Talking to the legendary Margaret Cho

Cho will be at Helium for two shows this weekend; we chatted with her about giving up the wild life, the current state of politics, and her favorite comics working right now.



MAY 30, 2018

Margaret Cho has been a force of nature for decades. From her groundbreaking if short-lived sitcom All-American Girl, her turns on 30 Rock as Kim Jong-Il, her books, tours, burlesque work and LGBT advocacy, she’s been shaping the national conversation since the early '90s. This weekend, she brings her Fresh Off the Bloat tour to Helium Comedy ClubSt. Louis Magazine caught up with Cho by phone to talk about getting sober, baring her soul, and traveling in the Trump era.

In your show, you’re addressing your struggles with addiction and getting sober. How’s that been for you?

Everybody who does sort of live that wild life, you reach a crossroads. I can keep doing this and die, or I can clean up my act. For me it was no contest. I didn’t want to do what I was doing. It wasn’t fun. You figure it out—it’s about maturity, and also a sense of purpose. I’m so lucky to be able to have survived everything that I lived. That’s really incredible.

What made you decide to talk about it onstage?

Well, I mean, I always used it. I used like all my suffering and terrible everything in my comedy anyway. It’s about getting current with where I am and who I am. I think that’s important. There’s a lot that I leave out that is very telling, too. Some aspects of it, well, this is just for my own benefit. I think it is redeeming, it’s healing. I’ve had such a great ride in my career. For many years, I took it for granted that I could just do whatever I wanted. There was a sort of lawlessness about my addictions and my life.

You can’t underestimate how deadly this disease is. When life gets tough, you make choices that are not the best. Something really bad happens, so I’m just gonna do this—not only do you have the original problem, but you’ve also fallen back into your addiction.

I’m really lucky, like I should be dead many times over. I’m an old school, like Marilyn Monroe, like pills and alcohol old lady. That’s deadly! You’re giving yourself a lethal injection every time I would get high! If I was executed, it would take a lot for me to die. I could survive a lethal injection.

You and I happened to chat before, about nine years ago. It was the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency and we were talking about the awfulness of the George W. Bush era. Does that seem a little quaint now in light of the current occupant of the White House?

He was actually not great. But not terrible! It’s cute, actually. I feel sad because we didn’t know how good we had it. I think he’ll go down in history as being the one that got away. It just shows how you think it can’t get any worse—it can get so much worse. I hope we’re not looking at Trump in this way in ten years! It’s actually pretty frightening. People are scared.

You’re touring all over the world right now. What’s it like to be a representative of Trump’s America?

I think that people are curious. They are also sympathetic. It’s like they know how hard it is and how bad it is and how difficult it must be to be under this kind of a regime. There is a sense of understanding and sympathy. But it’s still deeply embarrassing. I think there’s a real understanding that it’s not our fault. It’s just like…people get it. They know that elections can be fixed, there can be cheating. They know.

What comics are you loving right now?

Ali Wong. Best ever! She is phenomenal! I just brought her into a gig at UC Berkeley. We actually just had a nice talk in front of the students. We were talking about Asian women in comedy. It just changed my life when I talked with her about it. It was a profound shift. I’ve been doing this for so long and I’ve been alone. I’m very lucky to have her in my life, and her work, too. I think also in the same vein is Awkwafina, somebody I collaborate with. She’s in the new Ocean’s 8 movie. Also Tiffany Haddish, who is a friend of mine. Also my good friend Wanda Sykes—she is my forever karaoke partner, and Kathy Griffin—a karaoke slayer!

Margaret Cho. Helium. Friday, June 1, 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Saturday, June 2; 7:30 p.m and 10 p.m. Tickets are $27 with a two-item minimum