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When comedian Jo Koy asked Chelsea Handler if he could give her a call around this time last year, she responded the way she has to many men before, “Not if you’re trying to fuck me.”
Koy, who was keenly aware of Handler’s caustic sense of humor, having once been a regular on her E! talk show Chelsea Lately, was hardly deterred. Over the next eight months, he would call her — and in time, she’d call him — as their friendship blossomed into something more. It wasn’t until August, however, that he made a move, and only at Handler’s suggestion.
“She basically asked me to kiss her,” Koy explains, with Handler interjecting: “I said, ‘I think you have a crush on me, and if you do, you should do something about it and see what happens.’ ”
Four months later, Handler and Koy have emerged as comedy’s “It” couple, crisscrossing the country sharing their love story for laughs on their respective tours and Instagram feeds. She, a Grammy nominee for her most recent special (HBO Max’s Evolution), couldn’t imagine it any other way. “I’ve made a career out of being honest about what’s going on with me,” she says, “whether it’s sleeping around or drinking or therapy, and this isn’t any different.”
Still, Handler acknowledges that her increasingly frequent declarations of love — onstage, on her podcast and on her social media — aren’t exactly on-brand. “People hear me talk about how Jo’s renewed my faith in men,” she says, “and they must think, ‘Oh my God, if Chelsea Handler’s in love and all soft and mushy, it could happen to anyone.’ “
Nonetheless, she and Koy, who are Zooming together from Los Angeles on this morning, have been tickled by the public’s response to their relationship. “I think people think it’s cool and maybe inspirational to see someone find love at this age,” says Koy, 50, who, with Handler, 46, shares stories of having fans run up to them wherever they are with variations on, “You give us hope!” or, “I’m so invested in the two of you!” When they pop up at each other’s shows, which is happening more and more, the crowd often goes nuts.
Already, the comics are busy plotting a combined tour (after their current ones wrap) and future specials as a couple. They’ve even discussed creating a production company that looks for ways to help right an industry that hasn’t always been kind to those who aren’t straight, white and male. Handler and Koy both say they love the idea of being able to provide a platform for promising comedians who haven’t yet gotten the attention that they deserve — or, as Handler puts it, “people who remain marginalized no matter what this industry talks about or how egalitarian it professes to be.”
It’s something that Koy, who identifies as Filipino American, knows a thing or two about. The Washington state-reared comic recalls how he had to pay for his first special himself, and, even now, as one of stand-up’s top grossers (pre-pandemic, his Just Kidding tour made him the second-highest-grossing comedian in the world behind only Jerry Seinfeld), he’s had to put in extra work just to ensure his specials get out there.
“It’s just never been easy,” says Koy. Asked if that was changing at all with Handler by his side, she answers instead: “It’s going to,” she says, gently stroking her boyfriend’s arm. “When we compare the work that he’s done and his stand-up career to the work that I’ve done and what we’ve both been paid, there’s a big problem and we plan on doing something about it.”
This story first appeared in the Dec. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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