Margaret Cho barks about furries, pride, and costuming on The Masked Singer
by Patch O'Furr
Dogged persistence seems necessary to win success as a standup comedian. In school, the class clown might not be who you expect to become a household name. That’s why one like Margaret Cho can be extra fascinating among mainstream celebrities. She’s got layers. Fabulous, fluffy layers.
Live touring, TV, movies, fashion and music are all part of her creative canvas, with a palette of adult humor colored by mentors like Robin Williams, 1970’s San Francisco childhood, 1990’s alternative culture, Korean-American experience, female and LGBT identity, and enduring love for non-conformists. Her bio includes Grammy and Emmy nominations, accolades from the New York Times, and awards for representing the LBGT community among other activism for social progress. With such an arsenal of badassery at her disposal, she still graciously got on the phone with a little furry blog.
Research for our chat turned up a few interesting facts: The show format (guessing the hidden performer) originally came from Korean TV, and she was tuned in to it before being cast. Despite the comedy label, her background includes burlesque and serious study to create comedy music on the level of pros like Weird Al or Flight of the Conchords. You can watch her on Season 1, Episode 4 of The Masked Singer on Fox.com. Enjoy – Patch
(DP:) Hi Margaret. I just saw you being a singing poodle on The Masked Singer, and it made sense to ask you about it. I loved the cartoon space glam vibe of the show, and the Poodle seemed very You. It was so bold and fluffy but with hard edges like a robot. Can I ask you about performing in costume and how it fits in your career?
(MC:) It’s something that I have done in the past. I was Hello Kitty at FAO Schwarz years and years ago, which is a very difficult costume because you can’t see anything and the head is so large, and you need assistance to walk around.
The Poodle was a little bit easier, although still I couldn’t really see anything and it was very hard to actually do choreography because you weren’t really sure spacially where you were on the stage. And also to listen, I had an inner microphone that was allowing me to hear the music because you couldn’t really hear anything that was going on outside of the costume. So performance in this thing was pretty challenging, also because we had to have an additional spandex mask over our face and neck to conceal the bottom parts of the mask, because the mask only covered the top half of your head. So it was just a lot of costume, but it was also fun and special to be able to be in a costume and be kind of hidden away.
Is it unusual to talk to a little fan blog, and what do you think about the furries?
I love the furries, I think furries are so adorable, and I’ve been to a couple of furry events. One was a big one in San Jose, which was a very large convention. That was quite a few years ago. And then I’ve attended two of them in Salt Lake City, so I’ve been around the furry community a little bit. From what I know, it’s so cute, and I’m a big animal lover so it’s just like having giant adorable animals around you with very human qualities. And I think it’s great.
Do you have any pets?
I had three rescue dogs. All of them have since passed away. They all lived to the ripe old ages of 16, 17 and 14. And I actually don’t have any animals right now. My last chihuahua just died a couple of months ago. So it’s very strange to actually not have animals in my life currently. I’m still grieving the little ones death and so it’s a little bit hard for me to think about having another one so soon.
On the Masked Singer, you sang Time After Time and I thought you had the most emotion of all the singers. It’s a very poignant song, and it’s funny how a costume can help express emotion in a pure way. Before were unmasked, you said you loved the anonymity of it, and that’s something that furries talk about too. They talk about looking like you feel inside without being judged for your face. It makes an interesting comparison for how you confront identity in your work. I wanted to ask if you have any thoughts about being a minority or an outsider, or even media whitewashing, and how do you play with or subvert those barriers?
It’s hard to say because I don’t know what anything would be like from a different perspective, except for being in the poodle costume, there’s no kind of baggage that you put on the animal. There’s no race, I mean gender is there I guess, but in terms of race and class and age and all those kinds of things that people categorize us with, those don’t exist exactly. So it’s a very interesting kind of lesson in how would I be perceived if I was something different than I am who I am racially, who I am in my life. I kinda got into that, like we’re taking all of those ideas that we put on ourselves of who we are and change that, and where do we come out in the end? Like what does that identity look like if you can’t see the person, what does that sound like?
