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Comedian Jo Koy on his movie debut with ‘Easter Sunday’ and what’s next for him

A cast of funny — and perpetually-singing — Filipinos and a heart-warming story is what ‘Easter Sunday’ is all about

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A still from “Easter Sunday” starring comedian Jo Koy.

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“Easter Sunday” has a PG-13 rating.

Comedian Jo Koy’s debut film “Easter Sunday,” coming to theaters Aug. 5, is something he’s incredibly proud of — for more than one reason.

His stand-up comedy shows, which sell out arenas, spotlight his personal stories of his family and Filipino culture. It wasn’t until Steven Spielberg got involved that Koy finally got a chance to tell these stories on the big screen, and he’s bringing his funny friends with him.

The all-star comedic cast includes Jimmy O. Yang (“Silicon Valley”), Tia Carrere (“True Lies”), Brandon Wardell (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Eva Noblezada (Broadway’s “Hadestown”), Lydia Gaston (Broadway’s “The King and I”), Asif Ali (“WandaVision”), Rodney To (“Parks and Recreation”), Eugene Cordero (“The Good Place”), Jay Chandrasekhar (“I Love You, Man”), Tiffany Haddish (“Girls Trip”) and Lou Diamond Phillips (“Courage Under Fire”).

The story follows Joe Valencia (Koy) who returns home for Easter to his loving, but a little erratic, family. Over the course of the movie, they bicker, eat, drink, laugh and untangle the drama in the household.

Steven Spielberg is a Jo Koy fan?

Koy confesses that every time he tells the story, it sounds like a fairytale. After Spielberg saw the comedian in the 2019 comedy special “Comin’ in Hot” (which is rated TV-MA), Amblin Partners — the “Jurassic Park” director’s production company — got in touch with him.

“I thought it was a general meeting. We walk in and every other person’s like ‘Steven’s a fan!’ I’m like, ‘Are we talking about Steven from accounting? Who are we talking about?’” he told the Deseret News. “The next thing you know, they’re like, ‘It’s Steven Spielberg. He’s a huge fan. Do you have any movie ideas?’”

That’s what birthed “Easter Sunday.” As soon as the story was pitched, the studio bought it. Then came hiring writers, buying the script, searching for a director, scouting locations and, finally, shooting the movie.

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A still from “Easter Sunday” featuring (from left) Tito Manny (Joey Guila), Regina (Elena Juatco), Eugene (Eugene Cordero), Joe Valencia (Jo Koy), Tita Teresa (Tia Carrere), Tita Yvonne (Melody Butiu) and Susan (Lydia Gaston), directed by Jay Chandrasekhar.

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“All the characters are loosely based on my life story and what I do on stage. ‘Easter Sunday’ came up because I’m a big fan of Easter and so was my family,” said Koy about the root of the idea.

Not only is this an all-Asian cast in a film produced by a major studio, but it’s also Koy’s first big movie, after shooting two specials for Comedy Central and four for Netflix (some of which are rated TV-MA). Carrere and Gaston, who play Koy’s aunt and mother in the film, coached the comedian and guided him through the process.

“It was such a blessing because they were so open and willing to help me,” he said.

‘She knocked it out of the park,’ says Koy about Gaston playing his mother

The comedian already knew he wanted Carrere attached to the project, but “Lydia (Gaston) just fell in our hands” after she crushed the audition, he said, calling Gaston “the spine of this movie.”

Those familiar with Koy’s stand-up routine know about his most exciting character — his mother.

“The character on stage is literally spot on. I embellish a little bit, but I’m giving my honest interpretation of my mom, and literally not holding back no matter what the topic is, and I think that’s why (people) fall in love with that character so much,” he said.

According to Koy, Gaston took on the role and gave it her own spin, while also staying true to who Koy’s mother is by mimicking sounds and cadence.

“She knocked it out of the park,” said Koy. At times, Gaston played the part of his mother so well that it made the experience feel surreal for the new actor.

“There were a couple of scenes where I was like, ‘Whoa, this is too close to home right now,’” he confessed, referencing emotion-heavy and confrontational scenes with Gaston.

A cast full of jokesters

Joey Guila, who plays the role of Tito Manny, is Koy’s best friend.

“He opens for me all over the place. I’ve known him since the day I came to LA to be a comic,” he said.

Meanwhile, Eugene Cordero, who plays Joe’s cousin, is another actor on set of whom Koy speaks fondly. “What a phenomenal talent he is,” he said, adding, that Cordero is “another angel” for him.

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A still from “easter Sunday” featuring (from left) Susan (Lydia Gaston) and Joe Valencia (Jo Koy) in Easter Sunday, directed by Jay Chandrasekhar.

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“I had so many scenes with (Cordero). I would just look at him like, ‘Come on, Eugene. Tell me what I gotta do, man. How do we hit this scene?’ It was fun to just play back and forth with him,” said Koy with a wide smile.

As for the scene stealer, it was Rodney To, playing Tito Arthur. If he was on the call sheet, Koy said that he and the crew knew it was going to be To’s moment.

“I love being able to just sit back and just be the straight man in it. Just let everyone dance around me,” he said. “And that was awesome.”

To Koy, Filipinos are just funny people and “love the joke no matter what.” But apart from the one-liners, he said there was also lot of singing on set.

Even the crew admitted that melodies in between filming scenes was a first — the cast would sing anything from Kenny Rogers to Whitney Houston, said Koy.

“We’re getting music videos in between takes because they couldn’t stop singing. It was so much fun,” he said.

What’s next for comedian Jo Koy?

After filming tons of comedy specials, Koy has moved on to bigger things, like this movie. What does he want to do now that the movie’s done?

“More movies, more movies, more movies,” he said. “We’re gonna keep that door open. I’m not gonna let the door close. I’m gonna hold that door open. And just keep letting you know, people with voices walk through that don’t get a chance to be heard — not just Filipinos, but just everyone.”

“On top of that, I want to produce. I want to direct and work on the creative side as well,” Koy said. “So that’s what’s gonna happen.”