Interview by Brittany Santos
Photography by Austin Young
Margaret Cho has been making people laugh for many years with her gutsy brand of comedy. I’d been a fan of hers for quite sometime and we got the opportunity to talk with this powerhouse performer and three-time Emmy and Grammy nominee about her PsyCHO tour and her return to E!’s “Fashion Police”.
SMARTY: I recently read an article that said, “When Margaret Cho first launched with her “All-American Girl” sitcom, the world wasn’t ready for her.” Do you think that is true?
CHO: Yeah, yeah I think so. But now things are much better. I definitely think I paved the way for a lot of Asian actors, comedians, writers, and personalities. So now it’s exciting. Now there are two Asian American family shows on the air like, “Fresh Off the Boat”, and now “Dr. Ken” coming to ABC this fall and I’m actually a part of it. So that’s great.
SMARTY: You play his sister on the show, right?
SMARTY: What was he like? Had you worked with him before?
CHO: I have worked with him before, but not for at least 20 years. He was doing medical school or just about to start medical school. He was pursuing comedy then. He was just so in love with comedy and really wanted to just express that side of himself, even though he was going to be a doctor. And so he was very active in bringing comedy to his school. So he brought me to his school so many years ago. It’s great and I’ve worked with him since then. He’s just a great guy, so talented and so funny, and I’m very proud of him.
SMARTY: What was it like for you to be a part of the PBS documentary, “The Women’s List”?
CHO: I know, it is really cool. I just kind of tapped into it. It was a very easy, very quiet shoot. I didn’t get to meet the other women that were in it. But it was a very cool thing to do.
SMARTY: One of the things I love about you is that you don’t seem to care what people think about you. Can you pinpoint where you finally found that confidence to say: “I truly don’t care what the fuck you think about me, basically…”
CHO: Well, because no one ever noticed anyway. You just can’t think about that kind of stuff. And also, when I started this was before the Internet. So you never really knew anyway what people were saying or thinking. This is a relatively new development in show business. You never really got the sense of what people were thinking or saying. Now it’s a different world. So I just got used to not paying attention to it when I was younger, just cause when I was really young, most of it centered on my looks—like, people always thought that I was too fat or too ugly. Most of my television interviews in the beginning were always very derogatory. For whatever reason, I think it may have been racial, it may have been racism or sexism, or whatever. That’s kind of inherent in comedy. So I just learned not to pay attention to any of that stuff and to not let it bother me, and certainly it’s good to now have that attitude, because it’s so hostile out there online right now when you are a woman and you don’t fit that sort of male gaze that the Internet has. It’s a pretty narrow view of what beauty is or who should have the right to speak. It’s really disgusting.
SMARTY: In the age of social media, it is so easy to get cyber-bullied, and it’s tough on kids. Do you ever talk with kids and teach them to rise above it?
CHO: Yeah, you try to. But then, at the same time, it is very hard to prepare anyone for what they are going to face. And also, I think kids today have a way thicker skin than people who grew up in my generation. Kids today have grown up with the Internet their whole lives. They know how abusive it is. They know how stupid it all is.
SMARTY: Tell me about your #BeLikeRobin campaign that you started after the death of your friend, Robin Williams.
CHO: It continues on. It is something I allow anyone to do. It’s not an official charity or anything; it’s just something anyone can do. It’s helping homeless in your community. And it is very much in the spirit of Robin. He was very dedicated to helping homeless people throughout his career and his life, with different charities and events that he was on—and also speaking to congress about improving the life quality for people that are living on the street. Whatever form that takes and however you reach out to people in your community, I think it’s positive.
SMARTY: I heard you are hosting “Fashion Police” for the VMA’s, is that true?
CHO: Yes, on Monday night for the VMA’s. So that’s really exciting. I love Melissa, and I loved Joan. I think actually that was the last time I saw Joan, was when I did “Fashion Police” last time. It will be beautiful to come back.
SMARTY: How are you going to host with all the controversy that was swirling around the show?
CHO: I have a different view of fashion. I have a different take on everything. I definitely prefer art over elegance. I love when people take risks. I always strive to be the worst dressed at any event. So I’m going to be cheering on the underdog.
SMARTY: So basically, you would love the Bjork “swan dress” that everyone still talks about?
CHO: I want that dress!!
SMARTY: So who inspires you musically?
CHO: I am really inspired by a lot of different people. I am making a record right now with Roger Rocha from 4 Non Blondes, who I met through Linda Perry, when I was working with her for some benefits for the gay and lesbian center in L.A. It’s an album that is very exciting for me. I’m inspired by all kinds of music all over the place.
