Joey Diaz: Stand-Up Revolution
Comedian Gabriel Iglesias (I’m Not Fat…I’m Fluffy, and Hot & Fluffy) was given his own TV show on Comedy Central. On this show, Iglesias invites his comedian friends to join him onstage at Phoenix, Arizona’s new Stand-Up Live comedy club. Among his friends is Joey “CoCo” Diaz, a Cuban American comedian known for being outspoken and his eccentric antics. From growing up in North Bergen, New Jersy to the food in Houston, Texas Diaz spoke to me about what inspires him as a comedian.
AG: Hi, thank you so much for speaking with me today! How are you?
JD: You know me, it’s a Thursday afternoon in LA, I’m just thinkin’ about what I’m going to get for lunch. I wish I was in Houston, though, over at Chuy’s or somethin’ tearin’ it up!
AG: Oh yeah, we’ve got some good Mexican food restaurants over here, they’re always picking up taqueria for lunch over here at the office.
JD: There’s this one place, every time I go to Houston, I go to West Gray over by Montrose, in that area, and they’ve got a couple off that street there, it’s tremendous. My best was Chuy’s, to get the Elvis Chicken, Chili Chicken Enchiladas on Mondays, sour cream, who you think you’re dealin’ with, Joey Bananas?
AG: That sounds delicious! Now I want that for lunch.
JD: Oh please, I wish I was in Houston. They’ve got great food. Y’know, more people go out to dinner in Houston than anywhere else in the country, a lot of people don’t know that. Did you know that?
AG: Wow, I did not know that.
JD: ‘Cause you’ve got tremendous food! You got Cuban food, Puerto Rican food, you got 19 different styles of Mexican food, ‘cause if you don’t wanna go there, you can always go to Berry Hill and catch a tamale or a margarita, y’know what I’m sayin’?
AG: Yeah, or Ninfa’s for those margs.
JD: Oh my god, Ninfa’s too! Look at you bringing up some stuff to really kill me.
AG: I’m sorry about that!
JD: For four hours with a gun, y’know what I’m sayin’?
AG: (laughs) Okay, well I guess I’ll get to Stand-Up Revolution. Can you tell me a little bit about it, how you got involved with it? I know Gabriel Iglesias said everyone on the show is a really good friend of his, so can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with Gabriel, what it’s like to work on the show with him?
JD: When I first moved to LA I met Gabriel, he was a young kid. I was 38 or somethin’, he was a kid, y’know? We always laugh, we always giggle when we see each other, and he went his way, but I always kept friends with him. He’d always call me to fill some voids, some dates with him, and one day, I found out about this show. He called me up, and he goes, “Listen, you’re gonna go on there, and I don’t know what’s gonna happen, whether they’re gonna put you on a DVD or whatever, but you’re gonna make a little money and I get to talk to you for a few days.” You know what, that’s exactly what he did. In the business, I get a call a week, some guy telling me they’re gonna put me in a movie, but when someone comes through, it really means something to you. I’ve seen what he did for his friends. He put a lot of guys on there, he gave a lot of guys hope for another three or four years, which a lot of people don’t do in this business, y’know? They just put their friends on depending on their situation. He looked around, said, “Who really needs this, who’s gonna be working hard for 10 years,” so I respect the kid. When I found out the ratings were really good, I was happy, because it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, y’know.
AG: I know something else on the show that’s a little different is that he has a band: Ozomatli. He says he wanted the show to have some more energy, so what was it like working with the band there?
JD: They were a great bunch of guys. I had heard their music before, but never seen them perform live, so to be there two or three days with them was great. Even though you hear that music (sings the riff for the opening sequence of the show), you heard that for a month in your dreams after that, you understand me? But, just to see what they’re doing as musicians, and to see what you’re doing as a comic, and to see what the other guys are doing…I know Noe Gonzalez, I know Larry Omaha, and Martin Moreno, he’s like a brother, I know these guys. I’ve been watching these guys do comedy since day one, so to see them involved, to see me involved…y’know I wore a suit on the show out of respect for Gabriel. I wanted to give him 100 percent of what I had. I don’t wear suits ‘cause they’re bad luck. We wear them for funerals, weddings, and court. You don’t wear a suit for nothin’ good. I bought a suit and wore it, and I was on my best behavior. I wanted to give this kid the respect that he deserved, y’know. He really went out of his way for his friends on this gig. He could care less about television or whatever. He has his niche on the road, he’s a phenomenal guy to go see. He’s got a very family-friendly act. You can bring your grandmother, you giggle, you laugh, people bring chocolate cakes. The ratings are great, so he transformed all that onto television. People get the same thing when they get the DVD.
