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Jo Koy: Live from Seattle.
Photo: Netflix

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Stand-Up Comics on What They Wear to Make a Special Special

Jo Koy loves Gucci, Trevor Noah breaks out of his Daily Show suits, and Anjelah Johnson doesn’t mess with dresses.

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Comedian Jo Koy has a thing for Gucci. It’s not quite what he would call “an addiction,” but he cannot get enough of whatever Gucci is doing these days. It wasn’t always like this, though. About six years ago, the comedian had all but written off the designer.

“It got to the point where I didn’t buy anything from Gucci, it was so ugly, and then all of the sudden, the past two years, I don’t know who the designer is over there, but he’s just got his head on straight,” he told me earlier this month. “The stuff he’s been coming out with is just unbelievable. I think it’s the best Gucci’s ever been.”

Jo Koy wearing Ralph Lauren pants and a Crooks & Castles jacket in Jo Koy: Live from Seattle
Photo: Netflix

I was in an in-depth discussion about the state of Gucci with Jo Koy because I had reached out hoping to talk about how a stand-up comedian approaches dressing for a taped comedy special. The taped comedy special is just that: special. It’s the chance to highlight the jokes you’ve been perfecting, celebrate your hard work, and perform your ass off — ya know, for posterity. You want to feel comfortable so you nail your punchlines and callbacks and, let’s be honest, you want to look good on camera. Taped specials just don’t disappear into the ether like an off night at the Comedy Cellar after all.

In a medium where Gucci fanatics perform alongside frequent Target shoppers, how do you choose what to wear on camera? This was how I ended up in unexpectedly deep conversations about custom boots, plus-size clothing, stage personas, dressing for the road, free clothes, and yes, Gucci.

For Trevor Noah, a comedian who spends four days each week in front of a camera, Shannon Turgeon is there to help differentiate the looks of Trevor Noah, the host of Emmy-winning The Daily Show, and Trevor Noah, the stand-up comedian.

Trevor Noah in his special Afraid of the Dark.
Photo: Netflix

Turgeon, who works at The Daily Show as a costume designer, is also Noah’s personal stylist. She was hired in June 2015, months before Noah would take over for long-time host Jon Stewart. “The Daily Show kind of has an established look, which is satirical news, so that’s why we still do the buttoned-up, almost typical late-night host with the suit and tie,” she tells me. “But I try to go a little bit cooler and well tailored to keep him hip because he is young.”

Any appearance on a red carpet (and any subsequent best-dressed lists) is a collaboration between Turgeon’s expertise and Noah’s sensibilities. But when Noah is performing stand-up, that’s the “most casual version of him that anyone is going to see,” Turgeon says, so it’s usually a lot of items from his personal closet.

“But for his special, Afraid of the Dark, because it was a special, I went ahead and put together a look that reflected his stage look that was slightly elevated for that performance that’s still the same world he lives in,” she told me. “A lot of navys and blacks and grays, but again, it’s him being a 33-year-old guy and a comedian. He can separate himself from the show a little.”

For the special, which was filmed in fall 2016, Noah wore a Sandro jacket, an Alexander Wang tee, Burberry jeans, and blue Adidas sneakers.

While Turgeon bemoaned the limits of men’s fashion — “there’s like five looks and you gotta pick one” — she loved that Noah’s growing presence has allowed for some experimentation.

“We’re starting to do stuff that’s a little more fashion-forward now that he’s been established on TV, which is fun, getting to explore different looks.”

For Anjelah Johnson, exploring clothing became less and less of a priority. She’s all about clothing that isn’t a big deal. She called her last stand-up special Not Fancy. Even though it ended up being a bit fancy.

Anjelah Johnson, dressed in a not-fancy manner, at The Stress Factory Comedy Club.
Photo: Bobby Bank/Getty Images

“I’m talking about how I’m not fancy, but I dressed up my stage very fancy and I had fancy chandeliers and I wore a little heel in my boot,” she says. “I made myself a little fancier while I was talking about how I’m not fancy.”

