When you think of Asian American comedians, the first person that comes to mind is Margaret Cho. Margaret was born Moran Cho to a Korean-American family in San Francisco, California. Named “Moran,” she was frequently called “Moron” by other children. (I can identify with that!)
Margaret Cho is an innovator and pioneer on many levels and has been performing stand up since the age of 16, when she snuck into a comedy club above her parents’ bookstore in San Francisco. Soon after, she won a comedy contest where first prize was opening for Jerry Seinfeld. In 1994, ABC developed a sitcom based on Cho’s standup routine called All American Girl, which featured the first Asian American family on television. Due to poor ratings, the show was cancelled which sent Margaret into an addiction of drugs and alcohol.
Her life experiences make for great content in her successful stand-up routines. She has covered substance abuse, eating disorders, her bisexuality and fondness for gay men, and Asian-American stereotypes, among other subjects.
She has been honored by the ACLYU of Southern California, GLAAD, American Women in Radio and Television, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, PFLAG and the National Organization for Women for “making a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The past fall, Margaret took her new burlesque-style variety show “The Sensuous Woman” off-Broadway where it enjoyed two extensions and played for a successful eight week run. “The Sensuous Woman” starred Margaret performing burlesque, rap, sketch and stand-up, with a supporting cast of the country’s most renowned burlesque performers, and emerging stand-up and sketch comedians.
Now Margaret has announced her brand new one-woman show called “Beautiful”.
“Beautiful” will make its debut in Australia at The Sydney Theater on February 27, 2008. This will mark the first time that Margaret has premiered a new show abroad. Margaret quips, “I love Australia! The audiences are so smart and rowdy, it’s really exciting. I love that they just voted out Bush’s boyfriend, John Howard. How thrilling!” Immediately following the Australian dates, Margaret will launch a national U.S. run of “Beautiful”, beginning on March 14 in San Francisco and running through June.
Click to watch Margaret’s stand-up on gay marriage.
In describing what “Beautiful” means to her, Margaret explains, “I want to explore the nature of beauty. What is funny and scary about it, why we often don’t feel beautiful because our society’s standards are so rigid and unattainable. I want everyone to feel beautiful and I want to do it with laughter. Why not feel good about ourselves? Why judge ourselves because of a societal standard?”
We chatted with Margaret to find out more about her personally, what she was like as a child growing up in San Francisco and who her favorite comedians are.
ASIANCE: Did your parents think you were funny growing up?
Margaret: Hmmm. I think they did. I think they thought I was weird. Not so much funny but I think they didn’t know what to do with me because I was just so… . I wasn’t good in school and they didn’t know what to make of it.
There are not enough women in comedy. It’s a very tough business but I think it’s very important that more women get involved because there are very few of us here.
ASIANCE: Were you the class clown?
Margaret: No. Definitely was not. I was pretty shy. I would make fun of people but only to myself.
ASIANCE: Do you feel like people always expect you to be funny?
Margaret: I don’t know. I’m not that kind of fun person. I’m more shy. I keep to myself a lot. I like to keep my work very different from my actual personality.
I’m completely different on stage than in person.
ASIANCE: Whose blogs do you follow?
Margaret: I like Rosie O’Donnell’s blog a lot. I read gawker.com, jezebel.com. I tend to look at the blogs for news. I like Perez Hilton. I think he is awesome! He’s great.
ASIANCE: What do you think of bloggers who out people?
Margaret: I think people should just do whatever. I think it’s fine. I think it’s funny. I think people should just be OUT! It’s definitely a personal choice and a privacy issue. It’s their own issue. But I think it’s funny! I like it. It’s not a big deal.
ASIANCE: When people think of an Asian woman they think smart, serious and focused. Did you fit into that role model or were you always a rebel?
Margaret: I did fit into that role because I was pretty focused and driven but not driven in the same things that my parents wanted me to be…I wasn’t driven in school necessarily. When I got to my career, I was very focused and driven.
ASIANCE: How did you get so skinny?
Margaret: Well, I don’t know. I take care of myself. I don’t really do anything that drastic. I walk my dogs. I dance. I’m a bellydancer. That has a lot to do with it to. It’s a huge part of my life and I really love it.
I try to bellydance as much as I can. I go to workshops on it as much as I can. I trained in Egypt. I really love it!
ASIANCE: What makes good comedy in your opinion? Why are some people so much more funnier than other comedians? Is it timing, good energy, sarcasm or even being a woman in the business?
Margaret: It’s combination of things. There are people who are really great. It’s also a matter of taste. It depends on who you like. It’s all different reasons who make your favorite comedian different, funny and good.
ASIANCE: Who are some upcoming Asian comedians you like?
Margaret: I love Bobby Lee. He’s great.
ASIANCE: Is he going on tour with you?
Margaret: No. Liam Sullivan and Ian Harvie will be coming on some dates with me. Steve Burns. I love him.
ASIANCE: What would you say was your big break?
Margaret: I think doing television. Doing my series. I had my own series. That was a big deal and big push for me. The series didn’t last very long. It didn’t last more than a year but it was a big change and sort of propelled me further. I was pushed into a headliner after that.
ASIANCE: Who are your favorite comedians?
Margaret: I love Rosie O’Donnell. I love Kathy Griffin. I love Richard Pryor. He’s a huge favorite of mine. He’s amazing. He’s an amazing guy. I love Eddie Murphy and Wanda Sykes. And Chris Rock. He’s my favorite I think.
ASIANCE: If you could have a dinner party and invite 3 guests who would they be?
Margaret: I don’t know. Maybe George Takei, Madonna and Jesus.
ASIANCE: What are you doing for New Year’s?
Margaret: I’m going to be in Berlin, Actually I’ll be in Amsterdam at that time. Usually I go to India or Tibet, on a kind of adventure. But this year I’m going to have a very sedate New Year’s and go to Berlin.
ASIANCE: What is your favorite place that you’ve traveled?
Margaret: I like London. That’s my favorite city. Even though I don’t really like England, I love London. I love that place so much!
ASIANCE: What Asian fashion designers do you like?
Margaret: I like Chloe Dao. I think she is wonderful. I love Ben Cho. He’s a great designer and a wonderful guy. I love Vivienne Tam. She is a wonderful designer and makes wonderful clothes. I wear a lot of her clothes.
ASIANCE: What advice do you have for girls who want to be comediennes?
Margaret: They should do it! There are not enough women in comedy. It’s a very tough business but I think it’s very important that more women get involved because there are very few of us here.
For more information on Margaret, including tour dates and ticket sales contact www.margaretcho.com
Photography by www.davidclee.us
Makeup by Kat Connelly