AG: Going a little bit broader, what is it in life that made you want to go into comedy? Is there any comedian in particular that inspired or continues to inspire you? Was there any personal experience that made you want to go this route?
JD: I’ve got a couple of them, but the first one being, y’know, I was just telling someone in the interview before this, I come from Cuba. You hear all this negative talk about Cuba, communism, freedom of speech, and then you come here, and you have aspirations of being a lawyer or a doctor…and then you see Richard Pryor on stage. He’s talkin’ about fuckin’ and doin’ drugs and suckin’ and black people, and this and that, and you’re blown the hell away, sorry about the language. You’re blown away, because in my mind, he was supposed to act a different way. He’s not a guy onstage but a black guy onstage, talkin’ about doin’ coke and lightin’ himself on fire. I used to put the album on, Nigga’s Crazy, that’s the name of the album, so please don’t get mad at me. I had to put on The Beatles or Earth, Wind and Fire over that, because if my mother came into the room, I was too young to listen to that type of language. When you’re eight and you’re listening to “motherfucker this and that,” I mean, to me it meant something completely different. It meant freedom! Like, oh my god, this is it, this is it! My mother had a bar growing up, and I looked at her like, she did what she wanted in the daytime, she worked hard at night to have a certain lifestyle in the daytime, so I wanted to find jobs that matched my lifestyle. I like being by myself at home in the daytime like my mother used to like to be. So stand-up comedy, everything pointed in that direction. I went to college and I realized, “Do I really want to do this shit for the rest of my life? Do I really want to be in New York on a train every day, back and forth with a little brown bag?” I said, “Y’know what, if I’m gonna live my life, I’m gonna live it well.” So I took a chance.
AG: Sounds like it was a good chance!
JD: Y’know what, I’m married now, I have a daughter, she’s 20, got a couple cats, and I live my life by my terms. I’ve got insurance, y’know?
AG: Yeah, definitely.
JD: Every once in a while I pop in a movie, and I’ve got stand-up, so I’ve worked hard in more ways than one. And him puttin’ me on the DVD, on TV, forget about it, y’know, adding to the..mystique that is my flavor.
AG: So you’ve done stand-up, you’ve done TV, you’ve done movies, you work a lot with Joe Rogen on the Joe Rogen Experience podcast, so is there any form of entertaining you prefer over the others? Are there any big differences?
JD: At this point, I like doing the acting for my insurance, ‘cause I go and get acupuncture and stuff, but man, there’s nothin’ really like stand-up comedy. When I go onstage now, because of the whole Twitter and Facebook explosion, you get to talk to people at shows that you mess around with on Twitter, you put a face on the Facebook, and it’s really become a different game. To be honest with you, I’m really enjoying it now. I really enjoy being at home with my wife and going to the farmer’s market on Saturday, and all that stuff, I’m trying to make it work around here, trying to write a book, trying to write a one-man show, y’know, so I’m local. I do a podcast every week, Beauty and Da Beast with Felicia Michaels. It’s me and a really pretty girl, and I give my animalistic views on life and she gives her nice American views on life, so we meet halfway. I’m havin’ fun.
AG: Being a Cuban American and a comedian…being a Hispanic myself, I know how much we all like to tell stories and make people laugh, so are there any specific life experiences you usually draw upon in your acts, any stories in particular?