Not Fancy was one of the first times she chose to perform with a heel, even if it’s only booties. She wore G Star waxed denim jeans and a Diane von Furstenberg sweater. The booties, though, were decidedly unfancy and from her closet. They were Nordstrom Brass Plum booties that she wears all the time. “I think that went into how I was saying being comfortable and dressing it up a little bit,” she said. “If I’m going to wear a little heel, I’m going to least wear the ones I wear every day so I know I’m comfortable walking in them.”

Anjelah Johnson performing at The Shrine Auditorium.
Photo: Timothy Norris/Getty Images

Johnson, who started her stand-up career after being a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders, took some time to find a look that worked for her onstage. “When I first started doing stand-up, I would wear sometimes a form-fitting top that showed a little midriff. I would have full makeup and hair done,” she said of her early days. “I would notice I would sometimes have a hard time getting the audience on my side.” Then after the first show of one of her first times headlining a weekend at a comedy club went just fine, a comedy club manager told her tone down the look. She ditched the lipstick and pulled her hair into a ponytail. The second show went “completely different,” she says. “I think it’s because I made them focus on the words I was saying as opposed to what I looked like.”

This informed how she dressed for taped specials: with an eye toward comfort always. She admires women like Amy Schumer who wear cute dresses and heels to their stand-up specials, but she knows she couldn’t do something like Schumer’s leather jumpsuit.

“Whatever you’re comfortable in, you’re going to be confident in,” she told me. “To this day, I can’t think of a time where I’ve performed stand-up comedy in a dress and heels.”

In her first hour special, That’s How We Do It, Johnson had a girl-power theme with a girl DJ spinning and girl break dancers. “I was wearing a custom T-shirt by an artist named Donkey Boy and it’s an actual organ-looking heart with headphone over it. I wore that and a little G Star jacket and some Nike tennis shoes.”

For The Homecoming Show, she wore jeans, a Banana Republic blazer, and these army-type boots from Aldo that she had worn in over the years. And chola hoops, because it was filmed in her hometown of San Jose. And if a girl can’t wear chola hoops when she’s home, when can she wear them?

She’s not into fashion — her closet is full of xhilaration and Cherokee — but her husband is. He knows all the brands and what would look good on her. “What’s funny is I got married, and my husband was like, ‘Yo babe, you need to up your game. You need to quit dressing like a lazy tomboy and be comfortable and own your femininity and your sexiness,’” she says.

Now Johnson’s trying to find a balance between the two. Her latest special, which will premiere later this year, was an attempt to get back to the more casual Anjelah. “I filmed it in Hawaii, which is a casual place,” Johnson says, so she wore Rebecca Minkoff tennies, jeans, and a basic white form-fitting tee with a Dries Van Noten bomber jacket.

Ralphie May rose to national prominence as a contestant on the first season of Last Comic Standing, which also introduced America to comedians like Amy Schumer and Iliza Shlesinger. (He took second place place.) That’s when he first had clothes sent to him.

Ralphie May on stage.
Photo: SPPR Consultants

While it was “weird” to just be sent clothes, May really needed to expand his closet at time. May is a plus-size comic whose wardrobe, at that time, consisted of about eight shirts and three pairs of pants. Dressing as a plus-size man wasn’t easy. “When you’re poor, nobody wants to give you anything,” he tells me. “When you finally get some money and you can afford something, boom, that’s when everything’s for free.”

May was surprised at the all the options he had after being on television. He hadn’t been able to afford what he wanted before Last Comic Standing.

“I had already been given a lot of stuff from a clothing company called Big Daddy. After I hit it, I got all these clothes in and it was like I had options for the first time.” he said. “I got all these cool boots, different kind of jeans. It was an incredible transformation. I was so lucky.”

