The Cho must go on

Margaret Cho’s new album is all music, but standup will always be the first love of gaydom’s favorite queermedian

Fanny Brice wasn’t the only funny lady who could carry a tune. Margaret Cho did a good job of establishing herself as a singer and songwriting collaborator on her 2010 debut music album Cho Dependent. One of the busiest women in show business, between her standup comedy shows, Showtime specials, co-hosting duties on Fashion Police and her activism for queer, women’s and animal rights and causes, Cho has found the time to write and record her new follow-up album American Myth (Clownery Records). Cho recorded the album with her band The Dog Children, and co-wrote most of the songs with out singer/songwriter Garrison Starr. She describes it as “a glamorous and glittering tribute to family, comedy, anger, fame, gayness, grief, fat pride, love and hate.”

We spoke with Margaret about the album, her love of song and working with fellow comedian Leslie Jordan.

— Gregg Shapiro

choM-Cho_HOME_COVER

Dallas Voice: I attended one of your concerts last year, and was struck during the show’s finale by how increasingly strong your singing voice has become. You were belting!  Margaret Cho: Why thank you! I had been taking various lessons. I’ve also had a lot of incredible singers give me a ton of great advice. From Cyndi Lauper, who kind of taught me the basics, and I’ve also worked with Bird. She’s a tremendous coach and she often coaches the contestants on American Idol. I’ve had a great amount of support. I’ve worked with incredible producers who have also taken my voice and brought it to another level. I think I have some natural abilities, but it’s the technique that I’ve been learning from the best that keeps me going. I’m really honored to do it.

When Lea DeLaria released her first jazz vocal album, it seemed that singing was something she had wanted to do all along, and that the other things she did as a performer all led up to this moment. Is being a singer is something that you have always wanted to be?  Oh, always. But then, again, I’m very much a standup comedian in my heart. That’s really what I do. Now I’m trying to incorporate all of the different elements of my work as a performer, and use it as a standup comedian.

You are calling your new album American Myth. What’s the significance of the title?  It comes from one of the lyrics to the song “Anna Nicole.” It’s a song about Anna Nicole Smith. It’s the archetype of the tragic beauty who is too good for this world. It’s an American myth in the same way we mythologize Marilyn Monroe or James Dean. It’s an archetype we see over and over in film and on TV. That’s what I was referring to and what the song is about. It’s my version of “Candle In the Wind” for Anna Nicole.

I’m so glad that you mentioned the song “Anna Nicole.” Why was now the time to do this tribute to her?  I actually wrote the song with Garrison Starr in 2010, we just hadn’t released it — it seemed too soon. You want to have some time to think about her. The world has changed. I think it’s the right time to look at her as kind of a frontrunner in reality television. She was Kim Kardashian before Kim Kardashian was Kim Kardashian. Of course, Kim Kardashian is a kind of archetype. But she owns her beauty and is tremendously successful. There’s no tragedy, there’s no drug story. There’s just her and her fame and her beauty. But Anna Nicole created that template of somebody that you’d want to watch on reality TV. Somebody that you’d want to invite into your home or as a role model, in terms of beauty and lifestyle and glamour.

As someone who spends a lot of time on tour, have you had the chance to try out all of the songs on the new album in front of a live audience?  Yes, I have tried a few of them. A couple of the songs are a staple in my stand-up comedy. I usually end my shows with songs.

How has the reaction been?  The reaction has been tremendous! Especially to a song called “Kill My Rapist.” I think it’s an important song. It’s not about violence. It’s about a cathartic release. To let go of the anger that survivors often feel [because] they are silenced and not allowed to express it. There’s a great catharsis that happens in the audience. They’ve watched this comedy show, they’ve laughed and laughed, and now let’s take it to something that is serious, but at the same time there’s a dark humor running through it. It’s a good way to bring what I do as a musician into what I do as a comedian.

“Kill My Rapist” made me think of Tori Amos’s song “Me and a Gun,” and the way that opened up the conversation about rape, and made people aware of the organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). Do you feel like you are reigniting that torch of conversation?  I hope so. I love that song and I love Tori Amos. RAINN is a really important organization and it’s still going strong. I think rock and roll can bring a lot of healing. This year we’ve also seen, “Til It Happens To You,” the wonderful Lady Gaga and Diane Warren song [from The Hunting Ground, an Oscar-nominated documentary about sexual assault on college campuses], we’re seeing more of this and people talking about their experiences. It could also be an effect of Bill Cosby and all of his victims coming forward. We’re living in an era of important truth and feminism and women standing up for themselves. This is a good sign.

 

American-Myth-album-cover-OA1213_CHO_Album_HiRes_12_5x5-by-Gia-Trimble

Did you collaborate with any of the same songwriters that you worked with on your previous music album Cho Dependent?  No. Most of what was just written by me and Garrison. I also wrote a little bit with Roger Rocha, who is wonderful as well. I had fewer collabs on this one because I wanted to settle down and focus on my own songwriting. I also wanted collab with Garrison who is someone I will always work with.