JD: Growing up, I was basically a dirty convict, I had no direction. I would talk to people after shows, friends of mine, we’d smoke pot, tell stories of being in Cuba, growing up in an Italian neighborhood, family, stuff about my stepfather, so for the last year and a half I’ve been more geared towards family. It’s still buck-wild, so if you’re a Christian, stay home. Like, on this episode, I talk about beating up a nun in fifth grade. I went to Catholic school, and they would beat the hell out of you in Jersey. One day, I couldn’t take it, and I just tackled her. Y’know, I was ashamed to say that story for years. Then, one night I’m sittin’ there going, “How funny was that story?” Are you kiddin’ me, I was in the fifth grade! One day, my mother said don’t let anyone punch you in the face. Three months later, this nun is knockin’ me out, and I tackled her, and they threw me out of the school, my mom came, she had to put them together to keep me there, it was classic! Why don’t I talk about this? So yeah, I talk about that, I talk about my dad. My dad was Cuban but he was Abakua, which is a religion in Cuba, a manhood thing. They’re just crazy…they’re just crazy! They were the Cubans that came over in ’79 that people were scared of, with that thing on their heads. They’re nothing different than the people in Iran. These people are religious knuckleheads, but my stepfather was one of them. I loved him dearly, because he raised since the time I was 5, but they’re crazy. When Michael Vick got convicted, he wasn’t allowed at a lot of prisons in the country, because Abakuas were there. They dedicate their life to St. Lazarus, y’know that saint with the two dogs licking him ‘cause he has leprosy?
AG: Oh okay.
JD: You see that? Well they all dedicate their lives to him. When I was a kid, some guy was hittin’ his dog in front of my stepdad. My stepdad got out of the car and beat this guy for 20 minutes. I will never forget that. When you’re six and your dad’s smackin’ some dude around, it’s kind of cool in a way, but you think about it now…and I grew up in a real Cuban house. My mom busted my dad’s head one day with a saint, one of those ceramic saints, that’s how Catholic she was. And I’m real Cuban, so I was raised with Santeria, too. Not only was I Catholic, I had to deal with Santeria in the house. Going to Catholic school, my mother stole the bell from the church, y’know the one they ring to bring you in? My mother stole the bell, because she thought that if she took it to the Met games, it might bring them good luck during the playoffs. When the Mets lost, she called me over and said, “Take this effing bell back to that church. Never bring that bell back into this house again.” I had to take the bell back when my mother was the one that shoplifted the bell out of there. So this is the stuff you gotta talk about onstage.
AG: For someone who’s made a life and a living out of being funny, you’ve dealt with some really dark and heavy stuff personally. How has that helped you or held you back or inspired you as a comic?
JD: That’s a great question…because it inspires me. I wrote a blog a couple months ago about 1985…’84 actually, when I was jacked up on drugs. I was walking around North Bergen, and it was wintertime. I had no money, and I was gonna break into a friend’s house to sleep. His parents lived upstairs, and they had a basement. They never really went into the basement, I knew this. I was gonna break into their house, and they had a dog, which I never thought about. I broke into the house and went downstairs, and there was a mattress in the basement. I remember pulling it down and laying on that mattress, and at one point, I’m just sleeping with my shirt on, it was a mattress they had all pissed on over the years, the kids, and I’m laying there and I open my eyes. I had turned over to the other side, and the dog had gone to the bathroom there. It was petrified, just a little dead piece of poop. I remember that, because I swore to God that when I woke up I was gonna walk to the George Washington Bridge and kill myself. Like, “Today, this is it, I’m sleeping next to a piece of dog poop. When I wake up, I’m just gonna walk to the bridge and jump off.” I think of that every day, I think of how lucky I am, y’know. That’s the stuff that fuels me. My mom died when I was a young kid, so I didn’t have family. My family was in Miami and California, and I didn’t wanna move there. I was 15, and all these Italians took me in. I still talk to those people every day. I talk to either or, or all of them. That’s what I love about life, I never forgot that, y’know. It inspires the hell outta me every day, that I woke up next to a piece of dog poop one time, like three inches from my face.
AG: Speaking of growing up in North Bergen, I understand you’re working on a documentary chronicling North Bergen and your life there. What’s the progress on that, what can we expect from that?
JD: We downloaded it, but it was really missing something. I was missing a teacher that had really helped me in ’85 after I got out of high school. This is how life works itself out. I was contemplating going down there, I was missing a couple interviews, and Ralphie May got sick last week. He ended up in the hospital, real good comedian, won Last Comic Standing. He called me, and he’s like, “Hey man, I’m here in Sarasota where that teacher lives,” so it just so happens I gotta get a plane ticket down to Sarasota to interview Ralphie for my documentary and this teacher, he was my high school teacher, football coach; we became tight. But all together, I interviewed people that, when my parents died and I was a criminal, they stuck together around me no matter what. It’s about a town that I still talk to. Like I said, I talk to those people every day. Every day in one way or another, I’m communicating with them. I never forgot. So with that, hopefully we’ll release it in December on like iTunes or something, or on my webpage, gonna start my YouTube show again around January. In the meantime, I always have the Beauty and Da Beast podcast, always got somethin’ goin’ on connecting with the media. That’s the most important thing. Right now, the Internet’s where to be at.
