The beautiful and sensuous Margaret Cho knows how Dallas’ gay community should welcome George and Laura when they move to Big D
On Sunday, Margaret Cho returns to North Texas for her newest tour, "Beautiful." Her last tour, "The Sensuous Woman," never made its way to Big D: the singing-and-dancing musical was mostly an off-Broadway gig. But Cho says to expect some singing at her Nokia gig.
"Beautiful" was inspired by a question a DJ had asked Cho: "What if you woke up tomorrow and you were beautiful, what would you do? If you were, blonde, blue-eyed, 5-foot 11 and weighed 100 pounds, what would you do?"
The question set her off and inspired the about-to-turn-40 comedian to riff on the definition of beauty. A few weeks ago, Dallas Voice caught up with Cho, who recently started filming her own celeb-reality show.
So you were talking to a DJ who asked you about being beautiful, and it struck a visceral chord inside you. What was your reaction: anger, depression? It was shock. He said, "What if you woke up and you were beautiful?" I was like, "What do you mean, ‘What if?’" I also think he was trying to get a rise out of me, which is fine. But it made me more philosophical about this idea of beauty.
What did you discover? That I’m really beautiful. I also discovered that we can call ourselves beautiful. I used to think that people only told you that you were beautiful, and that was how you became beautiful. But you can just tell other people that you are beautiful, and it works just the same. Then people will be talking about it — like, "Wow, she’s really beautiful." So it works on a lot of different levels.
How do you define beauty? It’s about feeling good about myself. Feeling right. I’ve tried to be thinner, and I’ve tried to really control my body. And I don’t feel as good as when I would just let it all just go. I just don’t worry about it now. And that really feels beautiful. It’s not a struggler — not a painful thing. I’m very easygoing about it. And I’m going to be 40 this year, and so I think what’s beautiful is feeling comfortable in your own skin.
If you could bitchslap gay men for chasing after flavorless definitions of beauty, what would you say? I want gay men to feel beautiful about themselves. Because it’s too hard to be a gay man and not feel beautiful. That not-beautiful feeling is a painful disaster for gay men because you don’t get any dick. All you do is work on your "Wizard of Oz" collection. And it’s painful. I just want gay men to feel beautiful because they are beautiful.
At the University of North Texas you spoke to students to provide some really solid life-lessons. You’re good at giving advice. On that tip, George and Laura Bush are moving to Dallas when they leave the White House. What should gay Dallasites do to welcome our newest citizen next year? I don’t know. Maybe have a rave? No, wait. You should have a T-dance — that wonderful gay phenomenon, the 4 p.m. George Bush Moves to Dallas T-dance. It’s actually a joyous occasion for celebration — just because he’s not in office anymore. As long as he’s in Dallas, he’s not in Washington, and that’s awesome.
In that past year, some things have crossed the cultural radar, and I wondered, "What does Margaret think about this?" Last year, Rosie O’Donnell parroted a "ching-chong" Asian-sounding person from China, and she had to apologize for doing so. I know Rosie very well, and she’s not racist at all. There is a lot of sensitivity among some people in the Asian-American community because there’s an ease about racism towards Asian-Americans that doesn’t exists for other ethnic groups, and it is very disturbing. I don’t think that Rosie is a perpetrator of that. There’s just a paranoia amongst a lot of Asian-Americans who just can’t stand it and don’t want to hear anything that sounds like that at all.
If Rosie had imitated the way you do your mom, do you think there would be a huge reaction? When I do Asian impressions or Asian-American voices in my work, it’s really who they are. My mother really talks like that. So I’m recalling my reality as opposed to creating a caricature
Race is a weird-sticky thing — especially with the Obama campaign. We’re talking a lot about race right now, and it’s important because race is confusing and mysterious. It’s offensive to some people and not offensive to others, and we don’t know why. But exploring the why is important.
In a previous performance, I heard you use a Shirley Q. Liquorism — the word "ignunt." Oh, yes.
Last year, GLAAD condemned her comedy for perpetuating ugly stereotypes. From comedian to comedian, were you flattering Shirley by using the word ‘ignunt’? Well, ‘ignunt’ is a word I hear from my friends all the time, so maybe they borrowed it from her. I don’t really know. I’m not that familiar with what Shirley does. But I do know that a lot of my friends are big fans of hers and they use that word constantly. I think I got it from her once removed.
Okay, Hillary or Obama? I’m really an Obama fan. I like Hillary, too. That’s the problem — I’m very much into both. It’s hard. But you can’t vote for both. You have to vote for one.
When did you know you became an Obama fan? I was working a lot with Kal Penn [the Asian-American actor from "Harold and Kumar"] who is a big Obama campaign surrogate. I recently taught a class for him at U Penn in Philadelphia. We were talking about Obama, and he’s working for his campaign. I thought I would join him.
What got you over the Obama fence? Because he’s talking a lot about race and where we are as a country when it comes to race. It’s tremendously thrilling to have a person of color in the White House. Tucker Carlson was recently talking about how upset he was — as a straight white man — that his opinions were being eclipsed by the women and by the people of color. I thought that was great, and that’s what turned my attention towards the Obama campaign.
Both Hillary and Obama can’t manage stoop low enough to give gays full equal marriage rights. Why would you say to gays who are like, "What’s the deal with either of you two phony Democrats who are trying to represent the minority face of our nation?" One of my reasons for joining the Obama campaign is to have some sort of influence in that regard — to make sure that the gay marriage issue isn’t forgotten. Gay marriage isn’t about marriage — it’s about equality. It’s about looking at gays and lesbians as absolutely at the same level place of all our citizens. Right now it’s unequal, and it’s a problem.
So when you’re filming your reality show, if Obama gets elected and you get face time with him, we’ll see the footage of Margaret sticking it to him over gay marriage? I hope so. Hopefully by then, we won’t have to worry about it.
How will your reality show be different from Kathy Griffin’s? I don’t know. I love her show. But she and I are very different. In ways, I think our shows will also be quite similar. I just did her show in Australia, so I think it will be really great.
What did y’all do? We were in Sydney and we went to the big Mardi Gras celebration, and we were at this big drag queen store with Cyndi Lauper, so it was like the gayest thing that ever happened.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 25, 2008.