Comedian Henry Cho finds success in bleep-free jokes

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Henry Cho gets a plethora of his jokes from everyday situations and his in-laws.

"Their cousin got in a fight and they put him in jail. I had to go get him out. He came walking out going, 'Hey, man, I tried to call you on the cellphone.' I said, 'You don't have a cellphone.' He goes, 'I mean, the phone by the cell,'" Cho joked in his appearance on "The Late Show" with Craig Ferguson.

With jokes ranging from in-laws to gravy boats to politics to golf, audiences may hear a lot of laughter, but one thing they won't hear are four-letter expletives. Cho places his emphasis on clean comedy.

According to Cho, his audiences are typically about 50 percent families and family guys like him, 25 percent older people who don't want to take a chance on hearing vulgarities at a comedy club, and 25 percent young people who've seen his Comedy Central special.

For this husband and father, comedy is all about family. He strives for a family-friendly atmosphere at his shows, and because he's a family guy, many of his jokes are about his family. A Tennessean from Knoxville and father of three, Cho has been doing comedy for 26 years and is known for his clean act.

Cho has toured with Jerry Seinfeld, Jack Cohen and Carrie Underwood; been in a Hillary Duff movie; has a Comedy Central special; and has appeared on numerous television shows, including "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and "The Late Show" with Craig Ferguson.

"I had the greatest start there is, because I was clean," Cho said. "I couldn't ask for a better start."

Cho described his clean comedy as the result of constant effort. "Now that I have children, I'm really glad I went down that road because … I did shows where it was an awful situation and being dirty probably could have dug me out of the hole a little bit as far as the audience goes, but I never caved to that. I'm glad I never did."

When he first started comedy, there were times when he felt thrown to the wolves. "It was awful conditions as far as trying to do a show, but I always stuck to my guns. I always did what I did … and they finally figured out that, number one, I'm not getting of the stage because I've got to do my time, and number two, my material's not changing so you may as well listen. Finally I'd get them laughing, but it would have been really easy to just sit there and cuss somebody out back in those days. But I chose not to, and I'm really glad I did."

According to Cho, his show has always reflected his life. "When I was single, it was all about dating and meeting girls. … Now that I'm married, I tend to skew it a little more that way."

Another source of jokes for Cho is youth sports. He joked about the difference between youth sports today and when he was a kid: "When I was playing sports as a kid, not everybody played. If you weren't good enough you sat at the bench, and if you didn't win a championship you didn't get a trophy. I mean … I coached (my son's) teams and they were horrible. They never won, and he has seven trophies already. I have three in my life and I played sports my entire life."

Cho's start in comedy came as a surprise to both his family and his friends. While attending the University of Tennessee to become a veterinarian, he saw a competition looking for the funniest person in Tennessee, and he thought, "I bet I can do that." His friends told him he wasn't funny, but Cho persisted.

Thinking it was an amateur competition, he was surprised to find mostly working comedians on the lineup, but he wasn't deterred. He was the 12th person on stage that night, and in his own words, he "destroyed" and got a standing ovation. After his turn, the manager of the club approached him and asked how long he'd been doing comedy. Cho said that night's performance was it, and the manager hired him on the spot.

"I started working on Monday and I dropped out of college on Friday," Cho said.

Six months later, Cho was picked as Jerry Seinfeld's opening act when the original performer couldn't make it. Cho was the only clean comedian in the region that anyone had heard of, so he got the spot. Seinfeld liked him so much that he took him on tour afterwards. From then on the "Henry Cho Funny But Clean Comedy Tour" began to formulate and is currently making its rounds.

Being clean is just part of who Cho is. "I learned that it doesn't split my crowd (to be clean), because even if you're the biggest fan of dirty comedy, you'll still laugh at my stuff," said Cho.

To learn more about Cho and his tour and watch some of his comedy clips, visit www.henrychocomedy.com.

Email: ajones@desnews.com

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