Comedian Jo Koy visits Redwood, surprises Language of Humor students

Sam Warren

On Thursday, Jan. 10, Language of Humor students from the fall semester strolled into the Little Theater during third period expecting little more than a couple hours of lectures, performances and lessons. When students were told that there would be lunch provided for them, a large cheer arose from the crowd. However, after playing a few improv games, that cheer was soon overshadowed by an eruption of excitement.

“I was on stage playing an acting game with my friends and then I heard everyone screaming, and then all of a sudden I saw Jo Koy walking right towards me,” junior Lili Gibson said. “We had been idolizing him for months and then he just appeared here before us. It was super shocking and one of the highlights of high school so far.”

Instead of the comedy workshop that the students had been told they would be participating in, course teachers Kathryn Ghiraldini and Cathy Flores had secretly planned out a question-and-answer session with renowned comedian Jo Koy, famous for appearances on Chelsea Lately, The Tonight Show and his world tours. After Ghiraldini tagged Koy in an Instagram photo of her students watching one of his Netflix specials in class, Koy became intrigued with the program and direct messaged Ghiraldini.

Photo by Charlie Werner
Teachers Kathryn Ghiraldini (left) and Cathy Flores (right) pose with Koy after his performance.

“After I posted a photo of us on my Instagram story, Jo reposted it, which would’ve been enough to make us excited,” Ghiraldini said. “After that, we had a back and forth about our class and he was super excited that there was a humor class being taught in high school, so he said he knew he needed to come see us.”

After communicating for a few weeks, Koy sent Ghiraldini and her students merchandise from his tour, to which Ghiraldini replied with photos of the students wearing the clothes along with a heartfelt letter and some Redwood gear. Koy offered to visit while the students were performing their standup during finals week, but due to the class only meeting once that week, Ghiraldini was unable to set a date and expected the exchange to conclude. Instead, on Jan. 8, Ghiraldini received a message from Koy’s publicist saying that he would be able to visit that Thursday.
“I think I spent the last 48 hours coordinating with principals and publicists and figuring out logistics, all while lying through my teeth to my students,” Ghiraldini said.

Not only did Koy come to surprise the students, he also displayed a generous and grateful attitude towards the program as a whole. Waking up at 5 a.m., Koy paid for a private jet to fly him to Marin, paid for lunch for all the students, offered to send every student hoodies and more merchandise, vowed to give the students tickets to an upcoming show in the Bay Area and finally promised to donate $5,000 to the Language of Humor program, even staying after the session to sign autographs and take pictures with many students.

“For me, the most gratifying thing to be able to do is to give back, especially to a program that I really care about,” Koy said. “It’s so personal to me and I really wished that I had something like this when I was in school.”

After seeing the photos and videos that Ghiraldini sent him, Koy was elated that a comedy course, which he believes should be a widespread option in schools, was being implemented.

“You can’t teach kids just by a set of standards. Every kid is different and has something that they want to do and something like this helps them figure that out. It breaks up the monotony and it breaks up the norm of school and gives kids a creative outlet to go and find their passion,” Koy said.

Photo by Charlie Werner
Koy poses for a selfie with junior Ethan Roma, who was selected by the crowd as the best comic from their performances. Koy offered Roma to open for him at his next Bay Area show.

Along with his question-and-answer session, Koy was excited by the prospect of hearing some of the students’ stand-up material, but when there wasn’t enough time for any students to perform, Koy offered to set up a show at a comedy club for the students to perform in. Junior Ethan Roma was selected by the crowd as the best comic from their performances, resulting in Koy offering Roma to open for him at his next Bay Area show.

“Seeing someone who was raised the same way that I was, made it big and that I’ve idolized in the flesh was a surreal experience and a truly awesome surprise,” Roma, a Filipino-American like Koy, said. “I don’t have the same background as a lot of the celebrities now in Hollywood, but seeing him be famous but still humble enough to do something like this is super awe-inspiring and his message of perseverance really gave me hope and motivation to continue pursuing my passion in the arts. His offer was incredibly generous and something that I’ll really have to consider.”

For students like Roma who are considering the arts as a career, Koy had one piece of advice: persistence and patience are key.

“This career is a long, long, long, long road, but it’s a great journey,” Koy said. “To achieve what you want, you have to stay on that path and not veer off or be deterred by any obstacles in your way. But because of programs like this, these students who are pursuing this passion are 10 steps ahead of the race.”