There is a long tradition of comedic songwriters, including Ruth Wallis, Shel Silverstein, Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman and Steve Martin. Do you have a favorite comedic songwriter and which comedic songwriters do you look to for inspiration?  I think I look a lot to Morrissey. I think Morrissey is pretty funny. Of course, Bob Dylan and Patty Griffin; Patty’s not comedic but there are elements where she goes for lightness. There’s “Heavenly Day,” which is a love song for her dog. It’s so beautiful. I love Jill Sobule, another tremendous singer/songwriter who incorporates a lot of humor. There is also the amazing Flight of the Conchords who are very funny. They’re more in the vein of Weird Al Yankovic, who is the ultimate!

Leslie Jordan is featured in the video for “Ron’s Got a DUI.” What was it like working with Leslie on the video?  Oh, I love Leslie! He’s a sparkling star. There’s so much effervescence and so much joy in everything he does. I really love bringing his energy to a really nice fairy tale; this great relationship and one that I had when I was much younger. As a child, I had a lot of older gay men taking care of me. There’s a trust there. I feel like little girls and old gay men together — there’s a safety. They make a shield from all of the bad things they’ve experienced in the world. They make a home together. There are no songs about that. I don’t know if you remember, but there was a show a long time ago called Love, Sidney.

Yes, with Tony Randall.  Right. Originally, they didn’t state it in the show, but it was about an older gay man with a kind of surrogate family. That’s the only time I remember seeing something like that. Unfortunately, I’m of the era where a lot of the men I was around when I grew up died of AIDS. At the end of the video, there’s a regulation size panel [that I am making] that I’m going to sew on to the AIDS quilt. It’s a great tribute and something that I think tends to get forgotten. Society moves so fast now, but we need to look back at important things like the AIDS quilt. We have to remember that there is a whole generation of men we’ve lost and to remember to honor them.

I wouldn’t ordinarily watch Wife Swap, but when I saw that you were going to be on it, I couldn’t resist. On the whole, what was that experience like for you?  It was great! I love Holly Robinson Peete. I love her family. We had the best time. Her husband is fantastic. Her kids are beautiful. I really enjoyed being in that environment. I’m not often around that kind of family. I’m not around kids. I’m not around straight men [laughs]. I had a very nice time.

Your television presence has also increased with your recurring appearances on Fashion Police. How do you like being a part of the Fashion Police team?  I love it! I’ve become very close to all of the co-hosts. I love Brad, I love Giuliana, I love Nene, and I’m especially tight with Melissa. I’ve known her for a very long time. She’s my sister. Consistently what we do is try to honor Joan Rivers’ memory. We try to do her justice. Fashion Police was Joan’s favorite thing. It was her most prized accomplishment. She really enjoyed it. What we try to do is bring it up back to her level. There’s no way you could ever replace Joan Rivers, but we can at least try to have fun and make her proud.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

The Cho must go on: Margaret Cho’s psyCHO tour

chotayMargaretCho-054Margaret Cho was a comedian even before she knew it.

“As a kid, I was thinking all these things,” Cho, 46, recalls, expounding on her surprising childhood shyness, “and when I would say them, people would laugh. I was really confused by that.”

It makes sense now, of course. Cho, after all, has turned life’s ugly truths — from political injustices to homophobia and the gory details of her colonoscopy — into 20 years of comedy gold.

Luckily, for Cho, the world is still insane. Everything happens right in front of us, in real time, and we can’t turn away. And Cho, naturally, has something to say about that. You know, along with gun control, beheadings, the Amy Schumer movie shooting, rape, female comedian sexism and the “systematic slaughter of African Americans.”

Yes, Cho is still fearless. Yes, she is still notorious. She brought her psyCHO Tour performance to North Texas this past summer, but has recently announced her fall dates as well. And she’s still tearing down the world’s wrongdoers in the fiercest and funniest of ways.

Dallas Voice: The first time I interviewed you was while I was in college. And the world, it seemed, was less fucked up then.  Margaret Cho: It’s still being fucked up. Like, I think it was always this fucked up and we didn’t know about it because we didn’t have Facebook and Twitter to alarm us every single day. I remember when you really had to look for beheading videos. You couldn’t just start playing them.

How do you — and how should we — deal with the accessibility of… everything?  I understand that there are a lot of things that need our attention, and I think maybe pick your battles. Which causes do you really want to look at and think about? I just wanna get over police brutality. That, to me, is the most pressing issue, so my thing is dashboard cam. I’m so dashboard cam/body cam; that’s what I watch for hours on end.

Your upcoming show will assess some of the serious issues we’re facing today. How do you balance comedy and sociopolitical issues?  You have to find a truth there. For me, comedy or humor is often a coping mechanism. A lot of what I’m talking about is police brutality and the different sides of it that I’ve encountered and what I see happening in the media. As a comedian, it’s a kind of alchemy that’s really the magic, you know. Something so tragic and terrible as this systematic slaughter of African Americans in this country — how do you find some way to talk about that that isn’t totally depressing?

How do you? And moreover, how do you turn it into comedy?  It’s funny, because whenever white and black people fight, Asians and Mexicans don’t know what to do. ’Cause we’re like, “Are we white? Or are we black? We just wanna pick the winning side.” For me the joke here is the gradations of how we view racism. Everybody’s a human being, so it’s very hard to figure out how to talk about it, so that’s my take on it. And I have a lot of different things that I’m talking about in the show: gun control, and also different kinds of police brutality that I’ve witnessed.

