Comedian Margaret Cho on her new tour, bi-erasure and our LGBTQ family
BY : RYAN WILLIAMS-JENT
MARCH 1, 2018
“Everything about my life is intimately connected in gay history,” superstar comedian Margaret Cho says. “It’s my community; it’s where I live, where I grew up, who I am, all my friends, all my family.”
That’s been evident in Cho’s decades-long career, beginning with her stand-up in San Francisco near the gay bookstore her parents owned. It continues today with her accolades as a performer, in which her comedic takes on LGBTQ rights, sexuality, bullying and politics have led to five Grammy nominations, an Emmy nomination and being named one of Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Stand-Up Comics in 2017.
Most recently, it’s crafted her now-extended tour “Fresh off the Bloat,” which stops in Tampa on March 9 and 10 for four performances. It’s officially described as “her sickest stand-up comedy show to date,” one where “Margaret doesn’t take anything for granted as she continues to tackle difficult subjects with sensitivity and her razor sharp insight with her takes on addiction, abuse, activism and Asianness.”
“My new show is all about being fresh off drugs and drinking and suicide and coming back to life,” Cho says. She tells Watermark that “I’ve had incredible success in my career,” noting that while she has friends who are so famous that they can’t leave the house, she’s living the ideal situation in show business. “I can actually live anonymously in any place, it’s no big deal. I can do whatever I want. But still, if I need to, I can cash in on my ‘celebrity.’”
Cho was raised in a San Francisco community she recalls as full of “old hippies, ex-druggies, burnouts, drag queens and Chinese people.” Some of her earliest memories involve men and women who worked for Harvey Milk and “being at those very early gay pride celebrations in the ‘70s.”
“My father basically would give me over to them for the weekend and I would go to these gay pride celebrations and hang out in the gay community as a very young kid,” she recalls. “To see all the way into 2015 when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage and everything upward until then, this incredible history, I’ve been very connected to it and grown up with it. It’s tremendous to me.”
As for her own sexuality, Cho identifies both as bisexual and as queer. “Queer is great because it’s really ‘90s, and I love that,” she laughs. “It’s so old school in its way, and that’s sort of my flavor of political action, so that works for me. Bisexual is very ‘70s, and there’s something really chic about it. So, both actually apply.”
She says bisexuals are often discounted by the LGBTQ community and the straight community, however. “The ‘B’ is the silent part of [the LGBTQ], you know? And in the straight world, bisexuality is also very like, ‘well no, you’re gay.’”
“It’s something that you’re constantly sort of introducing and explaining,” Cho says. “There’s a lot of explaining when you’re bisexual. It sort of begins with who you’re with, who your partner is, whatever they are, what gender they are.” She also notes that for her, having been with “a lot of people who identify not as male or female,” bisexuality is “almost a limiting thing, because it makes it very finite… very binary, but it’s actually not.”
Cho believes “it’s a part of politics to want to label things,” even though bisexuality is often threatening to others. “Your identity is very politicized if you’re in the gay community. No matter where you are politically, it’s going to be politicized because of who we are.” She sees labels and identities as “our strength,” but notes that they can often be hard to explain when “there isn’t a clear sexual icon.”
“We have people that we think of that are bisexual that talk about it, like Angelina Jolie. But also, you don’t see her clearly with women,” Cho says. “Not like she’s been paired in the same way with like, Brad Pitt. Her straight relationships are more highlighted, like Anna Paquin. Cynthia Nixon would be [someone] that I identify with; I think that her kind of situation seems likely to be something that I would be in.”
Cho also muses that “certainly no men” in the public eye have highlighted their bisexuality. “I hear about it, and I know Alan Cumming very well and he’s sort of always said that he’s bi… but also, I don’t see him with a woman at all,” she laughs. “Even I’m acutely responsible for bi bias, and if I’m doing that and I’m bi, imagine everybody else.”
She does believe that her intimacy with the LGBTQ community led to her time away from the public eye in rehab, however, something she highlights in the new tour. “I had a lot of friends, very wealthy gay men, who were carrying me around all over the world feeding me every drug because they all just had a nose job,” she says, laughing.
“They couldn’t do cocaine anymore because their face collapsed so I had to do cocaine for them,” she continues. “I was being pampered like I was Elizabeth Taylor or something. I really almost died in that capacity. It’s not easy to survive it.”
“It’s really tragic what drugs and alcohol has done to the LGBTQ community,” she believes. “It’s an absolute nightmare. I think people don’t really think about it, or they don’t look at how seriously our community’s been damaged by substance and alcohol abuse. Maybe someday people will kind of wake up to that. I don’t know if that’ll happen in my lifetime but I would love to see that.”
Something she has lived to see is the #MeToo movement, which caused her tour to make a “big, big shift. I love that they call it the reckoning,” she says. “It’s like a horror movie, like the rapture! Like all of the abusers and rapists are being like, lifted up into this big whirlwind of sexual deviance and it’s really like this funny thing.”
It’s funny to her, at least, because “I’ve been on the other side. I’m a rape survivor. I’ve been talking about this in my comedy for years. People really recoiled from the subject while I was doing it. No one wanted to talk about it, and now it’s all we talk about.”
Cho says it put her in a unique position, with “a lot of experience talking about it.” She asserts that “every day brings something new, [and it’s] something that really affects women and gay men in particular. I think it’s really incredible.”
“Stand-up comedy is the form I’ve been very devoted to my entire life,” Cho says. “It is what I do the best, and I’ve gotten to this point where I’m better now than I’ve ever been. Comedy is the one thing we can look to with hope… and that’s really what we need right now.”
You can see Margaret Cho’s “Fresh off the Bloat” at the Tampa Improv Comedy Theater & Restaurant on March 9 & 10. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit improvtampa.com or call 813-864-4000.