All-American icon: LGBTQ and Asian American entertainer Margaret Cho is ready to storm Spokane Comedy Club stage

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 29, 2020

By Don Chareunsy

Margaret Cho is a trailblazer. She is credited as being the first successful Asian American comedienne in a field still fairly dominated by men. The Korean American who grew up in San Francisco has always been open about her sexuality and is an LGBTQ icon.

In her standup, she is known for her openness about, well, everything, and no-holds-barred delivery – a tagline in her news release says “fresh off drugs, drinking and suicide.”

The actress, activist and fashion designer chatted with The Spokesman-Review last Friday about her new podcast “The Margaret Cho,” competing on “The Masked Singer” and the importance of “Parasite’s” Oscar victories ahead of her four shows, as part of her “Fresh Off the Bloat World Tour,” at the Spokane Comedy Club through Saturday.

I’ve seen you perform standup twice in L.A. and once at the Palms in Las Vegas. What’s new in your “Fresh Off the Bloat World Tour,” which you’ve been performing for the last two years?

Lots of things. It’s really about a reassessment of life at 51. I’ve been through a lot in the last several years. I’m single, I’m sober, I’m Korean, which is super hot in Hollywood right now (laughs). I’m coming to terms with a lot of things, whether it’s my own aging or dealing with alcoholism and depression and also suicide.

On the other side of that, it’s getting apps, Trump and Asian representation in the media, so there is a lot of stuff going on, which is really cool. I love that I get to go to a place where I can have fun with different subject matters. I love it – comedy is really exciting to me. I’ve found a new purpose, and I feel like I’m thriving through it.

What do you enjoy most about standup after all this time, and do you get nervous before you take the stage?

It depends on what I’m doing, but in general not exactly. I really appreciate comedy in a way that’s pretty new because I’ve been doing it for so long and I’ve found a sense of purpose that is very real and different. You think you can’t find something new and then you realize it’s all new and there are different ways of being a comedienne.

How does it feel to receive an accolade such as being one of the best 50 standup comedians of all time by Rolling Stone and 50 people who changed American comedy by CNN?

It’s great – it’s amazing. I would never have expected that, but I love it. It’s awesome, it’s a great thing to see about yourself. I’m proud. From the time that I’ve started comedy, there has been a shift over the years. There are a lot more women, there are a lot more queer people, there are a lot more Asian Americas and people of color. There is a wider range of representation in comedy, and I think that’s great.

Tell me about your new podcast, “The Margaret Cho,” with Earios and Acast – it’s a 36-episode debut season?

I guess (laughs)! We’re just doing a bunch of them. I get to talk to people who I just love. For me, it’s really exciting because I love listening to podcasts, too, and I get to do it and have fun. Some of the upcoming ones are Aimee Mann and Alan Ruck. I’m a really big fan of both of them.

We’ve had very famous people like Quentin Tarantino and Jonathan Van Ness, and people who are more emerging who I’m excited to introduce to audiences. It’s all different sorts of people, and I find it really rewarding.

And you have a new dog, her name is Luka?

Yes, her name is Lucia. Or it could be Luka, she lives on the second floor. Lucia is a good girl, and she’s really sweet. She’s a rescue, and she’s so sweet and fun, and we have a really good time. She goes everywhere with me, and she’s gone on the road. I’ve never had that. It’s very new, and it feels very good.

You competed on Season 2 of “The Masked Singer” as the Poodle. How was that experience, and did you get to choose your costume?

Yes, I was given a choice between the Alien and the Poodle, and I chose the Poodle because I love dogs. But I would’ve chosen the Alien, too, because it was a really cool costume. We got to choose the songs. I had sung “Heartbreaker” before in a band. It’s a hard song, and it’s good to have a history with a song. It’s a challenging song.

It’s a really weird experience to be on it because you have to sing inside the head, and they don’t give you any modifications – no reverb and certainly no auto tune. It’s very different – you’re competing in a very raw way, but I appreciate that.

You also recently guest starred in “Law & Order: SVU” – do you prefer acting or standup? You’ve done a lot of both.

I love both. They’re both really important to me for my career and my life, and I enjoy them. It’s very different work – standup is usually at night and acting is during the day. It’s a full life if you can do both, and I really appreciate it. I’m doing more acting now, which I love, so hopefully there will be more in the future.

You really do it all. There’s also activism and fashion. Is there anything you won’t do?

I don’t know (laughs)! Not won’t but haven’t yet. It’s really important to create as an artist, and that can take a lot of forms. Whether that’s comedy or acting or music, different forms of expression are very important because they feed on each other, and they help me understand and live life in a way that is meaningful. It’s a powerful thing to be able to continue to create and enjoy it.

You are described as a pioneer and trailblazer because you are, to my knowledge, the first successful Asian American comedienne, and you’re an LGBTQ icon. Is there any pressure with these titles and descriptors?

No, I love it – I think it’s wonderful and exciting. I am very proud to represent my community and be someone who is out there more publicity, whether that’s coming out or just being physically different. I feel really good about it, and I’m glad that I get to do it. If I can inspire others, that is the best.

I don’t want to make an assumption, but, as a Korean American, did you feel a sense of pride with “Parasite’s” historic victories at the Academy Awards?

Absolutely – it’s so great. I love the movie on a lot of levels because if you’re Korean, it goes beyond what other audiences would get from it. It just really hits you. It’s a really beautiful film, and I was just so excited that it won. It’s an amazing thing, and I was really thrilled.

You’ve performed in Spokane before, and your four dates next weekend are getting very close to selling out. Is there anything that you remember about this city?

I just love coming to the Pacific Northwest. I end up going there quite a lot, so it’s a great time to come back and a beautiful time of year to come back. It’s going to be nice, and Lucia has never been, so she’s very excited.

Is there anything that you won’t joke about – any topics that are verboten to you?

I don’t think so. I think there’s a way to speak about things that’s compassionate and respectful. I want to be compassionate about things. I don’t feel like there’s anything to gain from being cruel or mean just for the sake of it. I have a responsibility as a comedienne that you want to have a respect around issues that you’re bringing up, whether or not it’s triggering.

I talk a lot about race and sexuality and gender and lately mental illness. Those kinds of things are very important to approach in a way that people can feel good about talking about. It’s not dismissive, and there’s no arrogance. It’s plain from someone who’s been there, and that has always been my approach.

What else is in store for you this year?

I am touring and working a lot. I’m developing different projects, which are a little early to talk about, but they are things I haven’t done before. I’m hoping to present them soon.

Is there anything left on your bucket list in terms of your career … or, well, life?

I really want an organ … a B3 Hammond vintage organ. I went and looked at one today. It’s so big, but I really like it. I don’t know (laughs)! That’s my current obsession (laughs). I just got a Moog synthesizer, and it’s really weird. I’m having a moment of, “Am I in Depeche Mode? Am I in Duran Duran?” I’m having a really ’80s synth revival.

You’ve been an open book in your career. Please tell me one thing your fans would be surprised to learn about you.

I have a bunch of weird stringed instruments in my kitchen. I don’t cook enough, so there’s no food in there. My kitchen island is currently covered with various stringed instruments that are really strange, and they’re all undergoing different levels of repair. My kitchen is a stringed-instrument hospital.