the status of my son right now. I am in a dream right now. He bought a million-dollar house and I can’t believe it, my son is a millionaire right now doing comedy,” she said.
For Mrs. Harrison, this is now her proudest moment as a mother. She and her second husband, a retired army soldier and postal service worker are enjoying all the generosity and love of their children. “We can sit back and not worry about their existence because they are all financially well. I think I’ve done a good job raising my kids,” she said.
When I asked her what’s the funniest thing Jo Koy said to her as a mother? “That he still hasn’t met anyone who’s been in America for so long and still can’t say his name right,” she says of the son she still calls “Josep”.