Margaret Cho Opens Up About Her Addiction, Relapse, Childhood Sexual Abuse And The “King Of Offensive” Donald Trump
September 23, 2017
The comedian talks exclusively to YourTango about the empowering way she found comfort in comedy.
Margaret Cho has the kind of presence that, at first, feels intimidating. She is fearless and raw in her outspoken nature. She is funny in a hard-hitting, intellectual way.
As we spoke, it was clear that Margaret was not trying to impress me. She was not some product on display. She was not "on" or performing, as many of us tend to be with a complete stranger. She was just a girl on the other end of the phone having a chat.
Her authenticity was undeniable.
Although Cho has a million projects on her plate, she took time out to do an interview with YourTango about courage, sobriety, and resurrection.
"It got really bad," Margaret says of her relapse after ten years of sobriety.
When her friends finally staged an intervention for her, Cho, thinking she was going to a party, brought along a bottle of wine. She then did what any addict would do — she drank the entire bottle over the course of the intervention.
As a result of her friends sitting her down, she says, "I went away for a year and a half. It was good but that is not necessarily the path anyone would want to take. It was a very intense thing... I talk about it in my show. Having that sort of 'Girl Interrupted' moment. I am really happy to be back on the road. It is where I feel the most comfortable in my life."
Cho's latest tour, which kicks off on Saturday, September 23rd in Chicago, is aptly titled Fresh Off the Bloat, based on her grandmother's observation about Cho's appearance while in the midst of her addiction:
"You look like bloated, as if you've been found dead in a lake after several days of searching."
Thankfully, Cho has pulled herself out of that lake and is now looking and feeling better than ever.
If anything, Cho believes her struggles have helped her evolve.
"Hardships are common for all people. Comedy is a coping mechanism. That's what true art is. To create something beautiful out of hardship. Nobody is exempt from the human experience. It can be very painful but we can overcome through comedy."
Hardship is something Margaret Cho knows A LOT about.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, she has become a fierce activist for other survivors.
Perhaps what is most jarring about her own situation is the fact that one of her abusers, the uncle who raped her repeatedly between the ages of 5 and 12, is still in her life, and while her mother has told her that she can be the one to "flip the switch" when he is cremated, Cho is the kind of woman who has her own creative ideas for handling the toughest aspects of life.
In classic Cho style, she put the man on blast via this song titled "I Wanna Kill My Rapist."
Cho describes her expression of rage as both liberating and, obviously, metaphorical. The threat that she might publicly say her uncle's name has invoked tremendous fear in him, which has given her at least some solace in her plight.
And there is another man on Cho's mind these days: Donald Trump.
"I blame NASCAR, energy drinks, and crystal meth for all conspiring to bringus Trump. I don't know why this is happening but we have to ride it out. Now we have all of these natural disasters that speak to climate change, which he is a denier of. Everything is so crazy and I don't know what to do but it's got to get better."
She also blames social media.
"Social media is this weird, moral arbiterwhere people decide who is pure of heart and who is deserving. It is this constant thing that you are always being watched. Our society is becoming incredibly voyeuristic. We are always up in people's business all of the time. That's another weird part of it, too. It's this ultra overload."
"I think that in a lot of ways [Trump getting away with saying hideous things] is this sort of backlash against policing language and taking people to task for using certain words or images that are unseemly. Now we have someone in charge who is the king of unseemly. He's the king of being offensive. It's too high a price to pay."
And if anyone should know about paying high prices, it's Cho.
It takes a lot of courage to walk out in front of a room full of strangers to try to make them laugh, but Cho doesn't see that as a difficult task — even when she has to walk out to a room of people she has made angry, as she did with her make-up show in New Jersey last year.
In what she describes as "a bad day at work" back in March of 2016, Cho opened her set speaking about the death of fellow comedian Garry Shandling and her own experience of having been raped, which caused a majority of the audience to walk out and request refunds.
