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For comedian Jo Koy, success meant leaving Las Vegas

Comedian Jo Koy is on TV now (“Chelsea Lately”) and he just bought a $2.2 million L.A. house (it’s next to his condo), and all that national success can be traced to him turning down a lucrative job to be a valet attendant in Las Vegas.

Koy, who returns to Vegas to perform Friday at TI, lived here from the late 1980s until around 2000. During the 1990s, Koy booked his own shows at the Huntridge Performing Arts Theater and packed the house.

But he also had a day job here, and the lure of it, and his love of Vegas, could have kept him from moving to Los Angeles to achieve his dreams.

“I worked at The Mirage in the dolphin habitat, and tour guide,” Koy says. “I was offered a valet attendant job and I said no.

“People were begging for that job. But I was, like, ‘If I take this job, I’m going to be a valet attendant, I’m going to love the money, and I’m not going to chase this dream.’

“So I said no, and all my friends said, ‘Are you (expletive) out of your mind? You said no to that job? There’s a waiting list for that job!’ I said, ‘Dude, believe me, I’m making the right decision.’ I had other dreams I had to pursue.”

So he moved to L.A. It was a sacrifice. But to find fame in show business, you have to sacrifice, he says.

“And Vegas makes it hard for you to sacrifice. You don’t even need a bank account to survive in Vegas. You have a job, you go cash your check at a casino.

“They’ll give you buffet tickets just to cash your check there. They give you a reason not to (expletive) leave!” he says then jokes: “Arizona Charlie’s gives me a free crab dinner if I cash my check!”

Koy, 42, was scared to relocate to L.A.

“I knew if I left Vegas, I was not going to find an easy job, which is what Vegas has — a bunch of high-paying, easy jobs. Every job I had in Vegas was easy and high paying. I didn’t pay for insurance. I worked for a Wynn property, and my insurance was free. I had food they were paying for.

“Then I moved to L.A., and I had to get three jobs just to pay for my insurance. I was at Nordstrom putting shoes on a rack, and I’m like, ‘You guys aren’t going to pay for my lunch?’ ”

He laughs at how spoiled Vegas made him. But Vegas also made him sharpen his work habits, because it’s so competitive and the people hardworking.

“Everybody,” he says, “they’re basically hustling. It doesn’t matter which college you went to or what you did in the past. You get to Vegas, and you’re like, ‘Let’s get this money fast.’ ”

He lived here during a different era, when money spread more freely to more people, perhaps. But the hustling is the same, if not more so now.

“Valet attendants were making tons of money. Bellmen were making tons of money. Everybody had a house. It was cool being in that environment. Money was constantly flowing.

“That’s where I started my stand-up career. They wouldn’t let me in the regular (hotel) showroom, so I went and rented theaters myself.

“I was the booker. I was the promoter. I was selling advertising. That was part of that whole Vegas lifestyle.

“I’m glad I did that before I moved to L.A. because when I got to L.A., I was moving a lot faster than everybody else, because of that hustle.”

Vegas is no place for lazy entrepreneurs.

“If you don’t hustle (in Vegas), you go broke quick. There’s money everywhere, and you’ve gotta find a way to make it.”

Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Email him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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