OPINION: On Jo Koy and gatekeeping Filipino identity 2
Golden Globes host Jo Koy arrives for the 81st annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Allison Dinner, EPA-EFE

OPINION: On Jo Koy and gatekeeping Filipino identity

The assertion that Jo Koy selectively embraces his Filipino heritage for financial gain prompts questions about the parameters defining Filipino identity.
Ralph Revelar Sarza | Jan 09 2024

In the world of comedy, even seasoned comedians find themselves grappling with challenging audiences where every punchline doesn't necessarily land. Such was the case for Filipino-American stand-up comedian Jo Koy, who assumed the role of last-minute host for the 81st Golden Globe Awards. Pressed for time, the outcome fell short of expectations, particularly during his monologue.

Critics and viewers quickly voiced their disappointment, and Jo Koy himself acknowledged the rushed nature of his preparation. He attributed some of the criticism to his joke writers, shedding light on the challenging circumstances he faced between signing the contract and stepping onto the prestigious stage.

Following Jo Koy's performance, a disconcerting sentiment surfaced within certain segments of the Filipino community, notably on X (formerly Twitter). A comment there revealed a regrettable trend of gatekeeping Filipino identity, questioning Jo Koy's authenticity and qualification as a “part of our community.”

The assertion that Jo Koy — who is frequently recognized and often subject to criticism for his comedic portrayals of Filipino stereotypes — selectively embraces his Filipino heritage for financial gain prompts questions about the parameters defining Filipino identity. Swift disownment based on assumptions about his connection to his Filipino roots is disheartening. It reflects a tendency to judge cultural authenticity based on experiences, choices, and a single performance that fell short of expectations.

The overarching issue here is gatekeeping — an attempt to define and control who can claim a particular identity. Gatekeeping “Filipino-ness,” or any identity, is counterproductive and divisive. People should be allowed to identify with the aspects of their heritage that resonate with them, irrespective of preconceived notions.

While Jo Koy's attribution of his Golden Globes monologue shortcomings to his writers was unfortunate, the crux of the matter lies in the reception of his jokes rather than his race or citizenship. Questioning Jo Koy's belonging to the Filipino community based on a single performance is an overreaction, as everyone, regardless of cultural background, is entitled to have a challenging day at work or an off night on stage.

The bewildering sentiment expressed in comments like, "That so-called comedian was born and brought up in the US, only embracing his Filipino heritage when it benefits him financially," underscores the need to challenge such notions. The argument that he was "never truly part of our community" raises the question: why impose such rigid boundaries on identity? Why deny an individual the freedom to embrace and express different facets of their background, especially when those facets are shaped by genuine connections and experiences?

Instead of addressing the specific issues related to Jo Koy's performance, they pivot towards questioning his Filipino identity. This maneuver acts as a distraction from the primary matter at hand — the quality of the Golden Globes monologue. By fixating on his heritage, critics inadvertently shift the focus away from the nuances of comedic timing, writing, and delivery, obscuring the real discussion about the performance's merits and demerits.

If the argument is that he is not genuinely Filipino, then the scrutiny of his Filipino background becomes irrelevant to the critique of his comedic abilities.

Moreover, the emphasis on Jo Koy's Filipino heritage, even in the midst of disapproval, reinforces the notion that cultural identity is, in fact, a significant factor for consideration. By highlighting his being Filipino, critics inadvertently acknowledge the relevance and importance of his connection to the Filipino community. This contradiction acknowledges that his identity, at least in part, is intertwined with his Filipino heritage, and it challenges the very premise of disownment.

The focus must return to the core matter — evaluating Jo Koy's performance on its own merits. Dissecting the intricacies of the jokes, delivery, and overall stage presence allows for a more constructive discussion about the art of comedy without being sidetracked by a tangential and inconsistent critique of his cultural identity.

Finally, why do we champion Filipino pride in moments of success but distance ourselves in times of criticism?

Ralph Revelar Sarza is a metadata development specialist at The Big Dipper Digital Content and Design, Inc., an ABS-CBN company. He is @walphs on X and Facebook.