FRIDAY, JAN 8, 2016 06:00 PM CST

How Margaret Cho revives “Fashion Police”: Performing fashion snark as “a woman of color, as a queer woman, as someone who is plus-sized and very proud of my fat”

Cho steps into a full new season on the show after a faltering season following the loss of Joan Rivers [UPDATED]


How Margaret Cho revives 'Fashion Police': Performing fashion snark as 'a woman of color, as a queer woman, as someone who is plus-sized and very proud of my fat'(Credit: Showtime/Mindy Tucker)

Margaret Cho, the Asian-American, queer, politically active, sex positive, burlesque dancing, singing and songwriting, stand-up comedian, has a brand new gig. She can now add “fashion critic” to her ever-expanding curriculum vitae.

Cho will be joining E!’s “Fashion Police” this season. She was a guest host last season, but now she’s a member of the judge’s panel this season, rounded out by Melissa Rivers, Brad Goreski, and “Fashion Police” veteran Giuliana Rancic. (Cho’s representative clarifies that her title is “Special Co-Host.”) Cho is the prominent comedian on the panel — similar to the function performed last season by Kathy Griffin, and by Joan Rivers before her.

Rivers died in 2014, and she was one of the last standup acts who could trace her roots back to Classic Hollywood — back when Ed Sullivan could still make your career. Back when Johnny Carson was the newly crowned king of late night. Back when the mob still ran Las Vegas, and the Rat Pack still played The Sands. Rivers was a brash woman in an era defined by its machismo. She popularized red carpet fashion culture almost singlehandedly. She was, as much as she hated the term, a legend.

And it’s very, very difficult to live up to a legend.

The first “Fashion Police” season after Rivers passed away was an unmitigated disaster. Rancic embroiled herself in controversy after insulting Zendaya’s dreadlocks. Kelly Osbourne quit the show. And Griffin, who was dogged by constant criticism and comparisons to Rivers, walked after filming just seven episodes. There was a general sense that perhaps the show was permanently kaput.

But here we are. The new season kicks off on Monday, Jan. 11. And Cho, from an outsider’s perspective, appears to be stepping into a minefield; by her own admission, she doesn’t know much about fashion.

Salon spoke to Cho on the phone about Joan’s legacy, her own qualifications, what she thinks of Rancic and Griffin, and whether she has to watch what she says.

What do you think Joan Rivers brought to the show, and what are you going to bring to the show in comparison?

You can never replace Joan. She created the red carpet. She created the idea of bringing an audience into the spectacle of the red carpet. [“Fashion Police”] wouldn’t have even existed as a platform if she hadn’t generated it; it was her way of bringing [the spectacle] off of awards show coverage and into her own theater. So you can never replace her.

I’ve been so close to her, and her family, and the other people on the show. And so I wanted to go and spend time with my friends, and play around with the idea of, “What can we do, now that she’s not here?” It’s about telling jokes and having a good time. I don’t mean to ever replace her. I just want to hang out with Melissa in this place that Joan built for her and for the rest of us.

Joan always said that that we female comedians were really lucky because we were funny. We could work forever, because our appeal had nothing to do with youth or beauty or any of those things that actresses have to count on. We were beyond that. We were always going to work, because we were always going to be funny. It’s something that’s been proven over years and years of show business.

Do you feel the pressure of not having Joan there? What’s the atmosphere like in that room?

There is no pressure. We can honor her by being as funny and as ridiculous and fearless as possible. Although, Joan was an interesting person; she had lot of fear about whether she was funny enough or good enough. She was always very conscious of whether she was doing the right thing.

I think the cast is very optimistic. I think that after Joan died, everybody needed time to figure out what was going to happen. The show is her voice, and it’s her baby. It’s one of the things that I know she was proudest of creating. I think it’s possible to do it without her. It’s still not the same, but it’s true to her vision.

“Fashion Police” is not in my realm. I’m not a fashionista, although I do have strong views about what fashion is and what I like about fashion. It’s also a place to tell really dirty jokes and try to get away with them.

Can you be more specific in regard to your view of fashion, and what you would like to see more of?

I like it when it’s more artistic — when it’s more about the fantasy and spectacle of the red carpet rather than being in the moment in terms of trends. I don’t have a perfect body, so I appreciate people who still want to feel like they belong, and say, “We have a voice. We can look fabulous.”

Also, I like different attitudes. My favorite clothes have always been the ones that are really outrageous. I like Bjork’s swan dress; that was the ultimate in terms of self-expression and of making it your own. I want to see more stuff like that.