SEPTEMBER 1, 2016
come after Margaret Cho unless she comes for you
By Nelson Branco
because you are blind and unable to see my beauty doesn’t mean
it does not exist.”—Margaret Cho
If there was a time to catch the amazing life force that is Margaret
Cho intersect with her groundbreaking journey at the corner of zeitgeist
and WTF, it’s now.
The irreverent and fearless comedian will be offering her trademark
shits and giggles—with a heavy dose of gravitas—during Just
For Laughs 42: Toronto’s Comedy Festival on September 23-24.
With America currently embroiled in a constitutional meltdown, an insane
presidential election that harkens back to the days of Hitler Lite,
and the world at a horrific crossroads, you can expect Cho to murder
her material. (Run out and buy tickets; your abs and senses will thank
Born into a Korean family in gay and racially diverse mecca San Francisco,
California, during the influential Harvey Milk era, Cho has been challenging
the status quo for the disenfranchised ever since she can remember.
(April 30 was declared Margaret Cho Day in San Fran in 2008.)
It’s no secret Cho was bullied as a child—long before public
abuse became an elastic social niche term. In an interview with the
Huffington Post, the openly bisexual star recalled, “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.”
The 47-year-old is an unapologetic provocateur—whether it be as
a controversial comic; ironic singer; indie film actress; star of TV’s
first East Asian comedy, ABC’s All American Girl (which was cancelled
after its first season due to low ratings and severe critical and Asian
backlash); supporting actress with an Emmy-nominated turn as North Korean
leader Kim Jong-Un in 30 Rock and supporting roles in Drop Dead Diva
and season four of Sex and the City; edgy fashion designer; talk show
host; or author. Yet she has somehow impressively navigated the hills
and valleys of fame and scandal when most of her peers have failed.
Today, the Grammy and Emmy nominee is enjoying yet another career reinvention.
To the delight of fashionistas and fans of insult comedy, Cho was named
co-host of E!’s Fashion Police. Like Kathy Griffin before her,
Cho stole the once-troubled show from her first punchline. Somewhere
in heaven, former Fashion Police icon Joan Rivers is smirking, ‘Bitch
stole my job.’
Her second album, American Myth, is receiving critical and audience
accolades for its ’90s references while tackling the current state
of U.S. politics and culture.
And her tour-de-force PsyCHO comedy tour is bringing laughter around
the world as she performs her favourite songs.
Depending on the country or city she’s headlining in, her routine
changes. “My act is constantly evolving. It depends on the news
cycle. I try to make it unique to the place I’m playing.”
So expect to witness parts of PsyCHO in her Toronto Just For Laughs
With songs like “Fat Pussy” and “I Wanna Kill My Rapist,”
Cho shows she isn’t afraid of tackling any subject. “Homophobia,
racism, sexism, Hollywood whitewashing, it’s all game,”
she says. “There’s comedy in everything—that’s
the key to surviving anything.”
was thrilled to speak with the dynamic Cho to dish the tea without the
Let’s get the important question out of the way: How’s your
mother, Young-Hie Cho? Your impersonation of her will always remain
classic and hilarious.
She’s good. Yes, she’s staying out of trouble.
Is there a difference between Canadian and American audiences?
Of course there is. I love performing in Canada. I have friends in Toronto.
In fact, I have family there, too. A quarter of my family migrated to
Canada and America from Korea. Or something like that!
Is it easy to write material given the state of the world to- day? Or
is it overwhelming to deconstruct the context into a two-hour show?
No. I’ve got some really good things to talk about. There’s
so much happening in the world. So much to talk about, from the presidential
election to terrorism. The world is out of control! When it comes to
America, there’s this urgency from gay, black and women’s
rights. It’s now or never for us.
For me, I’ve reached my saturation point even though I cover the
American election professionally. Do you even find this election funny
Definitely. [Laughs] Listen, it’s disgusting! It’s so gross.
The fact that [Republican presidential nominee] Donald Trump got as
far as he’s gotten is very alarming. It’s scary when you
think about it.
I agree with your peer Bill Maher: The reason racism has climaxed in
your country is because it never really dealt with the root cause of
slavery until a black man became president. My hope for your country
is that this conflict will finally climax and America will move forward.
Having said that, I don’t know if that’ll happen in my lifetime
because racism is so engrained in your nation’s DNA.
