Margaret Cho – Putting the ‘B’ in LGBT
September 23, 2019
By Alexander Rodriguez
Margaret Cho is hands down the Queen of Media – film, stand up, television, music, books, theatre, and now podcasting. She became an activist for LGBT rights, gender equality, sexual abuse victims, the homeless, racial diversity and more, before it was the popular Hollywood thing to do. She has five Grammy nominations and one Emmy nomination for work in comedy, acting and music – she’s taken selfies with Meryl Streep (televised live to millions), she’s marched in protests, survived a network sitcom and dated Quentin Tarantino. Some might argue that her comedy is vulgar, explicit and past political correctness – she doesn’t give a f*ck and you can’t deny the critical acclaim every one of her specials have received and you can’t deny the multitude of fans that follow her career – regardless of age, gender, orientation or class. Rolling Stone named her one of the 50 Best Stand Up Comics of All-Time.
Starting from an unconventional home, her mother fled an arranged marriage, her father wrote joke books and her parents owned a gay bookstore in 1970’s Haight District in San Francisco – to say her beginnings were colorful is an understatement. At a very early age, she worked as a phone sex operator and a dominatrix.
Hitting the scene hard early on, she won a contest opening for Jerry Seinfield, hit the college circuit playing over 300 shows in two years, performed on The Arsenio Hall Show, and even performed on Bob Hope’s primetime special. She has a relationship with classic comedy greats as well as current contemporaries – she got to hang out at The Friars Club during the 80’s and 90’s and was mentored by her comedy father Robin Williams (who also inspired her commitment to helping the homeless) and her comedy mother, Joan Rivers, with whom she celebrated a very close relationship. She’s appeared in random places – with John Travolta in Face/Off, guest starred on Golden Palace (The Golden Girls spinoff), documentaries, and enjoyed a multi-year run on Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva (a different experience for her since she was not calling the shots.)
Life hasn’t always been full of comedy. She has been very open about her years of sexual abuse, her journey on sobriety, and her eating disorder caused by studio pressure from doing her sitcom. But she has persevered and even made her experiences the butt of her jokes. Her stories have inspired fans to come out, so to speak, with their own strength and voice.
Her voice can now be heard on her latest project, The Margaret Cho podcast. Presented by a new female-led podcast network Earios, in partnership with podcast company Acast. The 36-episode first season features guests such as Jonathan Van Ness, Kat Von D, Michael Yo, and more.
Not only did I get to chat with her for a special episode of On the Rocks Radio Show, but we got to chat on the 5th anniversary of Joan Rivers’ death and the celebration of the 25 Year Anniversary of her sitcom, All American Girl – the first time we saw a Korean family take front and center on network TV. Here’s the transcript of our chat:
How is Margaret Cho the person and Margaret Cho the persona most different?
I guess I’m a pretty quiet and shy person. Part of what I do is about being really outgoing and I’m not really like that. I mean, I think most comedians are withdrawn people, we’re generally shy. So, yeah, I’m very shy.
You were chatting about LGBT rights, gender equality, racial equality and women’s sexual abuse before it was a popular thing to chat about. Do you think your voice was heard?
I don’t know. I think it’s important to at least start talking about these things. So yeah, it’s like one of the things I’m proud of. I’m always ahead of things, I feel like, and that can be good. I am glad that I get to have a voice.
You have been very open about your sobriety, making news that you lived in a sober living home for a while. What was your tipping point?
I really loved being in the sober living home – I loved all the people I got to meet and lived with. You know, it was an important journey. I had an intervention! I didn’t have a choice. I had to go into rehab or face some pretty dire consequences. I didn’t have a tipping point myself; I was kind of forced into it. And I’m glad it happened.
How has your relationship with your family grown since the start of your career?
Well, I think they’re proud and I think they’re excited about my work and are enthusiastic. And you know they always want to be a part of it and that’s good. I think they love show business now.
Your sitcom, All American Girl, is 25 years old! The cast recently got together to chat about the show and its place in TV history as the first time we saw an Asian driven family show. Do you think the show would have lasted longer if it was produced now? What would you have done differently?
Maybe. I would have loved to do it now. It was way ahead of its time. I think I would have gone into cable, even though at that time cable wasn’t what it is now. It was a different time. Cable was not thought of in the same way, but it would have given me a lot more freedom to be myself as a performer. Because I was doing stand-up comedy on cable and able to say anything.
Do you think body positivity has truly gotten better in entertainment?
I really do. I think that’s great and it’s important. We’re looking at different kinds of beauty and I love that.
Today we honor the 5th year anniversary of Joan Rivers’ death. What’s foremost on your mind today regarding Joan and comedy?
I think that what is great about comedy is that you’ll be able to work forever… a comedian’s talent and appeal never really diminishes. It gets better and I think that’s true. She taught me that.
You hit the road hard, appearing in many different cities in a short time. What’s it like traveling on the road with Margaret Cho?
Well, it’s mostly just doing the shows and kind of going fast between the places. There’s not a lot of sightseeing or going out or even restaurant meals. It’s mostly about being on the go, which I love.
What’s your dating situation?
I’m single, and to me, that’s a really great thing. I haven’t been single in a long time. This is a nice time to explore that, so we’ll see.
What’s your motivation for your podcast, The Margaret Cho?
I think it’s a lot of fun, and I already knew that. It’s a great chance to catch up with people that I never get to see, that I love so much – it’s hanging out and having fun with friends.
How would you define your sexuality?
I’m an old school bisexual, but then I also think that’s limiting because gender is more than just male and female. So, it’s not exactly the correct term but it’s something I appreciate that doesn’t get used a lot. Plus, I like saying “bi.”
I just must know, what was it like filming an episode of Golden Palace?
I loved getting to meet all the ladies, I loved Golden Girls and that I got to be there. Rue McClanahan humming in my ear… I had to sing on the show, and she hummed to me to get the pitch correct. It was so great she did that for me. I loved it.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully doing a lot of comedy, movies, everything!
You can follow everything Margaret Cho on her website, www.margaretcho.com and listen to a new podcast episode every Tuesday: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-margaret-cho/id1470515305