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INTERVIEW: MARGARET CHO

By STEVE WRIGHT, Monday Oct 30, 2017

Emmy- and Grammy-nominated comedian Margaret Cho looks in at St George’s Bristol on Tuesday, November 28.

Featuring earlier this year on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 50 Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time, Margaret is active in anti-racism, anti-bullying, advocating for the homeless and gay right campaigns. She also has a Lifetime Achievement Award for leaving a lasting imprint on the LGBT community.

Of her new show Fresh Off The Bloat Margaret says, “This is my sickest show to date.  My grandmother said, ‘You look like bloated as if you’ve been found dead in a lake after several days of searching.’ Koreans are the most savage of all the Asians. We are brutally honest as a people – which is hard to grow up with but you develop a thick skin to handle it.

“My new show is all about being fresh off drugs and drinking and suicide and coming back to life – finally fished out of the river Styx. It’s meta. It’s magical. It’s me.”

Margaret’s career has spanned comedy, acting, fashion design, writing and music. Which of these strands has she put most of herself into, and which has proved the most satisfying? “I’m always first and foremost a comic – it’s my entire life. Ever since I was a teenager I have been a comedian, and I always will be. It’s both my favourite job and the thing I’m best at!”

Cho was born into a Korean family in San Francisco, growing up in a racially diverse neighbourhood that she described as a community of “old hippies, ex-druggies, burn-outs from the 1960s, drag queens, Chinese people, and Koreans. It was a really confusing, enlightening, wonderful time.”

She was bullied as a child: “I was hurt because I was different, and so sharing my experience of being beaten and hated and called ugly and fat and queer and foreign and perverse and gluttonous and lazy and filthy and dishonest and yet all the while remaining invisible heals me, and heals others when they hear it — those who are suffering right now.”

This and top pic: Albert Sanchez

These days, Margaret tours all over the world – and is happy with her peripatetic life. “I have a great time wherever I go. It seems that I’m very adaptable, which I discovered while travelling! I’m lucky to be able to go forth where no others have gone.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given our rich comedy heritage, UK dates are always among her favourites. “I love the UK, and my favourite comics there are Stephen K Amos, Paul Foot and Gina Yashere. In fact, I’d say they are the best in the world. Comedy audiences in Britain are sophisticated because they’re used to excellence in comedy – it’s a challenge that’s very inviting and intriguing.”

She’s consistently championed the rights of women, Asians and the LGBT community. Does she see similarities and differences between these three causes? “I think we all just want equality – so in this, we are all the same.” And is comedy a good medium for championing the rights of oppressed groups – or anyone not getting a fair bite of the cherry? “It is! People let their guard down when they’re laughing: it’s a great way to get your message across without being intimidating or preachy.”

In 2015 one Joan Juliet Buck, writing in W magazine, called Cho a modern-day femme fatale, noting that: “Not all women comedians are dangerous; some are just very funny: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are too relatable, Joan Rivers was too firmly ensconced in the society that she mocked (..) On the other hand, (…) Margaret Cho knows no boundaries and inspires palpable fear anytime she begins one of her riffs.”

Any thoughts on this encomium, Margaret? “I love it! I try to be boundless and I work toward challenging myself with topics that are scary and crazy. It’s always about revolution – how can I electrify this moment and make it transformative and true? It’s a daily struggle!”

Come and see her enact that struggle in Bristol later this month…

Margaret Cho plays St George’s Bristol on Tuesday, November 28. For more info, visitwww.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk/event/margaret-cho-fresh-off-bloat