Daniel L. Mitchell
Margaret Cho is, in a word, wonderful. She has an approach to stand-up comedy that is brutally and painfully truthful. Her humor wanders from topic to topic, but it’s not really what she says that makes an audience laugh; it’s actually the fact that she can talk about being fisted, in front of thousands people, and the reaction is not disgust or abhorrence! No — we laugh, hysterically, for Margaret’s friendly and welcoming stage presence lets us know that we are all friends. Such is Margaret Cho.
For fans of Comedy Central, you’ve probably seen Cho’s stand up act, from several years ago; the fact that her act translates to cable without losing much speaks volumes to her skills as a comedian. She is often compared to Richard Pryor, and the comparison is apt, for no one can deny that Pryor’s humor in films was entertaining, even though he was abandoning the filthy language of his stand up act.
She has had several stand up specials on television, written a best selling book, had her own sitcom, and tours the country with her stand up act.
I recently found out many more interesting tidbits about Margaret, including the fact that she just bought a Richard Pryor box set, when we spoke over the telephone. I must confess that I am a huge fan of Margaret’s, so the first few minutes I was talking with her, I had goose bumps! Nevertheless, I gained my composure, and we had a lovely 45 minutes chat about English teachers, Bjork, blood transfusions, and Chris Rock.
Margaret told me that she was preparing for her upcoming Revolution Tour, so I asked her about the corresponding book that is to come from the same material as will her live act. She told me that the book is coming along well; “I just love to write and I’m pleased with the the way that everything comes together.”
Do you ever write any fiction?
I’m interested in fiction, but I never find myself writing any. I would like to work with fiction at some time, but when I write, I’m usually planning on covering what I write in my act.
What type of subject matter will you be tackling on the “Revolution Tour?”
I’ll be talking about lots of different things; we’re going to be taking a look at what we expect from society & what society does to us. It’s a very complex show; very racial. There is some sexuality, but it’s not as sexual as my past work. It’s very social… It’s kind of like an expansion on the last few minutes of Notorious Cho I’m not going to be trying to preach; it will be much more exciting than that.
What type of pre-show rituals do you have?
I don’t really have any rituals; I’m not a ritual person…. I read a lot, and I’m usually reading before a show.
What do you think of the state of education in America, 2003? I ask because I teach 8th grade English in rural Ohio.
There a lot of both positive and negative things in education. I think I would have much more of a sense of truthful American history, were I given a better idea of what actually happened in the early days of America in my history classes. Students aren’t taught about Asian-American history; they learn very little about Native Americans and their history is pretty much buried. Students don’t learn that the emphasis of what they are learning in History class is mainly about men conquering and destroying. Thanksgiving is kind of a sad holiday; it celebrates the slaughter of an entire society. It’s hard for people to go back and find out how things really happened. I like the idea of being very honest about the way we perceive ourselves, as Americans; that would improve the way that people see our country; I think people need to make up their minds about politics, even the young people.
I think that English is the most important to me; my English teachers could see that my writing ability was out of the ordinary. I had a lot of incredible support from them, and that was a good thing for me to have. My English teachers were the most influential to my person growth.
My favorite English teacher was a closeted gay man, and he was murdered; it was a very tragic thing. He was a wonderful man and it shocked me. I can remember the jocks were laughing about it, calling him a “fag” and etc. It was like they felt he deserved to be murdered because he was gay. They never found the murderer, so those of us who care about him just had to live with the sadness. My work boils down to a notion: to use all of your energy to be productive can keep you from getting sucked into a certain kind of mindset.
How nervous do you get before a show, after being in the business for so long?
I don’t really get nervous at all; I really don’t care, but it’s important for me to do well for the audience. I respect the anticipation of what the audience wants and I want to give them a good show. I want to exceed the audiences’ expectations of what they will see. On the other side of the token, I expect the same thing from someone when I go out to a show; I expect that person to give me the best that they have. I think that everyone should expect nothing less from any performer.
