When I think of Margaret Cho, I think of her hilarious standup act in flashes of representative scenes. There's Margaret telling everyone how weird it is to be an Asian American on an airplane with a flight attendant offering you Asian chicken salad. ("That is not the salad of my people!") There's Margaret imitating her mother's cute Korean accent and puzzling over gay men and their, uh, interest in "the ass." And then there's Margaret imagining how period-centric the world would be if men menstruated. The busy comedian/activist/all-around rad diva took some time out of her schedule to talk with us about her many projects, including VH1's The Cho Show (the second episode airs tomorrow), what it's like to have a day named after you in San Francisco, and who is hotter: Lindsay Lohan or Samantha Ronson?
To check out the interview (and/or to listen to it!),
GiggleSugar: People feel very connected to you personally. Do you have any funny or crazy fan stories?
People really connect with me for a lot of different reasons. I was the first Asian American person they ever saw on TV, and I was the first person to talk about gay stuff. I think when people see images of themselves in the media they feel like they matter, they exist and they‘re real so a lot of my connection with people who are fans of mine, it goes deeper than just an entertainment or artist kind of relationship, so I don’t really have like, a funny or weird fan story.
GS: You have a lot on your plate right now, particularly with The Cho Show which premiered on VH1 last week. I really love the chemistry you have with Selene, your gay friends, and your parents. It seemed to me like a 21st-century family.
MC: It’s like this beautiful, queer, multicultural, and very functional family. It’s really beautiful.
GS: Can you tell me what your vision for the show was?
MC: Well, I wanted to do a show about another Asian American family because I brought the first Asian American family to TV (All-American Girl) and I then I was alarmed that there had not been another one.
GS: Race, and sexuality and gender have been really central to your work and have inspired lots of people to join comedy who might not have felt like they could be a part of it. What do you think the state of race issues in comedy is these days?
It’s a big deal. Race is still very much a factor in how much we see of you. Like I look at my contemporaries, the people I started with are people like Ben Stiller, and I feel like, considering the difference in our careers, and how far he goes . . . he’s white, he’s straight, he’s a man. I think he’s great, I like him a lot, but . . .Race is a big factor in how successful people become.
GS: With some comedians I get the sense that they’re saying we’re post-identity, post-race, they think race doesn’t matter as much because now we’re all liberated . . .
MC: No! It’s just as bad as it always was. It’s incredibly sexist, incredibly racist, and incredibly homophobic. There’s no difference. It’s not liberated.
GS: I’m wondering if you saw the pictures of the Spanish basketball team . . .
Oh, yeah. That to me is so offensive but I feel that to them it was supposed to be affectionate. That’s how you’re affectionate, by showing racism. I think that there’s such a casual attitude towards racism against Asians that exists because I feel like the Asian community at large and especially the Asian-American community is not responsible enough to stand up to it and so I feel like it’s my responsibility to stand up to it.
GS: Who are some of the comics who inspired you and who are some of your favorite comedians now, and why?
When I was growing up, probably Joan Rivers or Richard Pryor or George Carlin or Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, Paula Poundstone. Major huge influence. Love her. And now Wanda Sykes is my favorite. Chris Rock. Dave Chapelle. Bobby Lee. I’m a big fan of comedy.
GS: Do you see comedy evolving?
MC: I feel like comedians are becoming political — they’ve always been political — but they’re becoming more political now, and are even invited into the political realm to talk about politics. I’m an Obama campaign surrogate so to me that’s a very exciting thing to do. And so, I think, comedy has evolved and people are taking us more seriously as social commentators. Which is really cool.
GS: This is more a personal question but is also related to your humor. In your earlier shows like The Notorious C.H.O. you talk a lot about your experimentation when you were younger with sex, drugs and being kinda self-destructive. Do you regret any of that or do you think it contributed to who you are now and to your humor?
MC: I don’t regret that. I feel like . . . I want the brain cells back. (Laughs.) That’s the hard part . . .
GS: Don’t we all!
MC: Cuz I remember I used to be so lightning fast and it was like really crazy how smart I was. And now I’m just f*ckin’ so dumb, and I can’t remember sh*t.
GS: I think that’s age, too, cuz I’m right there with you.
MC: Yeah, but it’s f*ckin’ drugs. For me, it was totally drugs. I have huge gaps.
GS: But you weren’t a huffer or anything? (Laughs.)
MC: No, but you know, I did every drug, and a lot.
GS: You were a San Francisco girl, how could you avoid it?
MC: It’s so fun, but I miss the brain cells.
GS: They’ll regenerate. I think. (Laughs.) So, speaking of San Francisco, how does it feel to have a Margaret Cho day christened by the mayor?
MC: That was April 30. That was just last April. It was really cool and I actually work with Mayor Newsom a lot, because he and I are big gay marriage advocates.
GS: And your parents are still in San Francisco?
No, they moved. They’re in San Diego now.
GS: They’re so cute!
MC: They’re really cute.
GS: Your parents seem so not uptight!
MC: Well, they have their moments of getting super-uptight. They can’t fight their culture all the time. They can be pretty uptight sometimes and annoying. But they’re super-sweet and really fun, too.
GS: How does it feel to be successful and to also remain rebellious? Do you still feel like an outsider?
MC: I’ll always be an outsider because of who I am. There’s never going to be a feeling where I feel like I’ve arrived or I’m comfortable, but I feel like I’ve created my own thing. I love performing, I love doing standup comedy, and I love writing.
GS: You’ve been married for six years.
MC: We’ve been together for like 10. We’ve been married forever!
GS: But you still identify as bi or queer.
MC: For sure. Which I’ll always be. That doesn’t change.
GS: That’s wonderful. Are there any other projects that you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
I’m doing a show for the Lifetime Channel now called Drop Dead Diva which is a comedy/drama. I play a legal secretary which is really cool and funny. I have to cover up my tattoos in a suit and be super-vanilla which is cool and which I love. And it’s a great show and then I’m going to finish out my tour dates, and then I’m gonna see if I finish out season two of The Cho Show. (I hope we are!) But we don’t know yet.
GS: What are some things that your fans might not know about you that would surprise them?
MC: Like, I am really a dog mom.
GS: Oh . . . ! [This is where I kept quiet about my cat fetish.]
MC: I have three dogs. They’re my whole life.
GS: Silly questions, now. Either or questions: Strawberry or grape-flavored gum?
MC: I can’t chew gum because I’m such a spaz like I would bite the inside of my mouth so much and bite my tongue and then my whole mouth would be filled with blood. It’s really stupid. I’m really dumb about chewing gum. I’m not sure how to. Sometimes, I’m super dumb about stuff. The other thing I’m dumb about is I don’t know how to do the laundry.
GS: I wish I didn’t know how to do the laundry and then I could make someone else do it. Granny panties or thongs?
MC: Um, I’d say thongs. But I do appreciate a granny panty in moderation.
GS: Lindsay Lohan or Samantha Ronson?
MC: Oooh. I love Samantha. (GS: I know!) MC: She’s such a hot dirty butch. I like her a lot.
MC: That’s it Margaret, thank you so much for your time. I hope to catch your show, Beautiful, in Santa Rosa!