Joey is the second child of Emma Manahan Ramos, a Filipina, and Jose Seoane (pronounced Suwani) de Leon, a Spanish-Filipino. "Ang tatay ng tatay ko was the first mayor of Malolos, Bulacan," Joey reveals.
The older Jose, now over 80 and living in Madrid, held many jobs—soldier, salesman, accountant even Hollywood extra! "Meron siyang pictures with Charlton Heston and Ava Gardener," Joey says of his father. "Nakasama siya sa 55 Days at Peking, The Centurions, kung saan-saan nakarating...Masipag siya. Sige nang sige. Hindi tumutigil.'
When Joey was three, his father left for Madrid, Spain, to attend to some family matters, and stayed there for good. "Nagkapamilya na rin siya doon, pero pabalik-balik siya dito sa Pilipinas," says Joey. "Okey naman sila ng nanay ko."
Joey grew up mainly in a noisy neighborhood of G. Tuazon St., Sampaloc, Manila. He went to public schools and played with lower-middle-class kids. There was no denying that the fair-skinned and mestizo Joey stood out among his playmates. But rich his family wasn't.
"Nagkataon mestizo at mestiza ang mga kamag-anak namin, kaya mukhang mayaman din kami. Below average kami, pero hindi naman kami nanlilimos. Talagang simple."
At family reunions, the young Joey—who earned the nickname "German" among neighbors in Sampaloc ("kasi maliit ako na mukhang salbahe")— would find himself among relatives who were well off, particularly cousins who studied in exclusive schools.
"Kasi ang mga pinsan ko, mga Lasalista, Letranista," says Joey. He kept to himself during these big family get-togethers. "Nakakatawa nga ang buhay. 'Di ba, 'pag maliit ka, nahihiya ka sa mga pinsan mo na mayayaman? Pero ako, hindi. Makapal na ako noon. Hindi makapal ako na nakisali, makapal ako na huwag makisama. Ibig sabihin, nag-iisa ako. Snob ako. Trait ng mga mayayaman ‘yon, pero snob ako," he recalls with mischievous smile.
The "snobbish" Joey later learned the art of being friendly with everybody, regardless of social standing. "Naglaro ako mag-isa. ‘Tapos nakipaglaro ako sa mga anak ng magbubuko at mga anak ng president ng Lions. Ibig sabihin, gan'on kalawak ang mga friends ko."
In other words, he hobnobbed with what today we would call the sosyal and the jologs. "Nagpupunta ako sa mga party ng mga Asumptionista, Lasalista, Letranista, Bedista, Theresian. Pero, istambay pa rin ako sa kanto."
Joey credits this phase in his life as being helpful to his future. "Gala ako. Eventually, nakatulong rin sa akin ‘yan. Malaking bagay sa akin ‘yan. Mahirap at mayaman, nakasalamuha ko. Kaya siguro nakukuha ko ang kiliti ng tao."
Because he was fond of drawing, he took up architecture, first at the University of the East, then at National University. He studied on scholarship. "Nagkaroon ako ng educational benefit dahil ang tatay ko, sundalo ng USAFFE. Pangyabang ko noon ‘yon, na iskolar ako."
But he couldn't hold on to the scholarship because of math. Afterwards, like his father, Joey took on several jobs. At one time, he was a technician at the National Institute of Science and Technology. "Nag-expose ako ng slide para malaman ang pollen incidence dito sa Manila for allergy. Pumanhik ako sa fire escape from the ground to the roof. ‘Yong fire escape sa mga building ng CEU, La Concordia, pinapanhik ko ‘yan araw-araw."
Today, strangely enough, Joey is afraid of heights: "Matapang ako noon kasi wala akong choice. ‘Yon ang trabaho ko."
He also became a disc jockey, eventually being able to work for as many as 12 radio stations in five years.
All this gave Joey a keen sense of what people liked, what clicked with them, what didn't click. And all proved invaluable in his next careers as gig writer, songwriter, TV host, and comedian.
What ultimately allowed Joey to concentrate on his current job was a freak accident that involved a Pontiac and a house on a dead-end street.
"Nagmamaneho ako isang gabi," Joey recalls."'Tapos, nakabunggo ako ng bahay sa St. Mary's Cubao. As in pumasok ako! Gabi. Dead-end pala. Tuloy-tuloy ako. ‘Buti wala akong napatay. Pumasok sa salas. Nagkagano'n pa nga ang mga nakatira." Joey demonstrates the residents' reaction by giving a wide-eyed, shocked look.
"Mula noon, hindi na ako nag-drive. Na-enhance ko ang comedy ko dahil hindi ako nagda-drive."
Being in the backseat, says Joey, has placed him in a better position to enjoy the sights and discover the humorous potential in everything. He cites a trip to Baguio with friends Vic Sotto and Tito Sotto early in his showbiz career.
Joey recalls. "'Yong magkapatid, nagda-drive. Ako, passenger na madaldal na maingay na taga-entertain. Manila-Baguio, Baguio-Manila. Wala akong ginawa kundi pansinin ‘yong signs. 'Pag may mapansin akong comedy or anything humorous doon sa mga signs, pinaglalaruan ko. Nagpa-punning ako, ‘yong play on words."
Ideas come to Joey has written comedy material for himself and for other comedians. He has also appeared in over 40 TV shows since he started in entertainment career in the early 1970s. "Sabi ko na nga, after more than 40 TV shows, sino ang tatalo sa akin? Maski sa buong mundo, puwede kong ilaban ‘yon. Ni-round off ko lang ‘yon. Marami pa akong hinindian. As of last count, 44 yata."
There was even a time he was a mainstay on six TV shows. "On the side pa ‘yong movies. Napagsabay-sabay ko ‘yan—‘Apple Pie, Patis, Atbp.,' ‘Eat... Bulaga!,' ‘T.O.D.A.S.,' ‘Iskul Bukol,' ‘Sharon Cuneta Show.' Meron pa akong ‘Sweepstakes.' Six shows a week, pero walang pareho doon!"
But that was four years ago. To date, he has starred in almost 60 movies and TV shows. He is actually seen on the boob tube daily—from Monday to Saturday.
His work pace has hardly changed, but his reasons for working are now different. The self-made comedian declares that he's no longer working for money. "Noong araw basta kikita, gagawin ko! Pero ngayon, mas pinipili ko ‘yong nag-e-enjoy ako sa company. Mas ano ako ngayon sa enjoyment, fun.
If there is anything Joey loves as much as comedy, it is traveling. He has traveled to 30 countries, and has visited his favorite Las Vegas, more than 30 times. In spite of his fear of heights, he doesn't hesitate to take planes, and in spite of his fear of bodies of water, he has visited 12 intercontinental countries.
Asked if there has been any low point in his career, Joey de Leon replies smiling: "Wala. Wala sana. Ang lowest point siguro, ‘yong mga VAT-VAT. Hindi dahil ayaw kong magbayad, kundi dahil mahina ako sa math. Hindi ako marunong sa paperwork. Marami akong hindi ginagawa. Hindi ako lumalangoy. Hindi ako nagda-drive. Hindi ako sa paperwork. Kasi, ayoko naman talaga. Kahit ituro mo, hindi ko gagawin. Sayang ang oras. Magbiyahe na lang tayo, manood tayo ng TV, o magkuwentuhan tayo nang masaya!"