She’s the Queen of stand-up. She’s twice been nominated for a Grammy. She wore a tasselled rainbow flag dress on Dancing With The Stars and has been one of the gay community’s most vocal allies. On The Cho Show she introduced America to anal bleaching. She’s a Drop Dead Diva with, according to one of her songs, a p**s that has won 15 Tonys. Laurence Watts caught up with comedienne Margaret Cho.
Margaret Cho’s genius is that her stand-up comedy effortlessly incorporates politics and gay rights with impressions of her Korean mother and jokes about cunnilingus. During Beautiful, her 2008 tour, she announced that though she detested Sarah Palin, despised her policies and would never vote for her, she nevertheless would like to “eat her p***y from behind. Eskimo style.” I ask her what she makes of the current crop of Republican Presidential hopefuls.
“I think Rick Perry’s gay,” she tells me. “About five years ago he unfairly fired about four openly gay members of his cabinet. There have been rumours circulating about him for years. Would I sleep with him? I don’t think so. I like them a bit rougher than that. Mitt Romney seems totally fake to me. He’s like some prefab, manufactured politician that someone created. I think he’d be really boring in bed.”
“Michele Bachmann’s interesting because her husband, Marcus, is so gay. Like Truman Capote gay. Like old school, silk-scarf, glove-wearing gay. And yet he runs this facility where they teach gay people to be straight. It’s weird. I would totally f**k Michele, though. She’s totally hot. And Christine O’Donnell. They’re like forbidden fruit. I’d have no self-respect issues the next day: it’d be fun to see what it’s like and tell everyone about it afterwards.”
Despite being officially bisexual, Margaret doesn’t feel the need to be limited by the labels people attach to her.
“I’m also very attracted to transgendered people too,” she says. “Basically, I’m just very greedy. You just have to be into me. There’s a lot more permission given to women than men in terms of sexuality. Men are held to this idea that they have to make a decision and can’t veer from it. I think that’s a shame. Hollywood in particular demands its men should be straight, which is really unfortunate because most of them aren’t.”
This summer, Cho completed a three-week run at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival with her show Cho Dependent. Before that, the last time she performed at the festival was ten years ago.
“I had a great time in Edinburgh. I got to hang out with friends like David Mills and Scott Capurro. It’s so fun to perform every day and work with great people. I’m planning on going back next year and really make it more of a gay festival. There were so few queer voices this year. There’s no real late night gay fringe and there should be. So that’s on my list of things to do for next year.”
The Cho Dependent show she performed in Edinburgh shares its name with Margaret’s 2010 comedy album. Despite this the show consists mainly of stand-up and includes just a smattering of songs from her Grammy-nominated album. Given the album includes songs with names as intriguing as “Eat S**t and Die”, “My P**s” and “Gimme Your Seed” I express my surprise that she didn’t take home the trophy.
“I clearly should have slept with more judges,” she laughs. “It was disappointing because it really should have won, but a woman hasn’t won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album since Whoopi Goldberg in 1985. Having said that, although it’s a cliché, being nominated really is a tremendous honour in itself.”
Having now picked up two Grammy nominations, the other being in 2004 for the audio recording of her comedy tour Revolution, I’m sure any insecurity on her part has been assuaged. In autumn 2010 we saw Margaret display another of her talents when she appeared on Dancing With The Stars. Having made it through to week three before being voted off, I ask her if she has any advice for current contestant Chaz Bono.
“I think it’s important to make sure you’re aware of what’s happening with your joints. You can get injured really quickly. I didn’t have to do it for very long, but I still did it for six weeks, including rehearsals, and it was hard on my body. For somebody who’s trans I think being on that show is such a great statement. I like to think I brought the idea of gay rights to Dancing With The Stars because this year they’ve got Chaz and Queer Eye’s Carlton Kressley.”
Alongside her stand-up comedy, Cho stars as Teri Lee in the hit TV series Drop Dead Diva, which airs on Lifetime in the US and Sky Living in the UK. Now in its third season, the show means Margaret is reaching a very wide audience indeed these days.
“I love the show. It’s such a great opportunity to do something that’s totally mainstream. I always thought that because my point of view is so queer, so political and so feminist that I was too alternative to be mainstream. Maybe the world has changed a little bit. It’s really fun to do, I love the cast and most importantly it’s a great show.”
No interview with Margaret would be complete without inquiring about the impressions she does of her long-suffering mother. Once unleashed they typically bring the house down. How true to life are they and what does her mother make of them?
“They’re really exact,” Cho says. “And she really loves them. Really they’re the voice of my Asianness. I started doing impressions of her as a child when I realised I could get away with it. That’s kind of how I became a comedienne. She’s very supportive of me. My parents really didn’t know what a career in show business would look like so now that they can see what I’ve done and how it’s all come together I know they’re very proud.”
Her mother aside, Cho’s biggest supporter is the gay community itself. It’s both the inspiration and the audience for so much of her work. Why does she think the gay community has embraced her the way it has?
“Well, it’s my community,” she answers. “It’s where I work, where I do my political work, where I want to help the younger generation, where I put a lot of energy and where I tell our stories. And all of that suits me just fine. It’s exactly where I want to be.”
Margaret Cho will be performing Cho Dependent at the Leicester Square Theatre on 13-15 and 17-18 October. Cho Dependent will be available on DVD in time for Christmas.