Margaret Cho chews the fat

By Loren King / Banner Correspondent

Posted Aug 11, 2017 at 2:59 PMUpdated Aug 11, 2017 at 5:19 PM

Margaret Cho’s personal brand of irreverent, fearless humor has been part of the entertainment landscape for so long, it’s hard to think of a subject that this passionately progressive 48-year-old comic hasn’t already tackled.

And then President Trump comes to mind.

“It’s so crazy,” Cho says by phone. “I’m in D.C. today, doing a [benefit] for the LGBTQ group at George Washington University, and it’s super weird to be here. I worked hard on the election and fully expected Hillary Clinton to win. I was with [Olympic figure skater] Michelle Kwan working to register people to vote. I still find it unbelievable that he’s president. I don’t understand. It’s the new normal, as they say. This is what life is like for us now.”

As she has done with other problematic parts of life, Cho, who calls herself a queer woman of color, has turned it into humor. Her razor-sharp observations on race and gender produce belly laughs of recognition. That will undoubtedly be the case when, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 12, she brings her act to Provincetown Town Hall at 260 Commercial St.

“It’s about a lot of things: the politics of fat, television and multiculturalism,” Cho says of her new show, “Fresh Off the Bloat.” “It’s a lot of fun — I love it.” This time it’s strictly standup, no music, with new material that’s daringly dark, mining such uncomfortable territory as alcohol and drug use and suicide.

“When you have a self-destructive nature, as I do, that’s always going to be an issue. So this show directly deals with that very intense stuff,” she says. “None of it is easy, [including] physical or emotional sobriety, but just trying to ask for life instead of death is a very important thing. You’ve got to find humor in it, and love and joy. There’s so much to look for there. My generation of artists, from Kurt Cobain [of Nirvana] to people like Chris Cornell [of Soundgarden] had a real death wish. Generation X had a strong self-destructive streak that people don’t really acknowledge. We need to find a peaceful balance in order to retain the artistic integrity of that era but also learn to live.”

In the current political climate, outspoken progressive comics, particularly women, have become targets of hate. Trump not only took aim at Rosie O’Donnell, but Kathy Griffin was bombarded with unbridled anger and misogyny after she posted an online photo of herself holding a sculpture of Trump’s decapitated head drenched in fake blood. Griffin apologized for the stunt — to no avail.

“That was a French Revolution [visual reference] and a throwback to John the Baptist,” Cho says. “They’ve done way worse toward Obama and Hillary Clinton. Way worse. It’s crazy. Trump is incredibly aggressive toward women or anybody not in his circle or who doesn’t buy what he’s selling.”

Along with Griffin and Sarah Silverman, Cho forms a triumvirate of boundary-busting feminist comics who were mentored by the late, legendary Joan Rivers.

“I learned a lot from Joan Rivers about never backing down [from controversy],” Cho says. “You have to just go along with it and figure it out. Even though she was nervous — like a little girl sometimes, and I loved that about her, [she had] an incredible vulnerability — she never backed down. Sometimes her jokes were so filthy, I’d be embarrassed, and I’m not easily embarrassed. She was the best. I miss her and I wish she was here now. She’d be having a good time.”

Besides Cho’s standup tour and other projects, such as her hilarious YouTube videos, she recently created and is starring in a TV project, “Highland,” that has just been picked up by the cable channel TNT.

“I worked with Liz Sarnoff, an amazing writer,” Cho says. “We tried to make it for two years and now it’s happening.” The show, due out in the spring of 2018, is “about a Korean-American family who gets caught up in the marijuana boom in California, what we call ‘The Green Rush.’ It’s a booming industry.”

TV has changed radically since 1994, when Cho’s ABC series, “All-American Girl,” made history as the first sitcom focused on Asian-Americans. It was canceled after one season, and the experience was devastating for Cho, something that she has talked candidly about ever since.

That candor is an essential part of Cho’s appeal, from the time she first made audiences laugh as a teenager in her hometown of San Francisco. It’s also why standup remains her passion, because of the immediate way it allows her to connect to audiences. It will surely be in full display at Town Hall on Saturday.

“I love Provincetown,” she says. “It’s my life; it’s what I do. I love, after the show, to get together with Ryan Landry. I love to see the shows [in town]. I see ‘Showgirls.’ I lay out and relax at Baker Street with Scott [Martino, Landry’s husband] and Ryan and the dogs. I always have a good time.”

And it’s nice to be able to recharge while on tour.

“I’ll be in Alabama the week before, so it’s going to be very different. But there are a lot of very frustrated people there, too,” she says. “There’s frustration everywhere.” She recalls an LGBT Pride parade in Los Angeles this year that turned instead into a resist march.

“It was great. I’m so ready to stay involved,” she says. “Activism pays off. It really works.”