Courage, Sobriety and the Fresh Off the Bloat Comedy Tour – with Margaret Cho

April 23, 2018

What does it take to be successful at stand-up comedy? Many people would love to know the secret! My guest today has “made it” in the world of comedy, but it hasn’t been a journey limited to happy unicorns and butterflies. She has faced real struggle, fierce addiction, and suffocating depression. Through it all, her openness and desire to be “real” have endeared her to the hearts of many adoring fans. 

Having conquered the world of film, television, books, music, and theater, Grammy and Emmy-nominated artist, Margaret Cho, is returning to her stand-up roots with her new tour, Fresh Off the Bloat. Margaret Cho first came to national attention as the star of the groundbreaking sitcom, All-American Girl. Her insatiable brand of comedy looks at race, sex, politics, and LGBTQ issues in an honest and personal way, and has earned Cho worldwide recognition. Rolling Stone magazine even lists Cho as one of the 50 Best Stand-Up Comedians Ever, hailing her as a funny, sex-positive feminist and LGBTQ activist that younger comics continue to look up to.

In this episode, we talk about recovery, her friend and mentor, Joan Rivers, and how her comedy has changed since recovery. Margaret has the kind of presence that, at first, feels a little intimidating, but her fearless, raw, outspoken humor has incredible candor, warmth, and kindness. Although she has a million projects currently on her plate, she took time out to talk to NextFem nation about courage, sobriety, and resurrection. 

“THIS will be my job”

Margaret Cho grew up in a very unusual environment. Her Korean parents ran a gay bookshop in San Francisco, where comedy was popular in the 1970’s. The comedy routines were political and sophisticated, and Margaret was exposed to the comedy of Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and Paula Poundstone. She knew this was what she wanted to do for her career, and these comedians became her friends. Joan Rivers, especially, became a friend and mentor as Margaret started out in a comedy group.

Changes through the years

Having women of color in comedy wasn’t even thought of when Margaret was starting out. She knew if she kept trying that it would work out. She says that NOW is the best time for women because there is the sense that women “can overcome anything.” The rise of feminism that the #metoo movement has sparked a new vision for women’s empowerment. 

Comedy and social issues

In the past, comedy’s handling of social issues tended to upset audiences, but these issues must be addressed, even if comedians are the only ones talking about it. Margaret was upset that the perspective on sexual abuse and rape were lacking in comedic material because she has always been open and vulnerable about admitting that she is a survivor. She believes that this is evidence of the inherent misogyny that exists in today’s society. Even though it’s still an incredibly difficult and taboo subject, Margaret remains committed to changing the game in comedy.

“Fresh off the Bloat”

Margaret’s new tour is very relevant and shares a kinship with the ABC show, Fresh off the Boat and the #MeToo movement. The show encapsulates the last couple of years in Margaret’s life, highlighting her life-changing events of” being off drugs and drinking and suicidal tendencies and coming back to life.” She says, “It’s meta. It’s magical. It’s me.”

Margaret’s healing

Margaret took a year off to heal from her destructive and suicidal tendencies. She says she came from a place where self-harm was glorified and presented as an appealing way to express sorrow and where depression was “worn like a badge.” In her comedy, she likes to push the envelope of every stigma that “we can’t talk about.” She explains why women in comedy have to excel to an insane level compared to men.

Why so busy?

Margaret is proud to do what she does! Her work IS her social life and she LOVES her life and her work.She says staying busy is energizing and her new tour covers being reborn, being a viable player, still playing the game, and maintaining relevancy. With her new tour, she says she has embraced her prime and the new world we live in. “This show is my best!”

The rebirth

Margaret says that she is excited to do new things in our “crazy new world full of new opportunities for women.” Because of internet access, we have social media and a 24-hour newsfeed, which changes the way we process information. She has to reconcile the traditional Korean culture with her work. She says that everyone in her family who would be offended by her comedy is dead. “I’m the old one now. If you live longer, then you get to redefine history.”

A big award and looking to the future

Margaret Cho has won a Lifetime Achievement Award and has been part of the gay pride movement since 1978. She marched for gay marriage in 2004 and finally saw it become reality in 2015. She says seeing the positive outcomes from activism has been encouraging and she’s proud to be part of the community.

Handling polarizing issues and taking care of yourself

Margaret Cho says that she doesn’t care what people think. You have to take risks and go through difficult stretches. She has learned to take care of herself after going through rehab and her personal transformation. She eats well, exercises, practices self-care, and says she “feels weightless now.” Her advice is to not take on too much. 

Highlights of the Episode:

  • 1:54 – The 80’s and 90’s, when there were hardly any Asian women on TV
  • 4:32 – Using comedy to tackle hot topics and social issues
  • 7:05 – The latest tour: Fresh Off the Bloat
  • 10:09 – Margaret’s “Girl, Interrupted” moment
  • 12:18 – Doing SO many things and being EVERYWHERE
  • 14:34 – How her rebirth has changed the way she does comedy
  • 17:00 – The Lifetime Achievement Award for LA Pride
  • 17:53 – What’s next for Margaret?
  • 20:28 – Taking care of yourself through polarizing issues
  • 22:32 – The Fem Five

Resources Mentioned:

The Fem Five:

1. Favorite book for women?

2. Favorite self-care hack?

  • “Go to bed early and stay there as long as possible.”

3. Best piece of advice and who gave it to you?

  • “If you’re funny, they’re always going to want you.” – Joan Rivers

4. Female thought leader or CEO you’re into right now?

5. One piece of advice you’d give your five years younger self?

  • “Everything’s going to be OK.”