Comedienne, author, activist and actress Margaret Cho has been entertaining crowds with her outrageous and honest stand up routines since the age of sixteen. She’s penned two books, been on seven North American comedy tours, appeared in films such as Bam Bam and Celeste and Face/Off, guest starred on Sex and the City, and in 2004 she was awarded with the First Amendment Award for her work in social activism and preserving civil liberties from the American Civil Liberties Union.
But her climb to success hasn’t always been easy.
In the early ‘90s Cho’s ABC sitcom All American Girl received mixed responses from producers who, according to Cho, claimed she was “too heavy” and “too Asian,” while the Asian community cried she wasn’t “Asian enough.” Cho turned to diet pills and alcohol, and developed numerous health and body image issues. The show was suddenly cancelled in 1995 after just over a dozen episodes.
Five years later, she channelled her experiences into the Off Broadway show, I’m The One That I Want, winning New York Magazine’s “Performance of the Year” award, and hasn’t looked back. She is currently on tour with her brand new comedy show Beautiful, working on a new album, and supporting her new VH1 reality show The Cho Show. In her interview with Where Calgary, Cho shares her excitement about bringing the Beautiful tour to Calgary, her thoughts on the upcoming American election, Republican Vice President nominee Sarah Palin, and how she feels about being a role model.
THE BEAUTIFUL TOUR
WC: Even though you haven’t visited this city before, what do you know about Calgary?
MC: I think there’s a gay rodeo, that’s all I know about, and that’s great, I love cowboys, I love cowgirls too.
WC: Do you find that Canadian audiences are as responsive to your material as American audiences?
MC: Yes, absolutely. I always have a wonderful time when I am in Canada, I mean it’s incredible and such a great place.
WC: What can fans expect from your Beautiful tour?
MC: This show is pretty raunchy and wild, and I am very excited about it. I took a break from stand-up for a while so I could focus on some other stuff, so when I came back I was really raring to go.
WC: Do you have a direct hand in choosing your opening acts?
MC: Yes, I am like a mother hen, I have my little protégés that I work on, different people at different times, they are almost always queer artists. For the Calgary show I am working with Ian Harvie, he’s an amazing comic. I make sure that they get stage time, I give them advice and take care of them for several years, then they go off and do their own thing.
WC: What goes through your head before you deliver a controversial joke?
MC: I don’t really look at things as being controversial, everything is just what I want to do, so I am not really thinking about how people will react.
WC: Are there any topics that are off limits to you?
MC: I won’t really talk about my marriage—that feels very protected to me. I think that marriage is very important. Gay marriage is a big political cause of mine in America, so I have a lot of respect when it comes down to my own relationships.
WC: In episode one of your current TV show, The Cho Show, you accept the “Korean of the Year” award, were you nervous?
MC: Yes, that was a particular audience that I have had issues with throughout my career. I talk about it in the episode, how the Korean community didn’t accept me or like what I did for a long time, so it was hard for me to decide whether I should go and accept this award or not.
WC: Have you been following the Canadian Election?
MC: Not really, I have been so wrapped up in what’s going on in America, the politics here are trashy.
WC: What are your thoughts on the election in the United States?
MC: It’s really exciting, and a little troubling. I am worried about the McCain/Palin ticket and I am quite anxious about how that situation will turn out. Palin’s just an idiot, and I don’t understand why people would like that. She is a scary person, I mean scary in her ordinariness, she hasn’t really done anything political, so I don’t know what qualifies her to run a country—proximity to Russia? That makes you capable? I’m scared of the Evangelical Christians who feel like they need to have a holy war with the rest of the world, it’s terrifying to me, and Sarah Palin is just a spokesperson for them. The fact that she wants to take people who are gay and send them to bible camp to become straight—I am afraid of that kind of thinking and that kind of person, she’s really a problem. I’m frightened by Sarah Palin.
WC: Recently it has been reported that the 25 and under demographic in Canada is not getting out to the polls in the numbers that they expected, how do you feel about this?
MC: I think it’s really important to vote, it’s a vital thing. What’s cool in America is the opposite seems to be happening, younger people are coming out and voting, taking part in polls and being more politically active then ever.
BEING A ROLE MODEL
WC: How do you feel about being a role model?
MC: I don’t really think about that very much, I do what I do, and I enjoy it, if that what people want to aspire to then I think it’s a great way to live.
WC: Who are your role models?
MC: I have different role models, I love Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, Madonna, and Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco. There are so many people that I admire.
WC: Were you hesitant about working with networks after your experience with ABC and All American Girl?
MC: Yes, and it took a long time getting this show to air because I was so gun-shy about the whole thing. It worked out really well because I was the creator and a producer so these two things really helped me in getting over my own hesitance and fear.
WC: I have recently heard your new single, “I Cho Am a Woman,” that you worked on with Desmond Child, what was working with him like? Are you working on a new album?
MC:Yes, I am writing it currently, it is going to be a mixture of comedy and music. Desmond is tough and harsh, but he got a voice out of me that I didn’t even know I had.
WC: What do you like to do when you have some down time?
MC:I don’t have much down time but I spent some time with Cyndi Lauper on her True Colours tour this year. I wasn’t performing, just hanging out and watching the show, which was really fun. I got to see Joan Jett, the B52’s and Regina Spektor, whom I love. I also am loving Amanda Palmer, she just released a solo album and it’s so great, I love to see live music when I can.—Ryan Duncan