Margaret Cho
2 - Margaret Cho

Spotlite

THE PROGRESSIVE HUMORIST

A Spotlite on Revolutionary Comedian MARGARET CHO

By Marie Havens

November 2011

I was in college for most of the 90s when television was consumed by the nonconfrontational American sitcom–Frasier, Home Improvement, 7th Heaven, The Nanny, Mad About You, etc.–entertaining on some level, but did very little to push social or political change. Most were definitely more regressive, than progressive. Thankfully by the late 90s a new, comedic underground style emerged with comedian Margaret Cho spearheading the movement. She revolutionized comedy by merging politics and activism with this new style of free-form, comedic and progressive storytelling. Through her comedic expression, Cho was able to address very taboo and controversial topics such as race, LGBT issues, and sexuality. For nearly two decades, she has redefined what it means to be Asian, female, and queer in comedy–proving the power of laughter can promote equality and ultimately change political opinion.

Marie Havens: Hi Margaret! Thanks for taking part in our Revolutionary Issue. I consider you to be revolutionary in the world of comedy (amongst your other critical platforms: politics, race, entertainment, acting, music, and humanitarian rights & equality for women, Asian Americans & the LGBT community). You were incredible on Dancing With the Stars (2010). Do you see yourself and your work as revolutionary?

Margaret Cho: Thanks–that’s so awesome. I don’t know if I see myself as a revolutionary, but I am very happy with the way I work and live, and for someone who is very different like me, this satisfaction and sense of accomplishment can be really revolutionary!

MH: Of course, considering this is our Revolutionary Issue, I must take a moment to reference your Revolution tour (2003) and your memorable Che Guevara-esque cover portrait. How did your interest in politics and politically-charged comedy begin?

MC: I grew up in san Francisco in the 70s and 80s, which was a very political time, and then in the 80s I started doing comedy, and also a lot of fundraising for aids, and so having come from that it has made me a political person as well as a performer. Queer politics have taught me everything!

MH: Political change and public acceptance for the LGBT community has been a slow process, but when you look back on your stand up & comedic work–do you feel people are more open and tolerant when listening to politics and sexuality through comedy?

MC: Yes, I think it’s much easier to make politics about identity and sexuality much more palatable when you put them inside a joke. It’s kind of a trick, because even though you’re still an entertainer, your message can be incredibly progressive. I think humor and politics go hand-in-hand.

MH: Even for you, are there any “risky” topics that are difficult to get a laugh from?

MC: I don’t know, because it’s more interesting for me to talk about subjects that have controversial elements like gay rights, abortion, sexuality–I prefer what is taboo.

MH: I’ve watched all your tour dvds hundreds of times and I must admit, they are like political & pop culture time capsules referencing over a decade of LGBT politics! So much has changed even from the time of the Beautiful tour (2009) which references the now repealed DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), dreams that Obama would be elected, the hope for marriage equality (thankfully now legal in NYC), and, of course, if only Britney Spears was a lesbian (unfortunately hasn’t happened, yet).

Your shows are like a gay reference manual!

Do you ever reference past shows?

MC: Not really because I am always writing and the shows I do are constantly evolving. I also can never remember what I did! So I just keep writing and creating new material!

MH: I think your Korean mother impersonation in the “Everybody’s a little bit gay” routine from Notorious C.H.O. (2002) could go down in my top 10! Do you have any personal favorites?

MC: I love her voice throughout everything I do. She’s the voice of my asian-ness. Whatever is ancient and true within me.

MH: I think what amazes me most is the length of your shows & the depth of hysterical content. How much is improv vs. pre-written?

MC: Oh it’s all prepared pretty carefully beforehand. I haven’t done improv that much in my work. It’s very well planned!

MH: Can you share with us a little about your process of prepping your standup routine and/or content for each tour?

MC: I write out ideas that I would like to explore and then narrow them down as I start performing them. It takes awhile but I really love the process.

MH: Are there any aspects of your life that you don’t use within your comedy?

MC: Not really! I am so glad when I can write about something going on in my life. It’s so cathartic!

MH: So I know that you’re currently on your Cho Dependent tour (2011), but where are you at the moment? How’s the tour going?

MC: It’s great. I’m in London and it’s the last part of this tour. It’s been amazing to be able to perform in the UK and France. These are new places for me to work.

MH: You can sing, girl! How did the process of creating your comedy music album Cho Dependent (2010) originate/develop?

MC: I love singing and I wanted to bring together the wonderful musicians in my life and make this record. It was such a blast.

MH: Lastly I wanted to ask you about your tattoos. From one inked person to another, can you tell us any symbolism behind the work?

MC: I don’t have specific meanings behind each tattoo, I just love the way they look, and in a way I feel that the images always existed and the tattoo artists just brought them out of me. I love tattooing!

MH: Thank you, Margaret. Good luck on the tour & new season of Drop Dead Diva!

MC: Thank you!

Margaret Cho is an American comedian, actress, political activist, humanitarian, fashion designer, author, and recording artist. Cho is best known for her stand-up routines & worldwide tours, through which she addresses social and political issues (especially those pertaining to race and sexuality) with humor to promote social awareness & change. She is a proud supporter of LGBT rights and has won awards for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of women, Asian American equality, and the transgender & LGBT community. She is currently on her worldwide Cho Dependent tour and can be seen on the new season of Drop Dead Diva.

LINKS:

Margaret Cho’s Official Site

Cho Dependent Tour 2011 Official Site

Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime

Margaret Cho interviewed by Marie Havens

Written by Marie Havens

Edited by Tyler Malone

Photography by PixieVisionProductions / Courtesy of Ken Phillips (Ken Phillips Publicity Group, Inc.)

Design by Marie Havens

Captions:

Cover/Page 1:

Margaret Cho, Photography © PixieVisionProductions / Courtesy of Ken Phillips (Ken Phillips Publicity Group, Inc.)

Page 2:

Margaret Cho, Photography © PixieVisionProductions / Courtesy of Ken Phillips (Ken Phillips Publicity Group, Inc.)


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