Margaret Cho goes deep with new music

 May 5, 2016
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Out Emmy- and Grammy-winning comedian and actor Margaret Cho recently took her inner rock star out for a spin with the release of “American Myth.”


Cho has done musical albums before, but this latest, which she co-wrote with folk/rock singer-songwriter and producer Garrison Starr, feels way more heartfelt and assured than her previous musical efforts. It offers dazzling insights and meditations on the subjects of family, anger, fame, gayness, grief, fat pride, love and hate.

“I’ve worked with her before on ‘Cho Dependent’ and she is a very good friend of mine,” Cho said about her collaboration with Starr. “She and I work together very well as collaborators and she’s a great producer. She’s inspiring. She can write so effortlessly and add on to my writing. So we have a good rapport. We always have. I really enjoy being in a band with her.”

Cho said the album’s title was inspired by one of the songs.  

“It’s from the song ‘Anna Nicole,’” she said about the first single on the album, which is about Anna Nicole Smith. “Her story is quite an American myth: that small-town girl who becomes this beautiful icon but in a sense is too beautiful for this world. That’s a very American mythology sort of character in the same way that Marilyn Monroe is. You change your name, you change your identity to an extent but you can’t really escape certain things, certain truths. So to me that’s a very particular cinematic myth, that idea where you are too beautiful for this world like James Dean or even Princess Diana, even though she’s not American.”

Cho has been known to strap on a guitar on stage every now and then but said that, for this effort, she just focused on her singing (which, by the way, is stellar).

“I wrote the songs on the guitar and I didn’t actually play on any of the tracks, which is a shame because I should have,” she said.

As most people know, between her standup shows, acting gigs and her duties as one of the hosts of “Fashion Police,” Cho has a really busy schedule. So we asked if it was tough to write and record an album, as well as film music videos for it, amid her already-hectic schedule.

“Not really,” she said. “The part that was really hard was deciding when to release it and to make the videos and put everything together. That took quite a while. Recording we did mostly in L.A. in Koreatown, which was convenient for us. But the writing, we did a lot of that in Atlanta, which was where I was living at the time. It just took a while to figure out when we could do it.”

One of the cool things about the album is that, if Cho’s name wasn’t on it, you’d think you were listening to an album recorded by a seasoned lifelong musician, not a comedian. We asked Cho if she had considered putting out the album under a name other than her own.

“That would be interesting,” she said. “I thought maybe I would have another alter ego as a band. I didn’t know what it would be. I would love to do that thing that [Garth Brooks] did where he had an actor play him that was thinner and younger. It was the Garth Brooks version of Ziggy Stardust. I should have done a Chris Gaines.”

We also asked if she would ever tour as musician or band leader, without comedy. But she said it’s difficult for her to separate and compartmentalize the two.

“I’ve done that before and it’s a little hard because I’m really very focused on being a comedian,” she said. “I don’t know how I would go about doing that. I think it would be hard for me not to be what I am. I do sort of incorporate some music into my shows but not a strict music show. Maybe a festival or something. Maybe I’ll develop into that someday. This is really a true musical expression of what I do. Some of the songs I play in my work and my comedy. It isn’t as strictly comedy-music like my friends Fright of the Concords or Weird Al [Yankovich]. It’s very much a serious record too.”

Still, Cho does mix and mingle with a lot of musicians. So we imagine it would be easy for her to call somebody up and go on the road as their opening act if she was so inclined.

“I would love to go on the road with Fiona Apple,” she said of her dream musical gig. “That would be ideal because we could do stuff together. You know who would probably let me do it? Andrew Berg, probably because he has comedians open up for him as well. That would make sense.”

For now, Cho is focused on her more high-profile jobs. Mainly, touring the world making people laugh and appearing on E!’s “Fashion Police,” which saw Cho stepping in amid the creative chaos after the passing of original host Joan Rivers. The tumultuous transitional period after that saw Rivers’ replacement Kathy Griffin and co-host Kelly Osbourne walk away from the program.

Cho said all the drama around the show didn’t faze her.

“To me, it was very easy,” she said. “It was something that I wanted to do before. I have more invested in Joan Rivers. She was my mentor and my friend so I had been thinking towards that show far before any of that stuff happened with the arguing. The main point was for me to go there and just be there for Joan. My allegiance to her is very serious. It’s not just friendship. It’s really a spiritual thing. I wanted to be there for Joan. I never had a thought of having to deal with anything. And none of that is there. Everyone is nice and wonderful. We just make each other laugh. So it’s a very harmonious situation.”

Cho said she has a lot to talk about both nationally and in Philly on this tour.

“Unfortunately a lot of it is focused on the presidential race and unfortunately a lot of it is talking about Donald Trump, which I don’t think is positive,” she said. “Every show is tailored to the city I’m in. So in Philadelphia we’ll talk a lot about Kathryn Knott and her PSA, also other things that are happening in Philadelphia like the Mummers.”

“American Myth” is available now. Margaret Cho performs May 19-21 at Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom St. For more information, call 215-496-9001 or