SMARTY: Coming from a music label background, I had to learn to like music that wasn’t really my thing, like hardcore rock, but you do learn to see the beauty in it, even if it isn’t your thing.
CHO: Oh yeah, I mean I love different things, like Norwegian black metal—it’s like a scrubbing of my ear. It’s a loud cleansing kind of thing. I never thought I’d like metal. And now I really do love it.
SMARTY: What’s your take on the EDM movement?
CHO: I actually like some of it. I just put out a music video on this song with John Roberts called “How Close is Glenn Close”. So, it’s really being chased by Glenn Close memes. It is just so ridiculous, but it’s just kind of word play and then beats. I also just did a series of videos with Peaches. I love her approach to music. It’s just very cool and very different. There are just so many forms of it and there’s stuff that is pretty inventive and exciting. I don’t know much about Skrillex, but I do like Diplo. So I think I’m a little bit well-versed on it, I think. [laughter]
SMARTY: So how is your new PsyCHO tour going to be different from past tours?
CHO: I think I just want to make it very immediate. I want to make it very much about the situations of the moment that we are dealing with: gun violence, police brutality, and this insanity that there is so much violence against women that we have to have 50 women to come out against Bill Cosby to be believed. It is insane; it’s about navigating our way through this culture. That’s why I want it to be very immediate and very different and very much concerned with: “How are we going to live in this world and continue living in this world?”
SMARTY: When the Bill Cosby stories first broke, were you shocked, or had you heard rumors about him?
CHO: I had heard stuff, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, I wasn’t sure. I think that he had his legacy in comedy and it was complicated, because he had such anger towards younger, especially comedians of color, that had grown up with him. He had such disdain for them—really derogatory and really demeaning towards people that I love, like Wanda Sykes. He just hated comedians of my generation. There wasn’t really the understanding of why—all of these people who grew up with him. Also, I was close with the Richard Pryor family, who always had issues with him. In a sense, you could either be friends with the Pryor’s or the Cosby’s, and I wanted to be with the Pryor’s. Bill Cosby was never a mentor, except when it came to television, which was sort of outside my understanding of myself, because when I was doing “All-American Girl”, he brought African-Americans to television, like never before. That was something to aspire to. Certainly, as a comedian, his style was never as appealing to me or as dynamic.
SMARTY: What haven’t you done that you want to do? It seems like you have such an incredible body of work. What is next?
CHO: Well thanks, I am working on trying to do producing, after I finish this tour. Hoping to get behind the lens after I finish this tour.
SMARTY: So do you get along with the members of “Fashion Police”—that you will know how this appearance will go?
CHO: I only know Giuliana a very little bit, but I haven’t met anyone else. But I am very good with Joan’s head writer, Tony. We have been friends for over 30 years. I feel like I will be with family.
So I know that you only have a short time in Las Vegas
, but what will you do here when you visit?
Oh, I don’t know, I guess just eat. That’s major; the food there is just so spectacular. Eating anywhere is great. I always like going to the employee cafeteria wherever I work. I think food is a drug for me. I eat, like constantly. I always think about food. I always want to just eat. It’s not even about being hungry. I just want to see what the food is. What can be done with it? A huge employee cafeteria at one of those big casinos is like my dream, because you have every kind of food happening. I love it. My favorite thing is to go to restaurants and stay through lunch service to the staff meal, because that’s where the best cooking is. That’s like my fantasy of what I like to do. It’s just really fun. Las Vegas
has just become such a Mecca for food, and it’s pretty exciting, because it wasn’t like that before. Now it’s like a wonderland for it. Everything gets flown in fresh from all over the world. The best chefs are there working in the different places; it’s just a dream.
After I had the pleasure of speaking with Margaret about her upcoming tour, she appeared on “Fashion Police” and completely gave life to the show that was indeed in a swirl of controversy. She actually had the nerve to say about Miley Cyrus and her dreadlock look she wore during hosting duties at the award show: “I feel that, that hair probably smells like pot and patchouli,” as Giuliana Rancic looked on. Rather than back away from last year’s controversy when Giuliana made those remarks, Margaret was smart, and of course funny enough to confront the elephant in the room and bring the show back with the exact same comments that caused the controversy to begin with. Bravo, Margaret! And I hope the tour is a smashing success.
To get more information on how to buy tickets and to attend her PsyCHO tour, visit: margaretcho.com.