'The craziest it's ever been': Comedian Jo Koy sets record with 4 sold-out Winnipeg shows

It’s probably the only time a shopping mall in Winnipeg will be compared to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport in 1964, but for Filipino-American comic Jo Koy, the two weren’t that far off this week.

Filipino-American comic Jo Koy went from broke to selling out shows months in advance after 1 big risk

CBC's Teghan Beaudette sits down with Filipino-American comic Jo Koy to talk Canada tour dates and his massive success. 3:34

It's probably the only time a shopping mall in Winnipeg will be compared to New York's John F. Kennedy airport in 1964, but for Filipino-American comic Jo Koy, the two weren't that far off this week.

"I went to the mall … I felt like the Beatles when they came to the States. That's how I felt, like when I saw all that old footage of the Beatles coming to the States. Everybody was just bombarding them," said Koy.

The Los Angeles-based comedian is used to extra attention — people asking to snap photos or for autographs, and a constant stream of fans tweeting their admiration.

But Winnipeg? "That's the craziest it's ever been," said Koy. "I was just walking around. I couldn't move. Every step I went it was just picture, picture, picture, picture."

'It just kind of exploded'

He sold out a four-show Dec. 13-15 run at Winnipeg's Club Regent Event Centre, setting a record for the venue, and his 2018 Break the Mold tour has barely started.

"We only booked one night. [Now] we're at four sold out," he said.

"I made an attendance record! That's so cool, right? It's overwhelming 'cause this is, like, 28 years I've been doing and it's so cool to see that transition," which he attributes largely to his 2017 comedy special Jo Koy: Live From Seattle, which is now streaming on Netflix.

"After that [Netflix] special, it just kind of exploded in my face."

But Koy's especially warm reception in the midst of a frigid Prairie winter (he saw polar bears for the first time at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Zoo) isn't a complete surprise for anyone who's been watching his rise to success.

His best-known material centres on growing up with a single mom, "who raised us like she was still in the Philippines," and he's quick to point out about Winnipeg has the largest per capita population of Filipino people in Canada. "Someone should run for office!" he said.

Still, Koy said, "We did not expect this, I swear."

Drained bank account to produce special

But selling out shows is the new normal for Koy, who just had to add another show in Vancouver.

Just a couple years ago, Koy had drained his bank account to produce his own comedy special.

Comedy Central had offered him one, but Koy was holding out for Netflix.

When that deal didn't materialize, Comedy Central's offer was off the table, and Koy had an hour of material he couldn't sit on.

"The hour that I had, I had to get it out ASAP. I couldn't wait another year," he said. "I shot it myself. I had a bank account that had a lot of money in it from saving for a long time and I drained it. I drained every single penny."

Koy said he didn't realize how much it would cost or how much work would go into producing it himself, and at the end, he was exhausted.

"I was sad. You're supposed to be happy in that moment, but I remember telling myself, 'If no one picks this up, I'll put it on YouTube.'"

But that didn't happen. Netflix bought Jo Koy: Live From Seattle outright, which took Koy from being broke to selling out shows six months in advance.

"When I went to Hawaii, I was only supposed to do one show in Hawaii and it was selling out in seconds so I ended up doing 13 shows and I sold 25,000 tickets. I couldn't believe what was happening," he said.

"They were talking about it on the news, and I wasn't even there! They were just like, 'This comedian Jo Koy is breaking a record.' I broke Mariah Carey's record!"

Promises return to Winnipeg

It would seem like a lot of pressure to anyone else, but for Koy, it's proof that nearly 30 years of hard work were worth it.

"This is my love, this is my passion. For 28 years doing this, one thing I always prided myself on was always having new content," he said.

"Even though there's 1,300 people in there, all I can think about are the people that are repeats, and I feel like I'm entertaining them, like I have to prove to them I have more material."

Koy has two final Winnipeg shows Friday night, but he said he will absolutely be back.

"I won't even brag about the four nights I sold out. I'm going to brag about the Wednesday night I sold out. These people had to work the next day, and I kept them here."

If you didn't get tickets to his four-day run in Winnipeg, he'll be in Vancouver next. His special is streaming on Netflix and his podcast The Koy Pond is available through PodcastOne.

Jo Koy's Break the Mold tour brings him to Vancouver after four sold-out shows in Winnipeg. (Robyn Van Swank)