Margaret Cho talks Harvey Weinstein, social activism and famous friends ahead of Birmingham show

By Rebecca Stanley | Entertainment | Published: Nov 10, 2017

She’s been described as unique, outrageous and very out-spoken - and now Margaret Cho is bringing her sickest show yet to Birmingham.

The Korean-American comedian will stage her new show Fresh off the Bloat at Birmingham’s Glee Club - a show that focuses a bright light on all of the horrors of the world.

“It's a play on words of the phrase ‘fresh off the boat’ - I love a pun!” Margaret tells us.

“The show is all about the bloated nature of the world of politics and of course, Donald Trump.

“I talk about all the craziness that we Americans are dealing with over here - and other incredibly dark, terrible stuff.

“I talk about racism and whitewashing in the media - something I’ve dealt with for a long time - so it covers a lot of stuff.

“It’s been fun because I’ve been taking these topics and just finding a way to laugh. I think comedy is the best way to find a coping mechanism.”

Margaret also addresses deep and dark things that have affected her own life - such as overcoming her addictions to drugs and alcohol, battling suicidal thoughts, and the AIDs crisis of the 1970s.

“I think that the best comedy addresses how we’ve used desperation to survive, and cope with the difficulties of life.

“There’s something about comedy that makes everything better - it allows you to handle things better and I wanted to bring these things together.” Margaret says.

“When it comes to talking about the AIDs crisis, I have never found a way before that I could discuss it. It was something that my family dealt with living in Los Angeles, and something that made sense for me to address.

“It was hard to figure out how to say what happened in the right way. It was a case of deciding how to talk about in a way that was respectful and true.

“I needed more skill as a comedian to talk about that, and I feel that I’ve reached that place now.”

Margaret has not only taken the hard times of her life and channelled them into her comedy career - the 48-year-old star is also a fierce activist that regularly speaks out against bullying and sexual abuse, offering victims someone to talk to.

“People really love it, they feel liberated that it's getting talked about in a way that isn’t triggering or somehow distant.” Margaret explains.

“People really respond well because they know that it's something very few people address or talk about.

“If you talk about it in a way that is also very respectful, and at the same time honest and not fearing of reprisal or guilty. I think it helps others to deal with it.

“That's what I love about all the women coming forward about Harvey Weinstein - because it’s really important to address these things”. Margaret says.

“Its really good that survivors are now coming together and speaking out, that in itself is a great triumph.”

Margaret is also very open about her bisexuality as well as being vigorously active in the LGBT community - performing at pride festivals across the world.

In 2008 her and some close friends - Kathy Griffin and Cyndi Lauper - were filmed shopping for parade outfits when at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival in Sydney, where Margaret herself was Chief of Parade.

“I think it’s great that I get to be involved in these events! People are really happy about that sort of openness.

“My political life is never made of lies - it's always really about this drive for acceptance, honour and equality.” Margaret says.

“I’m very proud of being able to do so much in the gay community and to have been around it for so long.

“Being with Cyndi and Kathy was great! Cyndi was my boss for years when I worked on her True Colours tour, and me and Kathy are really old friends - she is amazing.”

Margaret worked on the True Colours alongside Cyndi and Kathy - as well as the likes of Debbie Harry, Erasure, the Dresden Dolls, Rosie O’Donnel, The Gossip and more.

The tours ran annually from 2007 until 2010, raising money for the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG and the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Other local and private LGBT charities and foundations were supported as the event grew.

“That tour was so exciting, I really got to know everyone so well like the Dresden Dolls - I hang out with them whenever I can.

“The most amazing part of it was getting to see Debbie Harry every night, and I opened for Erasure.”

Margaret Cho was born to a Korean family in San Francisco, California, and grew up in a racially diverse neighbourhood throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Despite her parents conservative views - their liberal side helped Margaret and those she surrounded herself with flourish.

“My family, although they were very conservative, had a really liberal side to them.

“They had a gay bookstore called Paperback Traffic - which in itself was incredibly strange but great.” Margaret laughs.

“This meant that my very traditional family were around really artistic, political young people in the 70s and 80s. These people were also part of my family, and to have my parents accept them was amazing.

“My family very much encouraged the spirit of independence which was exciting.”

As a child, Cho was bullied for being what others described as ‘different’ - though she always saw the bright side to life and channelled her pain into making others see happiness in laughter.

“I got into comedy at a young age. I started performing at 14 but I wanted to be a comedian at 8 years old.

“I wanted to be Wonder Woman as a first choice of career, but the second choice was comedian and I never stopped.

“My main comedy influence was and always will be Joan Rivers. She was the best, she was my friend and I’m so lucky to have known her.”

From then, Margaret has gone on to global headline tours - playing in some amazing venues.

“Some of my favourite stand up moments have been playing Radio City Music Hall and reaching capacity.

“I love to play Red Rock, which is this crazy outdoor amphitheatre in Colorado which is a trippy stage - you feel like Bono out there!

“I’ve had some great experiences, but the best in my mind is that I still continue to stay on the road and working.”

Margaret is not just a stand-up comedian however - she broke into the world of film in 1997 where she had a supporting role in action film Face/Off alongside Nicolas Cage and John Travolta.

“Filming for Face/Off was funny! Nicolas Cage is crazy, he stayed in character the whole time which was so stupid - he changes character in the movie! It was hilarious to be around.

“John Travolta is nice as well, I’d just sit in a trailer with them and eat pie. I gained so much weight shooting that film just from eating pie and beef wellington with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage.

“I’ve just done another big action film with Will Smith that comes out in summer called Bright which was a very different experience, I was in so many big action sequences.”

As well as film, Margaret starred in her first TV show - The Golden Palace - in 1992 and has since gone on to star in such shows as Sex and the City, Drop Dead Diva, 30 Rock and Family Guy.

She has also appeared as a guest judge on hit reality tv show RuPaul’s Drag Race, and has become close friends with many of the queens who have featured on the show.

“I am really old friends with RuPaul so it was so fun and special to appear on Drag Race.

“I love the show and so many of the queens on there like Bianca, Ginger, Kim Chi, Jinkx - It was so wonderful. I had a blast.”

Margaret wrote and starred in her very own film Bam Bam and Celeste in 2005 - starring the likes of Alan Cumming, Jane Lynch and Elaine Hendrix.

“It was very cool to make a film that was very indie and tiny budget, and to go on a road trip.” Margaret says.

“I had such a great time writing the film and also starring in it. It's very cool to be in front of and behind the camera. I do this with my new show Highland and it’s something I love so much.”

Margaret has also dipped her toes into the world of music - releasing nine full-length comedy albums as well as more serious offerings Cho Dependent in 2010 and American Myth in 2016.

Unfortunately, a medical condition prevents Margaret to play music as much as she longs to.

“I love to make music, it’s always been part of my life.

“My playing is not great as I developed carpal tunnel syndrome so I don’t have the ability to play as much as I did so I miss that, but I will always sing and it’s something that I love.”

Margaret has carved a successful career in showbusiness, mostly in comedy, and has some salient information for other female comedians who wish to do the same.

“You just have to persevere. It’s a very big boys club but women have to rise to the ranks and just be better - because we are better.

“All of the female comedians I know are incredibly gifted and able to do more than men ever do.

“We’re fortunate because we’re fighting for the top all the time and we excell.”

Margaret Cho will bring her Fresh Off The Bloat tour to Birmingham Glee Club on November 29, 2017.