You’ve been doing stand up since you were 16 years old; what kind of things did you talk about in your act when you were 16?
Well, to be honest, I was doing a lot of drugs and I was not in contact with family, so I was living a life that was not normal. I was trying to find my voice, both as a person and as a comedian. I would talk about current events and whatever else I could think of.
What was it like being a high school student, doing stand up comedy at night, and what was high school like for you?
I didn’t really go to school much. I was kind of living on the streets, and I would sleep at different friend’s houses.
Do you find it hard to hold on to your true friends, working in this type of field?
No, I keep my true friends for a really long time. The fact that we all really have different kinds of lives is understood, but it’s not like things have changed between my friends.
I’m sure there are people around you who suck up to you for no real reason; how do you react to people like this?
I have no “yes” people; all of my managers are really honest, which I hate. It sucks! I wish I had some “yes” people to boss around, but I do really appreciate my managers’ honesty.
When you’re in public, do you feel “famous?”
No. I live in a huge house and I never really leave, unless I’m on tour; nobody really cares; and I don’t care. I don’t really like the “Hollywood going out to premieres” thing; when I do go to one of those things, I only go for the free movie; it’s so not my thing. I’ve done the red carpet thing and it’s just not interesting; It’s my goal to be the worst-dressed at one of those things.
What is it like to be approached by strangers? Do you feel like you have to seem happy to meet someone, even when you’re having a crappy day?
No, not really. I don’t really have crappy days, and if I do, I’m usually inside my house all day, so I don’t have to see anyone. I’m not a very recognizable person; I don’t seem famous, although I do wear things that are highly visible; it wards off people! I enjoy when people come up to me and talk to me. I have a famous friend who had to wear a ski mask to avoid people. I don’t have to do anything like that!
Do you have a boyfriend these days?
Yes, and I am engaged to be married this summer. My fiancé is an artist, and he is quite famous, in his own right. We plan on having a wedding that will anger my parents as much as possible. We plan on, rather than exchanging rings, exchanging blood through transfusion.
Do your fiancé’s parents know that you’re a stand up comedian, and have they ever seen your show?
Well, his parents are very religious, and they have not seen my show; they might freak out…
How does he get along with your parents?
Well, the other day, he called my dad “dad” and that made me cry. It was a very beautiful thing.
Do you all plan on having children?
No kids; if we do end up wanting children, we’ll probably adopt. We collect mannequins of children and medical diagrams of bodies. I think I don’t want children, because it is not a reassurance that I’ll be with someone when I die. I love solitude and the idea that I can be lonely. I can be lonely in a relationship.
Getting back to your career, have you gotten any offers from television companies to do another show recently?
I get them everyday, but I usually don’t think they’re worth doing; I get horrible offers. I just don’t have any kinds of aspirations to do television; mainstream television is not appealing to me. I’ve done that before.
When you started impersonating your mom, was she mad or did she think it was funny?
She’s always laughed about it!
What type of music are you listening to?
I like rap a lot. I also have a bunch of creepy nursery rhymes that I like to listen to. I like electronic music, too. Björk is my favorite; when I see her, I start to weep! That’s what I want from my art! I saw her movie Dancer in the Dark, and my favorite scene is when she desperately wants to be in the play, but she can’t, because she can’t see… that made me cry more than when she died! I dressed up as Selma (Bjork’s character in Dancer) and it was awesome! I love artists and their work! I think that’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to have kids because all of the different arts completely absorb me.
If you were in a political position of power, what is the first step you would take to make America a better place?
I would start with education, because that’s where things need to get fixed. I just don’t think there’s enough being done. I think that America really needs to examine health care… I would also try to find out why is there no cure for aids. I would address why the sick people in this country are getting the care they need. I would try to figure out why some social groups are treated better than others.
If you could lobotomize any three people in the world, who would they be?
I think rather than a lobotomy, I would like to give certain people a louder voice (myself, Ani DiFranco, etc). I want to give people more to speak about and more to just do! I want so much more. I want someone to fight with!