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MARGARET CHO

All-American to ‘Highland’: An interview with Margaret Cho

 | Senior Scene Editor  October 20, 2016
  

There are few people who can say that they’ve had a stand-up comedy career spanning over 30 years. Margaret Cho, however, is one of them. The legendary comedian is back on tour and ready to rip a new butt hole on this election. Student Life got to chat with her before her upcoming shows at St. Louis’ Helium Comedy Club, which will be on the weekend of Oct. 27.

Student Life:

You’re coming to Helium Comedy Club soon. What kind of material will you be doing?

Margaret Cho:

I don’t know yet. Hopefully, [I’ll] end up talking a lot about the election and what’s in store. And I mean, there’s going to be a lot of stuff going on at that time. It’s a pretty intense weekend.

SL:

Yeah. The last weekend of October is so terrifyingly close to the election.

MC:

I know. Well, [the show] will be dealing with whatever goes down.

SL:

You’ve been doing stand-up since you were really young. How do you think your comedy has evolved over your career?

MC:

I’ve been doing it for a while, so I think I’ve changed as a person—like I’ve just grown up. I know more things now, and I’m a lot more comfortable as a performer. You just get better at it over time. It’s been over 30 years [since I started], so it’s good.

SL:

It’s crazy that you’ve been doing stand-up your whole life. Is it ever difficult to stay excited about what you’re doing, or do you ever feel cynical?

MC:

No, I just like the lifestyle of it. Like, this is what I do for my job and my life. I like touring and doing shows, and I’m really good friends with most comics, so it was the social aspect of it—just the excitement of building my life around doing comedy was a great way to grow up. I still enjoy it.

SL:

You’re very political in your comedy. Are there specific issues that you’re excited about addressing besides the election?

MC:

It’s a lot of other things, too. It’s not just politics—it’s just a lot of other stupid things that are really dumb to talk about. Just whatever is funny to me—I like ridiculous stuff. I think you can be highbrow and lowbrow, and that’s still great.

SL:

You’ve explored your art through other mediums, namely music. Has diversifying into different areas helped your stand-up? Or has it been a completely separate focus in your life, independent of stand-up?

MC:

Oh no, it’s all part of [stand-up]. I did music as part of my stand-up comedy, too. But ultimately, I’ll always go back to being a stand-up comic—that’s what I define myself as. You’ll get jobs here and there in different things—which is good—but, ultimately, my sole purpose in life is to do stand-up comedy.

SL:

Did you always know that you wanted to be a stand-up specifically, or did you experiment with other forms of comedy?

MC:

No, I always knew that I would be a stand-up. I would do other jobs, too, but—whether it was a one-person show or doing music shows—they were all still stand-up comedy-based. I never had a different focus.

SL:

How has the business changed since you started doing comedy?

MC:

Well, there’s all kinds of social media now—you can promote your shows and tell jokes that way. There are all sorts of TV shows that you can do where you’re still utilizing your skills as a comic—whether that’s “@midnight” on Comedy Central, which I did [recently]. There are all different kinds of things. It’s not just [limited to] stand-up comedy in a club.

SL:

But the internet also gets tricky because it’s hard to retain ownership of what you’ve written—especially when it comes to places like Twitter, where someone can either explicitly steal your jokes and take credit, or even on the flipside, where someone could subconsciously absorb a joke or premise that they saw and then unintentionally claim it as their own. Do you think that because of social media it’s also difficult for comics to stay original?

MC:

I don’t think so—I think if you have your own perspective and your own point of view, you can just be true to that.

SL:

Over the summer, you did an interview and photo shoot with Elle Magazine for their women in comedy issue, alongside Wanda Sykes, Abbi Jacobson, Ilana Glazer and Rachel Bloom. How do you think that visibility has changed for women in comedy?

MC:

They’ve become a lot more visible. We had a really good time there, when we did that shoot, and [had] a great conversation. I’m a big fan of all of them. Wanda and myself—we’ve been doing this for a long time. We really enjoy hanging out and doing each other’s shows. Wanda and I do a lot of karaoke—which is so stupid; it’s really funny—we get a whole bunch of different types of songs. She really likes Jeffrey Osborne. I really like hanging out with them a lot—all these women in comedy. They’re just great.

SL:

Are there any projects you’re working on right now that you’re excited about?

MC:

I have an [upcoming] TV show on TNT which is called “Highland.” It’s about the medical marijuana boom in California and a family who’s becoming very wealthy on it. It’s a sitcom that I wrote that I will also be in. That will probably happen at some point in the next year. We just finished the deal, so that’s the next thing that I’m doing. I’m going to be doing different stand-up shows around all of it. Those two things are my focus.

SL:

Wait, tell me about “Highland.”

MC:

Well, it’s about a Korean family [that is] going to have a marijuana dispensary because that’s the next logical direction in their development. It has more to do with Asian-American immigration and being part of that sort of “gold rush” of marijuana. I’ve been working on the script for a while, and I wanted to have a TV show. I haven’t had a TV show for 25 years, so this is the time to do it.

SL:

That’s awesome—that it’s about an Asian-American family in the marijuana business, out of all things. Growing up as a South Asian-American, I’ve always had this notion of the conservative model minority pushed onto me, so it’s cool seeing you break down that caricature.

MC:

Yeah, Asian people are always considered [to be] conservative or “model minorities,” but that’s not really true. I mean, if you look at how many Korean people buy liquor stores—a majority of them go into the liquor store business, so [the culture] has never really been that conservative. Because it’s like, “Oh, there’s a family working at a liquor store 24 hours a day.” It’s not wholesome at all—they always have guns and stuff. I don’t see where they get the model minority thing from for Korean people. [The show], to me, is a very realistic view of Korean people, so I’m excited about it.

Catch Margaret Cho at Helium Comedy Club from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29. Find show times and ticket information on Helium’s website.