Monday, 24 March 2014 13:44

Joey CoCo Diaz's Journey from Prison to the Limelight

Written by  Josh Spanninga
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Joey CoCo Diaz Joey CoCo Diaz COURTESY PHOTO

Joey Diaz
Dr. Grins, Grand Rapids
April 10-12, show times at 5:30, 8 and 10:30 p.m.
$10-$20, (616) 356-2000

Most comedians will agree that when you're starting out at open mic nights, the crowds can seem intimidating. For Joey Coco Diaz, his first audience consisted of what many would view as an especially rough crowd – his fellow inmates. During the time Diaz served in prison, the inmates were treated to Thursday movie nights, but when the projector stopped working, Diaz followed his natural inclinations and started performing.


“I was doing comedy, but I didn't even know I was doing it,” Diaz said. “I was just getting up on a table and talking.”


After being released from prison, Diaz moved to Los Angeles to further pursue comedy. While it's about as far away as you can get from his childhood home of New Jersey, he still cites his old hometown as the main source of influence for his material.


“My hometown of Jersey is a really funny town, like the people are really funny, really sarcastic,” Diaz said. “I really just took a piece of all my friends and that's who you see onstage in a way.”


Aside from stand-up, Diaz also began taking on small acting roles in LA. He saw it as a great way to make extra cash, and better yet, free publicity for his comedy.


“When I got here (LA), after about eight or nine months, I knew that I wasn't going to get noticed for stand-up,” Diaz said. “I was dirty, I was little longer in the tooth. I knew that the stand-up wouldn't push me over the top, but I knew I'd get noticed if I acted.”


Eventually, his acting roles kept getting larger as he landed a recurring role on "My Name is Earl" and a supporting character role in The Longest Yard. More recently, he had a part in Grudge Match, opposite Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro. While he admits it probably won't win any Oscars, he's still proud of his work in the film, and grateful for the opportunity to work with some of his favorite actors.


“I'm 51 years old. They're a part of who I am,” Diaz said. “And for me to do a movie with them ... listen, I was in prison. I'm not on Comedy Central, I'm not the number one guy you think of when you think of comedy, but I did do a movie with DeNiro and Stallone, which at the end of the day, that's f***ing big for a guy like me.”


Of course, his plan to use acting as a platform to draw audiences to his stand-up has paid off. Diaz says he's at a point where his stand-up career has caught up to his acting career, and his most recent comedy album confirms. He's also been touring extensively, and has made time to visit one of his favorite places – Michigan.


“I've been from Mackinac Island all the way down to Niles,” Diaz said. “I ain't no Johnny-come-lately when it comes to Michigan.”

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