The Rise and Success of Comedian Henry Cho
Jul 20, 2017 04:00PM ● Published by Arden Haley
Who would’ve thought that a college student studying neuroscience would drop out of school to become a comedian? Henry Cho certainly didn’t, but he did it himself, and that switch of paths ended up being one of the greatest decisions he’s ever made.
His standup shows were hits and his success took off rather quickly. Before Cho knew it, he was performing on The Tonight Show, Young Comedian’s Special, and The Late, Late, Show. For two years, Cho was the host of NBC’s Friday Night Videos, and was the co-writer, co-creator, and co-producer of The Henry Cho Show.
In 2006, Cho partnered with Warner Bros. to release a one-hour comedy special on Netflix titled, What’s That Clickin’ Noise? During this segment he tells audience members about growing up in Tennessee as a Korean. He says, “I’m an Asian with a Southern accent. To a lot of people, that right there is funny.”
He has also been a part of the sitcom McHale’s Navy, and films Say It Isn’t So, and Material Girls.
Most recently, Cho co-produced and co-starred in the film “Saving Faith” released this past spring, which is an Indy and Christian-based film about a woman who puts on a show to save her beloved theater. He was nominated by the International Christian Film Festival for Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film. He and the rest of the team are currently working on the film’s sequel.
Henry Cho is known to be a clean, and still hilarious, comedian. His versatile humor allows him to perform on various platforms and for wide-ranging audiences.
“The decision was easy. I’m Christian, I’m married and with kids, and I just wanted my work to be a reflection of who I am. When people hear “clean comedy”, most think of silly, or campy, humor. That’s not what I do. My humor is still adult humor, it’s just clean. I lived in LA, I was on MTV, I perform in Vegas every year, and I still do clean.” –Henry Cho
Prepare for a belly full of laughs when Henry Cho performs at Ram’s Head On Stage, as part of their Laughs and Drafts Comedy Series, July 30th at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30.
Was comedic performance something you always saw yourself doing? Do you remember why you became interested in pursuing comedy? What is the comedian community like?
I never saw myself doing this, and look at me now, I’ve been doing it for 31 years. In college I tried comedy to get into acting. I thought, I’ll give standup a shot! After my first show ever, the club owner hired me to start performing immediately. I started on Wednesday and dropped out of school on Friday. Because it worked, I was hooked.
The great thing about standup comedians is we all look at things a little differently than everyone else. Like, we don’t have the automatic response that most people would have. We all write our own material and we don’t take from each other.
What kind of support did you receive from family and friends when you switched career paths?
I got a lot of support, except from my Korean parents. They couldn’t understand having a career in the arts, maybe only piano and cello. My dad wanted me to be a doctor but I never really had my priorities straight for that. My priorities in high school were sports, girls, and then school. In college it was girls, sports, and then school.
My dad didn’t talk to me for 18 months about it. Then I had been on Showtime and I’m getting ready to move to LA. I drove my pickup truck to see him one day and as I was leaving he told me, “You just stick with what you’re doing”. And I thought to myself, alright, I’m bullet proof.
You’ve made multiple TV appearances, for instance on The Tonight Show, The Late, Late Show, various sitcoms, and hosted Friday Night Videos for two years. Which show did you enjoy most, and what did you learn from these many experiences?
I enjoyed my first Tonight Show the most because it was such a big deal. Doing your first set on the Tonight Show is always huge in our comedian community. That was the most fun and meant the most to me.
The Late, Late Show was another awesome experience. Craig and his whole team were great to work with. It was so relaxed.
Instead of exploring the crude humor that most performers indulge in, you’re known to be a clean comedian. Why did you decide to go down this path and what sort of topics do you prefer to discuss?
The decision was easy. I’m Christian, I’m married and with kids, and I just wanted my work to be a reflection of who I am. When people hear “clean comedy”, most think of silly, or campy, humor. That’s not what I do. My humor is still adult humor, it’s just clean. I lived in LA, I was on MTV, I perform in Vegas every year, and I still do clean.
In 1986 I was on of Jerry Seinfeld’s openers – that was the first time we got together. This was during the beginning of my career and I was still figuring out how I wanted to continue with my comedy. He told me that I would get more work if I worked clean. TV was much more censored back then, which meant that a lot of comedians had to change their material just to get on TV. Jerry said he didn’t understand why you’d do a certain joke if it can’t be broadcasted, and he was right. Business wise – clean humor was a no brainer.
Tell me about the recent film Saving Faith that you co-starred in and co-produced. How did you get involved in this project?
I kind of fell into it. The director and writer, Chip Rosette, was writing the script and put me in. He said that I was literally in the script, so he wanted me involved to play my own character, and that I could write my part.
Saving Faith is a faith-based movie genre. The protagonist is a woman named Faith who will lose her theater unless she can put on a show to save it. I told Chip to make me a producer and I’ll get my pals to do cameos. I got Amy Grant, Phil Vassar, Donny Richmond, and Jenn Gotzon.
Now we’re writing a sequel and we’ll pull other country music artists. Aiming to release it in spring 2018. We’re going for a trilogy of Faith, Hope, and Love.
It’s difficult for me to film because it doesn’t always work for my family because I want to be home with my wife and kids. Chris told me I could do the movie in four days so I agreed. Same thing when I did Material Girls with Hillary Duff, I got all my scenes done in five days. It’s great when the work is flexible enough to fit in with my personal life.
What was one of your best standup performances? How about a time when your performance did not go as planned and thought your audience would react differently?
Luckily enough I still have yet to eat it.
My best show was at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, which is acoustically the best venue in the world. I just had so much fire power that show, I think because I was just so pumped up to be there. All the other comedians did fantastic jobs as well, but there was something about my show that made the audience respond even a little bit more. Honestly, I freaking smoked it. Then my wife calls and all she says is “we need diapers” and hangs up. But that’s how I rather have it, family over fame.
I got hired by Samsung to do a show in San Francisco. I’m talking to these guys before I go on stage and they say, “You speak Korean, right?” and I’m like, “no?” It turned out that the entire audience was Korean and practically no one spoke English.
I went up on stage and said, “If you can understand me clap your hands”, and a few people clapped. Then I said it much faster, and one guy clapped. I told him to get up there with me and translate my jokes. Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the worst experience but definitely my most unique one.
I guess my worst experience was this big fundraiser in front of all these Hollywood folks. There were a bunch of comedians. No one listened to us, absolutely no one was paying attention. It was disrespectful. Another bad experience of mine was in Jackson, Mississippi in 1989 or 1990. Tim Allen and I were touring together and we had four nights at this place called The Docks, and it was the same people every single night.
Is there anything fans can expect from you in the near future? What plans do you have for your career?
I might do another special with Warner Bros Records, it all depends on how Saving Faith goes. I can’t do TV deals right now because of where I am family wise. In two years we may re-address a couple things.