We've been watching Jo Koy’s successful comedy specials for years, but the comedian is finally releasing his highly anticipated feature film Easter Sunday (in theatres August 5), touted as a love letter to his Filipino-American community.
Koy plays actor Joe Valencia who, after really only having one notable beer commercial under his belt, gets the opportunity to test for a pilot for a TV series. Just as he’s trying to navigating this possible new job, while co-parenting his son Junior (Brandon Wardell) with his ex-wife, played by Carly Pope, Joe’s mom Susan (Lydia Gaston) calls him, and his son, back home to Daly City in Northern California to celebrate Easter Sunday with his family.
Joe returns to his mother’s home to a feud between his mom and his aunt Theresa (Tia Carrere). Joe also finds out his cousin Eugene (Eugene Cordero) used the money Joe invested into his taco truck to start what he now calls a “hype truck." The scheme finds him involved with replica luxury-goods reseller Dev Deluxe (Asif Ali), who Eugene now owes $40,000 to, and he needs to pay up quick.
'It's ignorant, it's lazy now, we don't want to hear that anymore'
Jo Koy has been an open critic of stories about Asian families being deemed “too specific” to be worthy of investment, but the comic is pushing back on that “lazy” and "ignorant" argument.
Even if this movie never got made, I was going to always go up on stage and tell my story, and the proof was in the pudding. I'm selling out arenas, which means people want to hear those stories, and it's not Filipinos that are coming to these arenas, you can't fill up an arena, twice, with just Filipinos, every single ethnicity is in that room and they want to hear that story, because they relate to that story.Jo Koy, comedian
“They’re in love with that mom character that I do on stage because it reminds them of their mom and then that's why that old saying of ‘Oh, it's too specific, they're not going to get it,’ it's ignorant, it's lazy now, we don't want to hear that anymore.”
'They kicked the doors down for us'
When it came to casting Easter Sunday, it was certainly going to be representative of Filipino Americans and Asian Americans, but there were some people that Jo Koy knew he wanted in the film from the beginning.
“Tia Carrere kicked the door open for us, especially for a Filipino kid that had no identity,” Koy said. “I wanted to be in Hollywood but what was motivating me? I wasn't seeing me anywhere on TV, nowhere on the big screen, and when I saw Tia come out on the big screen, even though she was doing an accent, just a general accent, I knew, by the way she looked, she looked like one of my cousins, and I was like, that's a Filipino.
“I waited until the end credits to see Tia Carrere and I was like, 'I can be an actor because of her.’”
Koy identified that he felt similarly about having Lou Diamond Phillips in Easter Sunday.
“I knew it, right when I saw his last name, Lou Diamond Phillips, I was like, he's got to be half Filipino like me, and I was right,” Koy said.
“They kicked the doors down for us when Hollywood was really, really hard to get into.”
Fans of Koy’s standup will know that his impersonation of his mother is one of the comedian’s most iconic moments, so when it came to casting for his mother in Easter Sunday, Koy knew there was an expectation there.
“The one conversation I had with [Lydia Gaston] when we casted her was how important my mom's character is and how my fans are in love with this character, and if we do anything different than what they've seen on stage, they're not going to be happy,” Koy said. “But I also told Lydia, I still want you to bring you to it whatever you feel in your heart,... but let's try and get this close to home, as much as possible, and she did that and then some.”
“She's the spine of this movie, she carried this movie so well.”
For Koy, Easter Sunday is an example of how all family stories are relatable, and we need to continue to make more movies and TV shows that showcase cultures that have historically been underrepresented in film and TV.
“People are going to watch it and they're going to fall in love with this family, because it's going to remind them of their family,” Koy said. “On top of that, you will learn about someone else's culture.”
“We need to make more movies like this, of other people's cultures, and then we're all going to realize that family is funny and family is relatable, no matter who you are.”