It’s insane. I think that’s totally true. President Obama
coming into the administration really exposed the racism in our country—it’s
come to the forefront and we have to deal with it. It’s important
to say: America is a very racist country. I feel it as a person of colour
all the time. People make judgments and so does the media. It’s
a lot to handle, to be honest. The good news is that social media has
given a voice to people who didn’t have one, so the conversation
Do you find that the Wild Wild West of social and political discourse
is so over the top that it’s harder to be irreverent now?
There’s a wonderful opportunity to put all this madness into context
and make it right. It’s life or death. Whether it’s Black
Lives Matter or the election, gender pay inequality or whatever. At
the same time, I think this moment in time was bound to happen. Like
you said, our climax. I’m hoping it is. I’m hoping there
isn’t any more death, discrimination and suffering. I hope we
can stop it.
Have we lost our sense of humour?
No. We’re gaining more of a darkness to our humour because of
all the news of death and terror every day. You can’t escape it.
It’s constant. We’re in a gallows humour era right now,
which French and Saunders [British comedy TV show by Dawn French and
Jennifer Saunders] masters brilliantly. Maybe that’s coming through
to the mainstream.
Is political correctness hurting humour? Or does social media counter
I think it’s kind of a free-for-all now. Political correctness
often helps —not hurts—people. I don’t find it to
be a problem.
Social media: good or bad?
It’s great. Like I said, it allows people to have a voice who
normally wouldn’t have one. You have a free and loud public forum
to discuss things. It’s an arena for your opinion so, of course,
that’s going to attract Internet trolls and crazy people. That’s
okay; I can handle that.
practically done it all—except split the atom. You’ve even
worked as a phone sex operator and dominatrix. How would you like to
be remembered professionally?
I’m a comedian. To me, that’s very much what I do, who I
am, where I thrive. It’s a very basic part of my existence. I
really love comedy. It’s ultimately my art form. Yes, I do really
love singing and writing my music, but all those other media have a
comic element, too.
Your career trajectory has been a bumpy yet memorable and successful
journey. Are you surprised by how it’s all evolved and that you’ve
I’m really happy and excited with how things have gone. I could
never have anticipated this. I’ve had a very long and successful
career. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’m very
Cultural appropriation, which you’ve been talking about forever,
is a major headline right now with Matt Damon starring as the lead in
the upcoming Chinese film The Great Wall and Emma Stone playing an Asian
role in Aloha. Yet opportunities for Asian actors are more plentiful
with hit shows like Fresh off the Boat, which also airs on ABC. Discuss.
It’s very exciting. There are a lot more venues for us, but mainly
it’s on TV. We’re starting to see slightly more representation
in film. Film is slow, almost backwards. They don’t get it exactly
yet. They don’t get diversity. They’re listening now but
mostly because of social media. The lack of diversity in media is what
I built the foundation of my career on. TV is doing well. Cultural appropriation,
I think, is going to stop. Executives are starting to realize they can’t
get away with it anymore—especially with the backlash. It’s
hurting the film industry. There’s such an outcry for diversity
and boycotting films that don’t feature reality. This isn’t
new. Entire histories have been whitewashed on screen. There is no more
value in casting white actors in diverse roles. And that’s a good
Since you’re bi, what do you think of the modern millennial term
It’s great. Gender fluidity too, for that matter, is complicated.
People think gender is binary, but it doesn’t have to be. Gender
and sexual fluidity are complex issues, very personal, very unique to
the individual. The bisexual term is [antiquated because it’s
too black and white for people to understand].
‘Fag hag’: Should the gay community take a cue from the
millennials and reinvent the term?
I use it as a historical reference. It’s a term that we, in our
community, have always used to define women like me in a community of
gay men. Although I do think it would be better if we tried to shift
that term. I like ‘Queen Magnet’ or ‘Gay Bae.’
Those are two positive terms. Yes, it’s time for an update.
Do you think the stigma of being a ‘female’ comedian is
Yes, I do. But you know what? I’ve always felt that women were
kicking ass. Women have always been my favourite in comedy, so for me
I never saw the stigma. People I love, my friends and heroes, they’ve
inspired me throughout the years. It’s nice we’re finally
getting our due. I’m a fan of so many brave women. I’ve
always put women on a pedestal.
And gay men.