You are currently viewing Word of Mouth: Las Vegas Conversations — Michael Yo, Comedian

Kind, chatty, and unusually down to earth Michael Yo is the type of guy who is down to do an interview in the kitchen of a comedy club. Even with refrigerators humming loudly in the background, it’s easy to discern why Yo has become a headlining comic in a short amount of time. In addition to being multifaceted as an actor, personality, and podcast host he has a great voice and an unparalleled gift for gab. Somehow, Yo has cultivated an ability to navigate touchy topics in a way that most people can hear. He also has an arsenal of family-friendly material that is a refreshing alternative for those who aren’t into toilet humor. Kid crazy and female empowering, Yo is an anomaly in his field.

After honing his craft as a radio DJ in Houston, Austin and Miami, Yo fell into entertainment reporting. There was no one more surprised than the twice Emmy-nominated correspondent that he ended up making such a successful career out of it. Yo was recruited in a way that would make others seethe with envy: after hearing him on the #1 radio station in Miami, the President of E!, who was touring colleges with his daughter, asked Yo if he could hire him. Perhaps because interviewing celebrities on TV wasn’t his dream, Yo boldly called the shots from the beginning. After saying “no” for six months because of his commitment to radio, the network built him a studio on premise. For the next decade-plus Yo did both and earned a following as an anchor on cult classics like Extra, Access Hollywood, and Entertainment Tonight. However, something was missing. He wanted to develop his own legacy and live somewhere other than Tinsel Town. It was only after having his son that he finally gave it a shot.

Since making the leap and moving to Las Vegas, Yo has proved his gut instinct was right. He is happy to no longer be in a city where too many get burned out by not becoming a star overnight. Even more so, he’s thrilled to have been embraced by the comic community and to be selling out shows months in advance. Though Yo is perpetually on the move, Vegas is the perfect landing pad. It is also where he feels most responsible raising a family, even if that statement has the irony of one of his jokes. On the outskirts of Sin City, as Yo clues us in, is a Pleasantville-like neighborhood—nothing like the Strip— where people can actually talk about politics.

Can you tell us a bit about your pre-comedy career?

I grew up in Houston, Texas, where there wasn’t much diversity. There were no interracial couples on TV at that time, which is so different from today where casting has opened up so many opportunities for someone that is mixed like myself. While I was solid at sports and played football for the University of Arkansas, I got too many concussions and couldn’t continue. I had been in radio since age 15 when I stared interning for one of the top DJs in Houston. It was an artistic vehicle that I always loved and took me from hosting the overnight show in my hometown to Miami where I was on the number one station. I still have my ‘305’ Miami area code. (Laughs)

How did working in radio prepare you for becoming a comedian?

Being a radio DJ prepared me for TV hosting and standup comedy because, side note, comedy is much harder than anything else I have ever done. People can’t see your body language or facial expressions. You have to paint pictures with words. It’s your job to make people laugh, cry, or elicit another feeling through your voice. Performing in a room by myself for many years, feeding off my own energy, prepared me for standup comedy, which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, where you’re also solo. When I got my start as a standup comic on Chelsea Lately’s show I remember jumping off stage and saying, “This is what I was born to do.”

Aside from that feeling of total exuberance, what else made say “I’m going to pursue comedy full-time?”

While I was still working as a host, I started doing comedy in the evenings. After years of working all the time it was having my first son that changed my mind. I turned to my wife one day and finally said, “I want to make my own way as a comedian and actor.”

Every morning I play a game with my son that begins with us saying that he is going to change the world. While it is such a special ritual, I also had to ask myself why I wasn’t fulfilling my own destiny. After many years of interviewing people about their dreams I was still holding myself back. As cool as it sounds to be on the red carpet, people weren’t tuning in for me. They were there for the celebrities I was interviewing. I realized I need to start building my own catalogue rather than a library of content for someone else. That is how you build longevity.

Las Vegas has been instrumental in your growth as a comedian. Can you tell us a bit about when and why you decided to move to this wild city?

The move to Vegas happened because of Covid which I had along with pneumonia at the same time. I had one of the first cases in LA and was in the hospital for over a week. They didn’t know how to treat it or what to do. My wife and kids would drive by the hospital because they couldn’t come in and see me. It was the worst time of my life and I’m lucky I survived. After that, my son and I were walking in our Los Angeles neighborhood and a homeless guy threw a can at him. I thought why am I paying all of this money to live here when it just isn’t safe?  The incident caused me to reevaluate my life and if LA was the best place for my family.

My wife went to college at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and her parents are still residents. So, we got an air BNB in the same neighborhood as them and came here for a month to check it out. Immediately, Vegas felt very easy in terms of commute versus LA where it could take you 30 minutes to get out of your neighborhood. I also got more work right away. When you live in Hollywood there is a perpetual weight on your shoulders because all you do is talk shop. Everyone, metaphorically, works at Burger King and wants to become the manager.

The comedy scene in Las Vegas is very transient because people fly in and out for their gigs. While it isn’t as much of a hang, I can do a show here and go home like a normal professional. That routine is very appealing to me at this point in my life.

When people think of Vegas the immediate association is the strip. But I live 20 minutes away and it’s a whole other world: snow-capped mountains, a picturesque view, and over-the-top family-friendly amenities. It’s almost like the city planners said, “We’ve got the strip but to survive as a city we need families” because they put a park on every block. It’s almost over the top in a good way. The public schools are great and the private schools are phenomenal. I have also never lived somewhere that is so community-oriented. If something goes down here, everyone has each other’s backs.

Everyone wonders ‘who the heck lives in Las Vegas?’ How would you describe the locals?

While it can be hard to explain, there is no artifice to the people here. They are very straightforward and will let you know what’s up. However, underneath that real, raw demeanor is an element of love, which I never felt in Los Angeles. Living in LA felt more like, “This is where I work” rather than “I feel like an actual part of this city.” It has been very easy for my wife and I to find our circle here because everyone is so kind and open.

Was there anything that surprised you as far as living here goes?

I am an independent and feel like the landscape here is more politically balanced than in LA. There, everyone has the same liberal point of view for the most part. Here, I can have a civil conversation with a Trump supporter. While they might have a different flag in their front lawn the focus is more on values in Vegas. If you both want the best for your family then why can you not get along? It feels like political conversations here are less tense and extreme. I can say, “I don’t agree with that” and still feel heard and listened to.

Do you think with all of the incoming residents the core of the city will change much?

No. Versus other cities that become gentrified the personality of Vegas is in its bloodstream. This is the entertainment capital of the US where powerhouses like Usher, Katy Perry, and Adele want to have residencies. It’s a great place for celebrities who want to do their thing and have people come to them and for normal people that want to socialize while pushing their kids on the swings. As a family guy myself, Vegas is a dream come true. I’ll never move from here for this very reason: My wife and I went out to dinner at Ceasar’s the other night and then to a show. After our date, we were home in 20 minutes. To be that close to world-class entertainment is incredible. Las Vegas will be Hollywood 2.0 which is why people like Mark Wahlberg are setting up shop here. It’s happening.

Any last words?

Performing in this market has given me so much confidence. If I can make it here, I feel like I can crush it anywhere else. That feeling alone has been worth the move.

Lily Clayton Hansen

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