On the eve of her biggest ever UK tour, outspoken US comedian Margaret Cho tells us how Joan Rivers took her under her wing, and why she’s scared of Tilda Swinton. Plus, what gives Tim Roth the right to bang on about British politics?

Margaret Cho on her most extensive UK tour to date

What can people expect from the gigs?

A lot of stuff about Trump. Every day it gets worse. So a little bit will be apologising to the world for him and trying to make sense of it.

Do you have any favourite British comedians?

I’m very fond of Paul Foot. We went on a gastronomic adventure together to Paris. He’s a true British eccentric. He’s perfectly crazy. And I love Gina Yashere but she’s like an international citizen — she’s everywhere.

How much has your comedy changed over the years?

I started when I was 14. I didn’t know what I was doing but I got political quite early on. I did a lot of shows talking about Aids fundraising and gay activism. I learned comedy a lot through activism so it’s always been a big part of my work.

How did you start?

My family owned a gay bookstore in San Francisco, oddly enough, and there was a stand-up club over the shop, which is where I started. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It was a gradual process of learning from people. Joan Rivers took me under her wing early on — she was a good friend.

What was your act like when you were 14?

I had a job at a toy shop where I was dressed up like a rag doll and I was also an underage sex line operator. Then I started working at a lesbian bondage collective. I wasn’t short of material.

Whitewash row: Tilda Swinton

What advice did Joan Rivers give you?

She was always very encouraging and said there would always be a place for funny women in comedy, that it wasn’t like acting, where you disappeared at a certain age. She was right. Every time I’d have a difficult show we’d talk and she’d set me right. She was on my side all the time.

What’s the worst gig you’ve ever done?

A fundraiser for survivors of sexual assault. I’m one myself. I was doing these jokes about being a survivor of sexual assault but they were not having it. They were not happy at all. Joan did it the year before and they hated her more than they hated me, so that made me feel better. If you’ve been through sexual abuse there has to be a way of coping and for me it’s making tasteless jokes.

Did you finish early?

No. I refuse to leave. That’s my problem too. If an audience doesn’t like me I make sure they really hate me. I just make sure it’s miserable for everyone — that’s my strength as a performer. I did a terrible gig at the Edinburgh Festival. I was told the audience were all bussed in from Fife — I have no idea if that was true. I thought they were going to kill me but I refused to leave the stage. I’m friends with a professional psychic who phoned me the day before, saying, ‘What happened? I have this terrible feeling.’ I think he just got the premonition early.

Early support: Joan Rivers

Has your psychic friend given you any other advice?

He told me I have a Lindsay Lohan-style trajectory and that I should go to rehab. He wasn’t the only person who told me that. My friends and family had an intervention. I arrived at the intervention with wine because I thought it was a party. So I spent a year in rehab.

You criticised Jimmy Krankie — aka Janette Tough — for playing an Asian fashion designer in the Absolutely Fabulous film. Were you aware of The Krankies?

No, but I heard Jennifer Saunders got mad about what I said. I’m not friends with her but I am with Dawn French. She’s like a mother hen. But whitewashing is a big deal. I had a big argument with Tilda Swinton about whitewashing in Doctor Strange. Tilda’s mad at me, which is really scary. It’s like being in a fight with Björk. I’m scared some weird bad fairy magic s*** is going to go down.

What lessons has your career in comedy taught you?

Not to be afraid of anything. We’re living in a world where outrage is the norm but you just have to understand all this rage and craziness evaporates as quickly as it starts. For a couple of years, everyone was really sensitive about what comedians were saying and what could and couldn’t be said but I feel that kind of censorship has gone away for the most part. It’s an exciting time.

Cho starts her UK tour on November 25 at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh.