It is homecoming full of meaning for Michael Yo. The entertainment journalist turned comedian is returning to his Houston stomping grounds for a night at the House of Blues to perform, what he reveals to be, his biggest night of comedy yet.
“I’m so excited for the show,” Yo says. “And I am overwhelmed by the love and support. To play the House of Blues, for me, that’s my biggest venue so far. I’m doing it right now where I was born and raised, it’s incredible. It's not lost upon me how big this moment is.”
Yo, reveling in the H-Town love with this return, is quick to prove his clutch city bonafides. “Southside, Houston TX,” he play shouts at the mere mention of Houston. “Burnett Elementary! Thompson Intermediate! Dobie High School! For people in your hometown, they’re so excited for you. All my friends from high school are reaching out, people I’ve known in my lifetime are coming out. I am flying in today, because I’m shooting the first shot at the Rockets... and they’re gonna promote the show. It’s just awesome.”
While stand-up has become the mission for the 49-year-old performer, he admits that he played the field in the entertainment business before picking the microphone. “I was so old [starting stand-up],” he says. “Because I moved to LA and I was doing entertainment news, and I would interview people. I worked for E! and Extra, and other outlets. Then I was on Chelsea Lately in 2007 for like the whole time. Then I started stand-up like three years into that show. I’m on my thirteenth year now, I started at 36.
“What it did for me was I was talking about stuff right away,” the comic continues. “I had grown adult subject matter right away. I had life experience, I was single but just got engaged and was talking about that on stage. I have talked to a lot of comics because I didn’t go through – because what I did miss out on was the open mics, coming up with other comics and the grinding of that. I went the opposite route. What it comes down to is you have to be funny and keep getting better and better. That’s the angle I came with, you know?”
While his time on CBS’ The Insider and The Talk brought him into homes across America, Yo credits stand-up with giving him a true fan base. “It gives you your own crowd and no one can tell you what to do. And the cream rises to the top, and if you work hard at stand up, you can make it a career and sell tickets like I’m doing right now. It was the best decision I ever made, because I was in a job I didn’t like for three years, and I would interview celebrities where they’d tell me their dreams. And no offence, but that wasn’t my dream. My dream is to do stand-up, to act, to do the things I love. You fall in a rut, you know, and finally, I left that behind. I told my wife, you gotta support me in this. We gotta be on the same page for me to make this move to stand-up. And she was 100 percent down.”
The decision turned out to be a wise one, as Yo found success on the stage quickly and even recorded his debut special Blasian with Comedy Dynamics back in 2018. It appears the pivot from speaking with celebs about their ambitions to turning the camera onto himself was a natural one. Yo credits his confidence onstage to his years working on the air.
“I was always a radio DJ,” he reminds. “I worked for 97.7 The Box, and 104 KRB when I was super young. That’s where I got my start. And I’ve always been really good at talking about my life and bringing my parents into it. Mama Yo was always on the radio. I would have her just talking about Hot Topic. So radio for me prepared me for stand-up. And when you look at late night talks shows, back in the day: David Letterman, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Kimmel, Carson Daly – everyone came from radio.
"I think radio gives you an edge because you have to paint pictures with words. Then once they can see you, it is a lot easier. But it takes a talent to have people captivated by something when they can’t see you. I was used to talking to myself in a little box called a radio station with nobody in there. Once you are on stage, you get to interact with people. You get to weave your stories and see their reactions in real time.”
Little did Yo know when he was toiling away on radio, that a burgeoning new business model would be in the works that would change the comedy world: the podcast. “Let me tell you something,” Yo says with a big laugh. “12 years ago before podcasting blew up, I was working at E! and I had a radio studio next to Ryan Seacrest. And Chris Hardwick, he worked for G4 and he worked there everyday.
"This was probably one of the biggest mistakes of my career. But he calls me in and asks if he can borrow my studio. I say, ‘sure, no problem!’ And I go in there while he’s working to ask what he’s doing. He say, ‘I’m doing a podcast – you should really start one, because I think they are going to be big.’ Then my cocky self goes ‘why would I want to do that? I’m on REAL radio!’ I didn’t say that to him, that was just in my head. Now look! 12 years ago I could have started, and he went on to sell his for 10-15 million, the network. I think, man, that was the one time my ego get in the way of a good thing.”