AG: You say you’ve always got something going on, which reminds me, something I was really interested in was your work with ABC Family in The Dog that Saved Christmas, The Dog that Saved Christmas Vacation, and now I understand they’re making The Dog that Saved Halloween. That’s a little tamer, a little different than most of your other stuff. What drew you to these projects?
JD: I fell into them. When I fell into it, I read it, and I knew who it was for, and it meant a lot to me to do that. I have friends that I went to school with that have kids, and if I do anything left in these next couple of years, I would love to be on a show on ABC Family, something like that, something that has a message. When I came from Cuba, the best shows in the world were the ones with a message. I loved Family Affair, I loved all those shows. They ended with a message all the time, it wasn’t just “hahaha.” If anything, I would love to do five years on a kids’ show, something with a message. I would love to do something where kids would learn about life the hard way, so when I had the chance to do those movies, I said, “Y’know what, this is good because no matter what the kids have heard about me, at least they see me on ABC Family.” Even though I play a burglar, y’know what I’m saying? Keep it real. That’s why I do those, to be honest with you.
AG: Very cool. So what’s next for Joey Diaz? What can we expect from you in the next year?
JD: We’ve got a documentary, like we said, and it’s really gonna be like a one-man show and a documentary put together on film. That’s the other part of it. I’m gonna shoot a movie, like a Jersey Shore movie filming at the end of the month. I play one of the guys that’s on the beach, not the good-looking guys, like I sell something, but I don’t know, I haven’t gotten the script yet. They just hired me for two days. That’s it right now. I’m gonna work on a shoot, like a CD, pretty soon, so people can download that if they wanna listen to it in the car, tryin’ to work on that for maybe December 6th, and that’s it, y’know? Just wanna stay healthy and keep doin’ whatever we’re doin’.
AG: Alright, well is there anything else you think the city of Houston should know about you? Anything I didn’t touch on you want to get out there?
JD: I was just down there, it’s one of my top cities ever. People who know me know I love Houston, Texas. This time I shorted them, ‘cause I only went to Pappadeaux, didn’t really do my whole tour. I’ve got a tour! Berry Hill, Pappadeaux, Pappasito’s, couple bars I gotta stop by, couple drug dealers I gotta say hello to, that’s H-Town, y’know what I’m sayin’? I know all that. I just love that town. I love Dallas, but there’s something about Houston that’s always…I just love it. I love the people down there. I ended up goin’ to Slick Wille’s, shootin’ some pool, I just like Houston. I wasn’t down there long enough last time, and they put me downtown, which is shut down now. During the daytime, I like the suburbs, I like all that, y’know, Montrose, that area, all that stuff around there, West Gray and all that. I like all those record stores, and they’re not even there no more. It’s really sad, a lot of stuff has changed. But the food’s still good!
AG: Yup! That’s for sure.
JD: The food is always a constant! One of the best places to get a steak. I tell people all the time! You go to Carraba’s, the one in Houston, it’s off the hook. I mean off the hook!
AG: Well thank you for your time, and now I’m feeling like eating some steak for lunch.
JD: Go to Carraba’s, and you’re in great hands, y’know what I’m sayin’? Even if you go to Pappadeaux and get the shrimp and crab meat salad.
AG: I was just there last week, and it was delicious.
JD: Oh my god, did you get some alligator? Do you like the alligator?
AG: Yes, and I love the crawfish etouffee. I get that every time.
JD: Now let me tell you how lucky you are. I can go get medical marijuana over here, but I can’t get what you’re talkin’ about. I can’t get the food you’re talkin’ about. Always remember that, y’know what I’m sayin’? I’d rather give up one for the other. If I lived in Houston, I’d be 480 in the winter and 450 in the summer, just ‘cause I sweat so much at night, y’know what I’m sayin’? Thank you for your time.
AG: Thank you!