And I think that’s one of the great fun aspects of being on The Masked Singer. You get to sort of sidestep all of those assumptions that people may have already made about who you are from what you look like.
I love the fun aspect. Your comedy has that too. But speaking of stereotype, it makes me bring up that furries have a sexy reputation and sometimes we get shit on for it. Your comedy can be really explicit and I was wondering, do you have any advice about owning a reputation like that, or what do you do when you have to choose between expressing yourself or toning it down to fit in?
I think for me being queer, my sexuality is very politicized. And so when you have to fight society to be accepted for who you are, then those things become very political and very important. Sexuality is a really important aspect of my life because having to combat all of these stereotypes and assumptions and ideas that people have about queerness and about Asian American women and all of these things you have to deal with, that fight to retain that autonomy, that right to that pride is really important. So I think when your sexuality you feel is under attack, the expression of it becomes so much more important.
ou have a good singing voice and it makes me ask, are you interested in doing more voice acting for animation?
Oh, yes. I’ve done a little bit. I really enjoy it and love to do that kind of stuff as much as I can. I’ve gotten to do a few fun things here and there. Whether it’s the Family Guy, or I was even in the Rugrats movie years and years ago. So there’s stuff that I’ve gotten to do that I really treasure and hopefully I get to do more of it.
You’re one of the biggest names who has ever come to a furry convention. Recently I interviewed Jello Biafra, ex singer from the Dead Kennedys and he DJ’d our furry party in San Francisco. I’m wondering if you would ever be interested in performing or just coming to one of our parties? I know it can be a bit expensive for that kind of thing…
I’d love to. I think it’s so much fun. I love to see the creativity that goes into people’s costumes. It’s so incredible the way that people go all out and the animals that they come up with, their own creations, I think are really impressive. And it’s a real passion for people who love it. It’s a huge fandom that is really about creating your own and I really appreciate that.
Do you have any cool shows or performances coming up?
I’m still touring, I’m on the road a lot and I’m doing a lot of standup comedy all over the country. And then I’ll do some music still. Actually I’m doing the songs of Twin Peaks, the television show, and some of the songs from Wes Anderson films in New York with the Red Room Orchestra on February 15th and 16th at the symphony space there.
So I do a different kind of very eclectic music events along with stand up comedy. I’m doing that yet still touring, and directing a comedy special by a great comedian named Selene Luna who is awesome. She’s out on the road with me a lot and I’m doing that this weekend.
Would you ever get a chance to take the Poodle home and wear it whenever you want?
No! I’m very sad about it. I thought I was going to be able to keep the Poodle and then I can have the costume, it just seems like it would be a natural thing. Because it fit perfectly for me, I don’t know who’s going to wear it. I have a very oddly shaped head and it fit perfectly for my head so I don’t know exactly who is going to be putting that on, but they did not allow us to keep the costume, which is really unfortunate because I really loved my costume and grew very attached to it.
I feel like the show will go into other seasons, so maybe the costume will come back somehow in the mythology of the show. I don’t believe that people wear the same costumes, but I think maybe they’re going to have a gallery somewhere of all of the former contestants, but who knows. Those costumes are very elaborate. Some of them like the Unicorn or the Peacock are very, very fancy. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re going to be in a museum somewhere.
I noticed that you were involved in fashion design in the past. Do you have anything else to say about fashion or design?
I think it’s something that is really a passion that is very deep, and I worked for years on Joan Rivers’ show Fashion Police. After her death I was able to take over for her and so I will always love to have a hand in it. I don’t have anything coming up in terms of design, because I’m so busy doing comedy stuff. But I would love to pursue it at some point.
This has been a real honor, you’re so multitalented and I wish you lots of love. Thank you very much.