More than one-million Americans have died from the COVID-19 pandemic, and comedian Michael Yo was almost one of them. As one of the first one-hundred COVID cases in America, he wound up in the ICU for eight days before spending another twenty-two days on quarantine at home.
Yet he remarkably found the funny in these incredible travails and managed to release a brand-new, full-hour comedy special about the experience called “I Never Thought,” which can be found on his YouTube channel, which is also home to his star-studded “Yo Show” podcast. Yo will be bringing those stories to the stage in two shows on March 31 and April 1 at the Heath Mainstage of The Den Theatre.
“COVID was a truly odd experience overall, because I never thought I’d see two Black friends and me walk into a bank and be told to put on a mask,” jokes Yo, who is half-Black, half-Asian—or as he puts it, “Blasian.” “I was in the hospital eight days, then stuck at home for twenty-two days because back then they didn’t know how long to quarantine. It was great!
“My wife was bringing me food, I didn’t have to help with the kids, and we spent the whole time pretending I was on the road since they were used to that. I just Facetimed my older, three-year-old son and we sent him presents from Amazon all the time so he’d think Daddy was thinking of him while traveling.”
One other remarkable aspect of dealing with COVID at such a serious level was the level of antibodies he wound up with after recovering.
“My doctor took my antibody test and he said it was at the 2500 level, when all normal people need is thirty, so I’m a superhero now,” he notes. “I tell people I’m half-Black Panther because I feel invincible. I can do anything. I was opening doors for people, giving high fives because I couldn’t catch it and neither could they. It mellowed me out after such a tragic experience and made me feel comfortable out in the world again.”
The new special is the latest in a string of shows that Yo has self-funded and self-released to great success on YouTube. His mentor, superstar comic Jo Koy, told him he needed to bet on himself and get around a system that pays comparatively little attention to Asian performers.
His first special, “Blasian,” in 2013, took him from 3,000 subscribers to more than 150,000 on Youtube and tripled his pay in clubs because of all the new fans he drew across the country. It was but another example of how Yo learned to make his way in a society that couldn’t relate to him easily.
“I grew up in Houston and I was the standout, because people were like ‘What are you?'” says Yo. “We’re just starting to see mixed people in commercials now, they’re everywhere, so that was different for me. You had people using racial slurs. If you’ve been made fun of because of your past, it usually becomes a great benefit if you learn how to work it. I used to be told I looked weird, and now it’s exotic and unique.
“I never got offended because I made jokes about it, too, but in high school a friend said, ‘You’re Black and Asian. You’re the only guy who could steal a car and wreck it on the way home.’ That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in my life, and I used it in my first special ‘Blasian.’”
Yo’s breakthrough came when he was “the fact man” on the long-running E! talk show “Chelsea Lately,” as he displayed great wit while ensuring that the comic panelists were joking about pop culture accurately.
“Jo Koy told me I should step up and be doing comedy too,” he says. “He took me under his wing and let me open shows for him. The rest is history.”
Michael Yo performs at 7:15pm March 31 and April 1 at the Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee. Tickets are $28-$34. Visit thedentheatre.com or call (773)697-3830.