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MARGARET CHO

'I have a wardrobe of designer shoes - and spend £4k on a handbag: Stand-up comedian Margaret Cho shares her saving and spending habits

By Donna Ferguson For Mail On Sunday

PUBLISHED: 17:05 EST, 25 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:59 EST, 27 November 2017

Margaret Cho can earn up to £45,000 an hour doing stand-up comedy, but carries so little cash she once offended Jerry Seinfeld by asking him for loose change.

The star of US comedy show Drop Dead Diva keeps hundreds of pairs of designer shoes and dozens of handbags in her wardrobe. They include Louis Vuitton and Chanel 255 handbags which cost her up to £4,500 each. 

She owns a £1.1 million mansion in California, which she is turning into a party palace, knocking down all the internal walls on the top floor to create a vast entertaining space and chef’s kitchen where she can host dinner parties for 100 people.

The five-time Grammy and Emmy-nominated comedian was named one of Rolling Stone’s 50 best stand-ups of all time. This year, she has earned more than she has ever made before and is embarking on the UK leg of her acclaimed stand-up tour, Fresh Off The Bloat.

The tour, which started yesterday, embraces Bristol, Birmingham, Salford, Sheffield and Brighton before finishing at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on December 10. Tickets are available from livenation.co.uk. Now 48, she lives in Hollywood with partner Rocco Stowe. 

What did your parents teach you about money?

That you should never spend it frivolously. My parents ran a gay bookstore and a cafe in San Francisco. I do not know whether or not money was tight, but they were frugal and constantly felt the need to make more.

What was the first paid work you ever did?

Making hamburgers and french fries in my parents’ cafe for $4 an hour from age 13. I would get yelled at for making mistakes, so I got to be good pretty quickly.

I worked there every Saturday and Sunday as well as one afternoon after school. I saved up all I earned for two years and spent it on a flight to the UK. I got a Eurail pass and my friend and I went backpacking.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

Not really. I moved out of the family home when I was 17, but was able to make a lot of money doing stand-up comedy. I was frugal too, so always had enough to pay my bills.

Have you ever been paid silly money for a job?

Yes. It is not that unusual for me to be paid $50,000 (£37,000) an hour. Probably the most I have ever been paid is around $60,000 (£45,000) for an hour at a corporate gig. It is great that I am paid that much.

What was the best year of your life in terms of the money you made?

This year. As well as doing a stand-up comedy tour, I am working on several TV shows. I have just written, produced and starred in the pilot of a comedy drama for the TNT channel in the United States. It is called Highland and it is about a Korean  American family who have a big marijuana business.

What is the most expensive item you have ever bought yourself?

It was a Chanel 255 bag for £4,500. I own a few dozen like that, including a Louis Vuitton handbag which cost £4,100.

I also have a wardrobe full of designer shoes – probably a few hundred pairs. The most expensive was a pair of white and navy Gucci sandals I bought for £900. They are seven inches high. I love shoes, but I look at the bags and think: ‘This is wrong.’

I guess I am influenced by the fancy people around me in Hollywood wearing diamonds and even more insanely expensive handbags and shoes.

What is the biggest money mistake you have ever made?

Working with the wrong people about 20 years ago. I made bad decisions with them. They ended up suing me and taking all my money. That happens sometimes in Hollywood.

Do you save in a pension or invest in the stock market?

Yes, I do both. I do not know much about what I invest in – I do not really understand the stock market, so everything is managed by someone who does. I do know my pension is extensive – I have been paying into it since I was in my early 20s and it has grown a lot.

Do you own any property?

Yes. At the moment I am renting a small studio apartment, but I own a three- bedroom house just outside Hollywood. I bought it for $640,000 about 20 years ago and it has at least tripled in value.

It sits in an acre of land and I am renovating it to add a couple more bedrooms and a Japanese hot tub outside as a water feature.

I am also knocking down all the walls on the upper floor to make a giant chef’s kitchen. The plan is that I will be able to host vast dinner parties for 100 people. I love to cook.

How much cash do you carry around?

None. One time I was out with Jerry Seinfeld and we were trying to get coffee out of a machine. I did not have enough change so I asked him if he had a quarter (25 cents) – and he was offended.

‘Why would I have a quarter?’ he asked me. In the end, we gave up on the coffee because neither of us carry any cash.

If you were Chancellor of the Exchequer, what is the first thing you would do?

I would make funding the National Health Service a priority. I wish we had the NHS in the US, but it is alarming and scary that it is so underfunded.

Do you think it is important to give to charity?

I do at least four events a year for charity. Giving to charity is a way to spread my good fortune around.

What is your number one financial priority?

Not to spend beyond my means because I do have lavish tastes.