Cho finds humor in scary times


“This is a nightmare, a crazy time,” Margaret Cho says.

Margaret Cho has been doing standup comedy since she was a teenager growing up in San Francisco. Fame came calling in the ’90s as Cho, never shying from controversy, found humor in the darkest of recesses.

Six years ago, Cho, who is of Korean descent and an actor as well as a comic, played North Korea’s dear leader, Kim Jong-Il, on an episode of “30 Rock” called “Everything Sunny All the Time Always.” So, she’s had some experience portraying the key figure in the ongoing horror show that is North Korea and finding black humor in it.

How about now, with his even-more belligerent son Kim Jong-Un rattling the sabers of nuclear war?

“This is a nightmare, a crazy time,” Cho says. “It’s scary. I remember when I was a kid at my parents’ church they would give food and supplies that were dropped into North Korea because there was this constant state of emergency there, where there was no food and it was really. ... Well, it’s still like that. I don’t know how those people survive; it’s a very strange situation. We’ll never know what goes on there.

”Right now, Cho isn’t finding the black humor zone, adding, “You don’t know what’s real and what’s not. What’s really crazy is that we have him and Trump and Putin.”

You can be assured Cho, 48, will be putting the humor cap back on when she takes the stage at the Town Hall Auditorium in Provincetown Saturday. She’ll be swinging for the fences with her political, sex-and-LGBT-positive comedy, finding laughs regarding more than a few third-rail topics. While Cho has released two albums with music – and sometimes does cabaret acts – this, she says, “is all standup comedy.”


The Cape Cod Times talked to Cho – co-host of “Fashion Police” for the past two years and a five-time Grammy and Emmy nominee – on the phone last month from Washington, D.C.

Q: The tour you’re doing now is called “Fresh Off the Bloat,” which, of course, I first read as “Fresh Off the Boat” and then thought, “Wait, that’s Eddie Huang’s TV show.” But I get it. You’re playing off that title ...

A: Yeah. I had the very first Asian-American sitcom in the ’90s, “All-American Girl,” and I did a (standup) show in 1999 all about it called “I’m the One That I Want.” Now, “Fresh Off the Boat” is so successful and “Fresh Off the Bloat” is very meta. It’s very back and forth about Asians and television and about beginning that journey again, beginning another TV show.

Q: What’s the status of that TV show?

A: We’re filming in September. It’s called “Highland” and it’s (a pilot) on TNT. (A spokesman for Cho says, “TNT has not given an air-date yet and we won’t know if it gets picked up for series until the pilot is finished/aired.”) It’s all about an Asian-American family amid the big marijuana boom in California. It’s very timely. They have a marijuana dispensary, and I play the prodigal daughter. I am fresh out of rehab and I have to work in the facilities with my parents in the marijuana business. It is really about, “Is pot a drug? What is sobriety? What is the truth? What is a model minority?” It’s a new kind of Asian-American family we haven’t seen before in television and I’m thrilled about that.

Q: Does it have an aggressive and caustic edge, as you often have doing standup?

A: Oh, yeah. It’s like “Breaking Bad” – very sick lifestyle, very druggie.

Q: Over to stand-up: What is the comedian’s role in the age of Trump?

A: It’s comic relief, making sense of what’s going on. It’s really bizarre. I did a show in Washington, D.C., at the beginning of June with very big comedians on it, and they asked us specifically to not talk about Donald Trump. That was so weird. I got to the event late and I was walking past the big crowd of people and I walked past Ivanka Trump. I was shocked that Ivanka Trump was the guest of honor.

Q: So, did you keep her father out of the comedic mix?

A: I did in a way. I was very offensive, and that’s all you can do is be incredibly offensive. This was the same week Kathy Griffin had done that photograph with Donald Trump’s decapitated head and people took that way too seriously. Like, I saw it basically (as) just a TBT – French Revolution, #Louisthe14th #MarieAntonette #JohntheBaptist. It’s not a big deal, but it really rocked the whole world. I thought, “What the hell? Why is everybody so up in arms about this? He is far more offensive than anything like that.”

Q: It certainly provided ammunition for the right to blast left-wing comics.

A: I realize that, but it’s just broad humor. It was really hard for her (Griffin). We’re very good friends so I know that that was rough, but it’s just a joke and I don’t see why that’s bad.

Q: Let’s presume Ivanka won’t be in P-Town. Her dad will probably come up frequently in the act, I’m thinking.

A: Oh yeah. You can’t help but do it. He is a nut and the fact that he is president is nuts. This is a fun time to talk about it. I’ve been a comedian since the Reagan era and talking about politics for a long time and this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Both Bushes, Dan Quayle ... You’d think it couldn’t get any worse than George W. Bush, but amazingly it has.

Q: You’ve done a lot of comedy about body image and looks. Is that still part of your act?

A: Yes. I think it’s really important. It’s about the constant judging of ourselves and assessing how we look and comparing that to this strange ideal of what exists in our society and on social media. It’s about finding peace in a very important way. “Fresh Off the Bloat” has other meanings, too – it’s an old-school fat joke, which I always appreciate.

Q: You’ve gone through different looks, sizes and hairstyles. What does Margaret Cho of 2017 look like?

A: I look good. I feel good. I restarted my yoga practice, which is going on 30 years now. I have a very proper bob, the most Asian haircut ever, and I’m like this very proper older Asian lady.

Q: Comics like to push the envelope, but it’s touchier in a PC age where someone may be filming everything on their cell phone. YouTube has made some comics more cautious. How about you? Are you more careful or are you a loose cannon?

A: Oh, I don’t care. It doesn’t really matter to me. I always just try to be funny and that’s more important than anything. Of course, people are offended and of course things get taken out of context, but you know comedy is a dangerous art form because it’s about being offensive. You’re only really good if you’re being offensive. One thing I learned from Joan Rivers is you gotta be really taking chances. She was a brilliant teacher that way and a good friend and an important person in my life.

Q: She was doing “Fashion Police” when you first started there, right?

A: Yeah, she was. It was her show and I’d been on it. Of course, then Kathy (Griffin) took it over for a bit and then I took it over from her. I love the world of fashion. I think it’s an art form, and I have a good time, and we have a good laugh. We remember Joan in a way she would have liked.

Q: Where is making music in your life?

A: I started making records and writing songs in 2008. That’s when I started to get pretty serious about it. In 2010, I had a record called “Cho Dependent,” which got nominated for a Grammy and then my next record, “American Myth,” was also nominated. I feel like this is a great passion as well.


Q: What musical artists inspired you?

A: I would look to Patty Griffin and Tori Amos. Amanda Palmer and Fiona Apple are incredibly influential and important to me.

Q: You have this song and video, “I Want to Kill My Rapist,” which is full-on furious. Kind of funny, in a way, but hard to take, too. It’s like you’ve concocted this on-the-psychiatrist’s couch ultimate revenge fantasy.


A: I think it feels good for people to use this fantasy, so you have catharsis and cauterize the wound with the fury and anger that’s released.


Q: Does stand-up work as catharsis for you?

A: Yeah, I think that it’s a constant, there’s like always this catharsis and you have a kind of way to use your art as therapy. It’s something I’ve always done and will continue to. It’s a greatly satisfying existence.