Ever the self-assured fighter, Cho issued the following statement:
“I love the Stress Factory and I love comedy. I’m sorry that I wasn’t at my best, but maybe in a way, I was. I bring the real me and my truth to my work. It’s not perfect, it’s not manufactured, it’s real. Everyone has a bad day at work. I was also upset because one of my heroes [Garry Shandling] just died. That doesn’t excuse my behavior, but it just shows that I am only human.”
In a testament to how well-respected and beloved Cho is in her community, the legendary Jerry Seinfeld reached out to her asking her to be his opening act when she returned to face the same exact crowd again in a make-up performance where he also moderated a conversation about what happened previously between Cho and the previous members of the audience.
Seinfeld captured the evening in an episode of his hit series, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee:
"I love comedy and I just want to do a good job. I don't feel like it's something to be challenged," Cho said. "I just want to do well and if I make mistakes, then I want to rectify them. I knew very young that I was going to be a comic. Most of us just have this drive to do it."
Perhaps some of her courage comes from one of her mentors, Joan Rivers.
"There are many comedians who are unknowable, like Robin (Williams), but Joan was an open book."
"She was this maternal figure in my life who was very warm and incredibly generous. She was a woman in a very male-dominated world. She made it in such harsh times that were so sexist and so difficult. It was a miracle that she was able to get to where she was. I am just so happy that I was able to know her. She was always there for us, for us female comics."
But comedy is only one facet of Cho's life.
She is also a musician who started playing the piano as a child, a writer with new comedy pilot — Highland— that was just picked up by TNT, and now, to top it all off, Cho is an action star.
On December 22, 2017, Netflix is set to release the original film Bright where we will see Cho share the screen with the Fresh Prince of Bel Air himself, Will Smith.
"It's a big action movie. It was crazy. I had a great time, but it was really wild to do all of these sci-fi things on set. I had never worked on a movie like that."
Cho's love of taking on new adventures and cultivating her multiple talents lends itself to the continuing evolution of her defiantly authentic voice, something she values highly not just in herself, but in others as well.
In a tribute she wrote for People Magazine following Fisher's death, Cho encapsulated her perfectly with this statement:
"Carrie wasn’t just a movie monarch. Her unbelievable courage made her the true, true princess of another kind of royal family, one made up of people who suffer from addiction and mental illness. I deal with my depression and addiction issues by talking about them, making comedyabout them, and that’s what Carrie did, not just with mental health but with everything we experience as women: the way we are judged for our weight, appearance, our age..."
"By making people laugh you bring strength to suffering, but first, you have to lean into the pain. That’s where our truth comes from. Creativity is the flower, but it has to be slathered with manure if it’s going to bloom!"
Not only is this a beautiful memorial to Fisher, but it captures perfectly what makes Cho herself so worthy of respect and admiration.
Margaret Cho has definitely been through her share of suffering and pain, and yet she continually strives to grow and bloom brighter.
She is a fierce voice in a world that desperately needs fierce voices.
She has survived. She has recovered. She has fallen. And then she has risen up again.
And whether through her comedy or her activism, the presence of empowering women like her in this world makes it a better place for us all.
Seven Secrets Of Empowering Women With Margaret Cho
1. Who was your first concert?
2. What is a cause you care deeply about and why?
"Equal rights for the LGBT community. I've been fighting for this since the 70s!"
3. What is a question women should be asked on the red carpet, instead of "Who are you wearing?"
"What are you thinking?"
4. If you could be a fly on the wall at any moment in history, what moment would you choose and why?
"I'd love to have burned my bra. It was a great time for feminism."
5. If you were the President of the United States of America, what is the first thing you would do on day one?
"If I was Trump, I'd impeach myself."
6. See yourself as a 5-year-old. What is the first thing you would want to say to her?
"Everything is going to be okay."
7. Which song do you feel could be the soundtrack of your life?
"'Rome' by Phoenix."
This interview is part of YourTango's 'Empowering Women Series' highlighting female icons making a difference in the lives of other women through their talents, voices and strength of character.