Queermedian Margaret Cho tackles serious issues with her patented humor
Margaret Cho may not have the ability to transform base metals into gold, but she certainly seems to be an alchemist of comedy. In her new standup tour, There’s No I in Team, but There is a Cho in Psycho, the Emmy- and Grammy-nominated queermedian tackles a number of disquieting current issues while simultaneously managing to uncover within them an abundance of humor. The topics Cho addresses include homelessness, violence against women and grieving the loss of fellow comics and mentors Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. Her brand of sorcery, it seems, is converting pathos into laughter.
“It’s sort of a call to action,” Cho says of her set. “It’s a lot of serious topics that make for good comedy. It’s good when you can actually find a way to talk about serious issues, whether they are political, social, cultural or whatever. It’s great when you can take something that’s very tragic and turn it around. That’s what I am trying to do.”
Cho is fearless about bringing her in-your-face comedic style back to red-state Texas … though her perception of the Lone Star State differs from the stereotype.
“It’s a big state and within it there are a lot of different points of view,” Cho says. “Austin is probably one of the most liberal cities in the world, yet it’s the capital. Texas has a conservative reputation, but there is a lot of diversity. I’m excited to be coming back.”
Cho — who has publicly discussed the fluidity of her own sexuality — attributes much of her tremendous success to a devoted LGBT following. “Oh, it’s enormous,” she says of her gay fan base. “I am queer myself, and I’ve grown up in the gay world. It’s a really big part of who I am. It’s sort of given me my shot at having an audience and having a perspective. It has given me a community to be proud of and to draw from and to give back to. So, it’s everything to me.”
After recently splitting with her husband, Cho is experiencing a turning point in life: A period full of opportunity and personal reflection. “I just sort of am living,” Cho says. “I’m single, which is good and important for my development as a person. I haven’t ever been single really, not since I was an adult.”
Besides touring, the industrious Cho is focusing her energy on several writing, music and television projects. She has also spent a great deal of time in her hometown San Francisco, raising funds and generating awareness of homelessness through pop-up street performances. She continues the work started by her late friend and mentor Robin Williams, a pioneer in homelessness awareness.
“In 1990 [Robin] spoke before Congress to get a homelessness bill to pass.” Cho says. “He was very ambitious and concerned and very progressive about this particular issue. So when he died I wanted to do something that was in honor of him called the [#BeRobin] project. It’s street performing which is what Robin did for many years before he became a major star.”
Cho also hopes to carry on the legacy of Joan Rivers, another mentor who passed away within the last year. Cho credits the gay icon as her inspiration for pursuing a career in comedy. “I just knew that this was my role in life,” she says. “That this is what I was supposed to do. A lot of it has to be attributed to Joan Rivers. When I first saw her in her prime, it was so inspiring. I just wanted to be her. Eventually I became friends with her and she took care of me a lot. I’m so grateful to have that kind of mentor and have that experience.”
Is there any chance that Cho will be the next to fill Rivers’ seat on Fashion Police? “Well, I’m the one who smells like pot and patchouli, so I don’t know why they don’t give me the job already,” Cho quips. “I want to change it into Fashion Police: Special Victims Unit.”
Despite enjoying longstanding friendships with two of the biggest names in comedy, Cho admits that some celebrity encounters still leave her star struck. In fact, she was recently overwhelmed at the opportunity to meet Meryl Streep while portraying a Kim Jong Il-inspired reporter-general at the 2015 Golden Globes.
“She kissed me after our little picture taking,” Cho says. “I just like fainted. I love her. Everyone is so exciting to see in person. Celebrities are so small, and that’s really funny. Tina Fey I’m always starstruck by even though she’s a friend and really great role model. She’s also just a star in so many ways. I really adore her. But I get very excited when I see celebrities.”
If Cho hadn’t chosen to pursue a career in comedy, she thinks she might instead have chosen to work with another of her passions. “I love animals,” she says. “I think I might have been a veterinarian, although I’m not sure how hard that would be. You would have to be like a doctor. That’s the tough part. But I do love animals.”
Cho promises that her new show will be funny, fresh and interactive. “I like to improv. I like to talk to the audience a lot. I like to vary and change and play around with people, so every show is different. It’s kind of what I do.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 8, 2015.