If you happen to see the film “Grudge Match,” which opened on Christmas, you might 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 nonstop.
But the comedian/actor is different from how he appears in the movie with Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone. He gets up at 4 a.m. everyday to do a comedy podcast, he has a comedy album coming out this month, and he tours comedy clubs on the weekend. If that isn’t enough, he’s got a newborn at home keeping him on his toes.
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, 30 years after he left town.
“I still talk to my seventh grade teacher, Mr. Barrone,” he says. “And anybody who fed me, I still talk to them.” His rough young life was made even rougher by the time he was a young adult, when a stint in prison followed the death of his parents by a couple short years.
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 10 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.”
“Anything I can get, whether it’s one line or a scene in a movie, I’m excited to move people.” – Joey ‘Coco’ Diaz
There’s more to Diaz’s career than Stallone/DeNiro movies and standup 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” opened 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.