You may remember him from his stint as “Big Tony” from The Longest Yard or have seen him appear on Joe Rogan’s podcast, but what you may not know is Jersey native Joey “Coco” Diaz is the best kept secret in stand-up comedy right now. The 54-year-old’s journey of how he got to this point in life is borderline unbelievable.
Born as an only child in Cuba before moving to North Bergen, New Jersey Diaz lost his father when he was only three and came home to find his mother without a pulse on his home’s floor at only 15. Joey bounced around four families trying to figure out his life, but he became heavily involved in crime and drugs as a homeless teen.
Joey was arrested for kidnapping in 1988 and during his six-month sentence he discovered his talent in stand-up, as he’d perform for fellow inmates whenever the jail’s projector was broken. Fast forward nearly three decades and Uncle Joey’s been all around the country for a wild journey, getting smaller roles in The Longest Yard, Taxi, My Name Is Earl and much more along the way. It all culminated in late 2016 with the release of his first one-hour comedy special Sociably Unacceptable.
The Julius Erving and Richard Pryor inspired comic is currently on tour and I was fortunate enough to go see Big Joey over at Levity Live inside the Palisades Mall in West Nyack Friday night. The crowd was lined up ready to go before the door’s even opened for the 9:45 PM start, which let me know this is going to be more epic than I thought, as your typical white 30-year-olds some with their girlfriend lined up for a night of laughs.
After a couple decent openers, Uncle Joey gracefully made his way to the stage in a 5XL gray long sleeve and some blue jeans. From start to finish for more than an hour Diaz dished out classic story after classic story and it was hilarious. There were ten minute stints throughout the stand up where I could barely breathe. The California transplant is truly a gift to society, one of the best story tellers I’ve ever heard and that’s just part of the legend that is “Coco.”
Admittedly, the ex-con is racially insensitive but not racist as he hilariously dishes on every ethnicity he’s learned about along the way. Joey is that blue-collar old-school uncle we all have, but actually makes a living telling stories about his life’s experiences that nearly cost him his life. What’s great is he’s dropping some valuable knowledge along the way throughout his skits as he even laughs at his own jokes, which somehow make things even funnier. Whether it’s stories about growing up in Jersey or what it’s like to be a father at 50 or how there’s no Mexicans on workmen’s comp, Diaz is a diamond in the rough and a late bloomer in today’s comedic environment.
If you ever have the chance to see the authentic comic live, don’t pass up that chance unless you’re easily offended. In the mean time, check out Diaz’ podcast The Church of What’s Happening Now to keep up with the jiu-jitsu artist. I need more Joey Diaz in my life.