Margaret Cho: ‘Comedy is still the best decision I ever made in my life’

Comedian and actor on surviving a difficult lockdown and US culture wars

Tara Brady

Mon, Oct 19, 2020, 05:00

Margaret Cho is sitting in her Los Angeles home. The five-time Grammy and Emmy nominee looks maybe half of her 51 years and is attended by a small devoted dog named Lucia Katharina Lawlor Cho. Lockdown has not been easy for the lively, outspoken comedian, actor, designer and singer-songwriter.

“This is a sad time for America,” she says. “It’s really difficult but it’s something we have to deal with. I haven’t done stand-up comedy for a while, which is really hard. But I’m here with my dog. And we’re safe.”

Cho first came to prominence as the quintessential 1990s stand-up heroine, a Joan Rivers for the grunge generation who took the world of comedy by storm at a moment when comedy was the “new rock’n’roll”. She was barely in her 20s when she featured on a Bob Hope special, became a regular on The Arsenio Hall Show and was the opening act for Jerry Seinfeld. Her no-holds-barred style has touched on race, bisexuality and the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Recent tours have examined everything from menstruation to colonics.

“I think comedy is still the highest art form,” says Cho. “I’m glad I decided to be a comedian. I still love it even though I don’t have the ability to do it right now. It is both cheap therapy and a way to get paid. But it’s also good to figure out what to think about and how to think about things and then to think about things so that I can work out what I want to say to my actual therapist.”

Cho, who worked as a phone sex operator and a dominatrix in her teens, was an early, characteristically vocal proponent of sex positivity during the culture wars of the 1990s. Speaking in the days after the Trump administration has requested to reinstate medication abortion restrictions, she expresses alarm over ongoing developments at the US supreme court. Sex in America, she notes, is politically charged.

“It’s so uncomfortable right now,” she says. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg is barely dead and we are doing the things that she did not want. Amy Coney Barrett is the worst person you could put forward for that job. And she could possibly sit on the supreme court for 50 years.

“It’s a worst-case scenario for women’s rights in America. We are looking at going backwards to the time before Roe v Wade. We’ll be living in The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m terrified for the future of America and American women.

“Everything is riding on this election. We have a terrifying situation in America at the moment. Of course the pandemic has made the world a very scary place in general. But we are also looking at a supreme court possibly overturning a lot of things they’ve been really important in terms of women’s rights, gay rights and immigration.