That said, Yo was quick to check his podcasting pride and even launch a short run show with fellow future headliner Jo Koy. “Me and Jo Koy, there’s 23 episodes out there. We did a podcast together like 11 years ago. We were just doing it for fun. But that thing has so many plays, from what I understand it was like up 200,000 plays a week. We were just doing it for fun. But the company we did it for, ‘cause we were doing it for no money. but apparently they were making some good money on it. But it's hilarious, it's called The Yo and Jo Show. Man, that was so funny – I haven’t listened to one in a while but it was before Jo blew up and became one of thing biggest comics in the world. He started me in comedy. To see where podcasts have come with Rogan and all that. It’s sick.”
Speaking of Joe Rogan, the controversial comic (and occasional conspiracy lover), who has welcomed Yo into the studio at least three times... on this front, Yo has nothing but kind words. “Let me tell ya, Austin is Joe-stin,” Yo says, referencing Rogan’s high profile move to the Texas Capitol. “But you know what I love? He’s given so many opportunities. Because the thing about comics, is its hard coming up. You make no money, and Joe is giving these comics that work there – they can actually do OK. You can live OK in Austin and not struggle going up in his clubs.
"He’s so big he doesn’t have to do this. He opened that place not for him, but to help other people. I haven’t been there yet, but every time I talk to someone who has, they are absolutely in love with it and him. Because as a comedian in other places, you get screwed when you are just coming up. You get no money. He’s paying people decently and I hear comics are not struggling in Austin, TX. That is a great thing. He’s always been about giving back.”
“Here’s the great thing about Rogan. Somehow, and he won’t say he did this on purpose, but he is always ahead of the curve. He was finding these fights for free when nobody was there – just because he loved it so much. That’s is thing, do what you love and eventually it will catch on. Like he’s been podcasting for 13-14 years before it was even, and now its blown up. When nobody was listening to podcasts. Do what you love, and for me, I love comedy. The first time I got off stage, I called my mom just to tell her this was what I was born to do.”
Part of the appeal of the club of stand-up is more often than not, comics watch out for other comics. “You have to,” he agrees. “It’s a very small group and everyone knows everyone. And everyone is chasing success. You’re all going after the same things, and problems can arise that way, but if there is something that happens to a comic – everyone rallies.”
Speaking of which: Michael Yo has a defense to offer for his friend Jo Koy’s rough reception as host of this year’s Golden Globe Awards. “I didn’t watch [the Golden Globes] but I did see clips,” he clarifies, “because I know when my friends do a live show, I don’t watch because I do a lot of live television and it is a lot different than doing a set. You know what I mean? It just is.
"But I saw the joke everyone made a big deal about and thought ‘this is ridiculous.’ But I have interviewed this crowd, I have been in the industry over there and I’ve been on the media side where you are creating stories. Your job when you are working in entertainment news is to create stories out of nothing, and blow them up. So when I saw that clip, and I saw Taylor Swift’s look – I guarantee you if you ask her if she was joking with that look, she’d say she was playing along. It wasn’t even a joke! It is more of an observation. For the types of media I used to work for and other organizations to take that clip and throw it around like he really degraded her? Come on, seriously, stop it.”
“On the other hand,” he continues, “I agree about how many times are we gonna hear a joke about Taylor Swift. I get that. How many times are women thinking, every time we go to an award show we’re gonna be made fun of? I get that, totally understand that. But if you look at the joke in itself, it’s nothing.
While Koy might have been unfairly criticized for the material, Yo seems confident that comedians will always have a role to play when it comes to toasting the town. “When Hollywood says they don’t want it, they really do,” he explains. “When Ricky Gervais or Chris Rock do these, they rate through the roof. You know why it works? This is me traveling the country, but its because Middle America loves to see comedians crap on celebrities. The 1%-ers, or whatever. That’s why it rates. It was blown way out of proportion.
Yo’s performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. on February 3 at 1204 Caroline. For information, call 888-402-5837 or visit houseofblues.com/houston. $60-273.