When you go to see “Grudge Match,” which opened on Christmas, it will be understood if you think North Bergen native Joey “Coco” Diaz is a lazy, lay-about sort of guy. However, while Diaz’s character is a tabloid-reading, low-aspirations boxing coach, Diaz himself works non-stop.
The comedian/actor’s movie with Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone was slated to come out on Christmas Day. He gets up at 4 a.m. everyday to do a comedy podcast, he has a comedy album coming out around New Year’s, and he tours comedy clubs on the weekend. If that isn’t busy enough, he’s got a newborn at home keeping him on his toes at all times.
Diaz lost his parents when he was 15 and was raised by various families in North Bergen, people who he talks to on the phone every day, even now. He talks about the people of North Bergen, specifically those who took care of him, very lovingly, thirty years after he left the town.
“Anything I can get, whether it’s one line or a scene in a movie, I’m excited to move people.” – Joey ‘Coco’ Diaz
Comedy nights in prison
Diaz took an unconventional route to sitting across from a Robert DeNiro in a feature film, an experience he describes as inconceivable to him ten years ago. On Thursdays in prison there was a movie night, and when the projector broke, Joey started goofing off and making fun, and it wasn’t long until Thursday night was comedy night with Joey “Coco” Diaz.
After he got out, he packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in comedy.
“What would make someone do that?” Diaz asks himself, before answering. “It must have been something instilled in me growing up in North Bergen, something in my upbringing that gave me this never-give-up attitude.”
But his comedy chops began long before prison. He says that his roots in comedy began to grow in his hometown. “I learned how to do comedy in the back of the No. 1 bus from North Bergen to Jersey City,” said Diaz. He cites many of the families and friends from North Bergen as influences on his sense of humor.
There’s more to Diaz’s career than Stallone/DeNiro movies and stand-up comedy. Guest spots on many sitcoms like “My Name is Earl,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and most recently “Brooklyn 99,” and an upcoming episode of “Maron,” are on his resume. This is all in addition to his biggest break before “Grudge Match,” the 2005 Adam Sandler remake of the 1974 film, “The Longest Yard,” where he played Big Tony.
Just a character
Despite the many differences between Diaz’s boxing coach character’s work ethic and Diaz’s own personal life, the biggest remains yet unsaid: the fictional character doesn’t care, Joey “Coco” Diaz does, and that, he says, is the biggest influence that North Bergen had on his career.
“Anything I can get, whether it’s one line or a scene in a movie, I’m excited to move people because I always thought I was going to do a little bit of standup, and that was it,” Diaz remarks, “but every time I think about growing up in North Bergen something just takes over. It’s got to be what was instilled in those neighborhoods.”
“Grudge Match” opens in the US and Canada on Dec. 25 and features Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, and Joey “Coco” Diaz. Diaz has dedicated his performance to Jimmy Burkle.