It informed how he dressed when he went back on TV. When dressing for his specials, May remembers advice from a meeting at Comedy Central years ago. They said viewers decide whether to stick with an hour-long special within the first five minutes.

Ralphie May in a promo shot for Austin-tatious.
Photo: Robert Sebree

“So I was like, okay, I wanted something to wear that was so immediately eye-catching, immediately a spectacle, that people would have to watch for five minutes to see what it’s about,” he said. After that meeting he wore an orange, Italian patent-leather jacket for his 2008 special Austin-tatious.

Now, he wears custom-made Chrome Hearts: “The shirts fit phenomenally. They’ve got cool snaps.” And Lucky Brand: “It’s very comfortable. I like that I never see anybody else wearing it. No big guys are going to spend $120 on a t-shirt. I like it, if it feels good, why not?”

He’s taken the uniform of jeans and a loose-fitting tee with a button down to his most recent specials for Netflix, Unruly and Imperfectly Yours. For Unruly, he wore a Chrome Hearts shirt, Levi tuxedo black jeans, and a pair of custom-made boots from Nashville. For Imperfectly Yours, he went all black and more Chrome Hearts.

While he’s settled into a stage uniform of sorts, May points out that he’s always gone for dark shoes, “a very underrated part of a man’s wardrobe.”

“You see some comedians wearing tennis shoes and stuff like that, is because the white on the tennis shoe or the reflective, if you’re up on stage in front of all these people with these lights on, that light is bouncing off of everything, including white shoes. They shine and it distracts people from your face. That’s where all the comedy’s coming from, your face,” he told me. “You have to have shoes that are nice, but you also have to have them that are, honestly, not that big of a deal.”

Jo Koy prefers that his clothes are a big deal but in an understated way. That means he’s dressing in simple garments (jeans and T-shirts) from high-end designers like Prada. In addition to his Gucci obsession, Jo Koy has become obsessed with black.

After touring for almost 12 years, he realized so many colors meant bringing more and more clothes on the road, which just wasn’t worth it. Now he only buys black. So when the planning for his Netflix special, Jo Koy: Live from Seattle, it had to be black. Black stage, black outfit, black logo, black curtains. He wanted it to be “just this force, this power on stage” of an all-black stage and outfit. “It looks grandioso and the colors are so strong, all the shades of black,” he says. “It’s so taboo to use those colors, especially when you’re shooting a special. I just sold them on this all-black concept and when we finally shot it, they were like, ‘Ah, we get it now.’” They did manage to convince him to put a bit of blue light behind his logo, though.

For his first two specials, Don’t Make Him Angry and Lights Out, Koy didn’t have as much creative control. While he picked the clothes, “I had to be very plain jane about it,” he says.

The first special was G Star from head to toe, but what he really wants to talk about are the shoes: “I always told myself, whenever I get that big special, where I’m home I wanna rock to the Jordan patent-leather 11s. When you’re in the shoe world, that’s the shoe to get right there.” In the last few years, Koy has gotten out of the sneaker world, and mostly transitioned to Gucci and Prada slip-on sneakers. Think the Vans of your youth, but much pricier.

When picking out what to wear, Koy becomes so animated that we both started laughing. I cannot overemphasize how amped he was to be asked about this part of his latest special. “I remember the whole damn outfit,” he says. “The Jordans are the 1s, black with gold trim. The pants were RL by Ralph Lauren. Underwear by Calvin. The jacket, my friend owns that company, it’s called Crooks & Castles. Oh, gotta shout out my watch. I was wearing the Yacht Master II from Rolex, solid gold with the white face.”

His love of high-end clothing has rubbed off on his teenage son, who frequently appears in his stand-up.

“His style is pretty sick. It’s kinda cool because when he was a kid, he used to make fun of me when I would buy Prada. Now he’s like, ‘Dad, can I get that Gucci hoodie?’ Now he sees why,” Koy said.

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