Another comedian, Amy Schumer, whose movie was playing when a gunman opened fire in a Louisiana theater, is taking on gun control as wellIt’s great.

How do you think comedy can create sociopolitical change?  Comedy now is a major player in politics. A lot of people are responsible for this, but the main ones are Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Hannibal Buress and Stephen Colbert — now Amy Schumer. These are people who are actually changing the way we feel about politics, about who is gonna be president, about race. Comedy can really shift the way we view everything.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Margaret Cho on coming out as bi, serving as ‘prime minister of the gays’

Drop Dead Diva, EP 504

Every season, the Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva goes out of its way to include a specific gay storyline for its lawyer character. This season’s episode, which aired last night, featured a pro baseball player who is hiding his homosexuality — even though it may get him convicted of murder.

Co-star Margaret Cho and executive producer Josh Berman sat down with the media to discuss the episode, gays in sports … and whether Cho is really the prime minister of the gays.

If you missed the first several episodes, you can catch up either on-demand or on iTunes. You can watch a clip of last night’s episode here. Below is a transcript of the chat with Berman and Cho.

Question: Josh, you tackled gay proms, gay sperm … was gay sports just the next arena that you needed to dive into for this episode?  Josh Berman: Well I think gays in sports is certainly a hot topic right now. We started working on this episode before it became such a prominent issue and getting such coverage in the news. So I’m thrilled that we are hitting this zeitgeist shed again with gay and lesbian issues. I do think that, you know, sports is one of the last frontiers where men and women feel they unfortunately need to be closeted. So it was important for me to address that issue.

Margaret, you’re all over this episode whether you’re helping Stacy with sperm donors or helping Jane with her case .…  Margaret Cho: Terri is always doing anything and everything. She’s kind of like a cross between like Alfred and Batman — she’s kind of like the enabler for everything. But what I really love about this episode is that it really talks about an issue that’s very timely, which is, athletes being able to come out of the closet. And I must note that there is a lot of sexism when it comes to this kind of stuff because Martina Navratilova came out as a lesbian over 25 years ago. Martina Navratilova came out when Reagan was in office. I really want to make sure that her contribution to sports, to the LGBT presence in sports, is really noted. And I’m really, really proud of this episode because it goes into the story about how we look at men in sports and we have to sort of have an idea of who they are and what they’re supposed to be. And I think sports in general is quite a homoerotic art form unto itself. So it’s surprising that there’s not more [athletes who are] out actually, but I love this episode because it really talks about some of these very current issues.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

OUT & EQUAL: Gala dinner is a highlight of the conference

Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho entertained at the gala dinner at the Anatole Hotel on the final evening of the Out & Equal conference.

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns received an ovation talking about his experiences over the past year and encouraging people to get involved to help LGBT youth. Comedian Kate Clinton, who emceed the dinner, said that she attended Our Lady of Psychological Warfare.

Burns speech was appropriately followed by Northrup Grumman CEO Wes Bush in what was a highlight of the evening for everyone from Dallas attending the Workplace Summit. During his talk about protecting diversity, he presented Youth First Texas with a check for $20,000. The company’s commitment to diversity was demonstrated by their top level sponsorship of the conference and the large contingency they brought to Dallas including all elected officers of the company.

Clinton acted as auctioneer and brought in about $40,000 for Out & Equal student scholarships selling items such as a trip to Paris and Berlin and a $5,000 KitchenAid shopping spree. The printed program suggested this item for anyone who needs a new whisk.

The Turtle Creek Chorale began and ended the program, singing with Wilson Cruz, best known as Angel in Rent.

Cho brought the house down when she suggested her response to evangelical-types who tell her they object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds. She said she looks at them, smiles sweetly and tells them, “My argument to this is FUCK YOU.”

The conference ends Friday afternoon.

Click here for more photos.

—  David Taffet

Celeb sightings

This year’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit boasts a healthy amount of celebrities coming to town. From actors to comedians and more, Dallas prepares not only to host a slew of workshops on equality, but also rolls out the red carpet for these guests.

Meredith Baxter:  You’ll likely remember the actress as supermom Elyse Keaton on Family Ties. But she made a new impression by coming out last year. She speaks at Wednesday’s breakfast plenary session and follows up with a book signing at Nuvo, 3900 Cedar Springs Road, on Oct. 26 at 6 p.m.

Andy Cohen:  The senior vice president at Bravo has almost singlehandedly changed the face of gays on television. That extends to these parts with the new show Most Eligible Dallas.
The Watch What Happens Live host will appear at Tuesday’s brunch plenary session.

Rick Welts:  The name may not be as familiar but Welts made front page news this year in the New York Times. The former Phoenix Suns president is the first higher-up of a men’s professional sports organization to come out.
He appears with Baxter at the Wednesday plenary.

Margaret Cho:  The comedian has long been an ally to the LGBT community and continues in appearances at such events as this. She is part of the lineup for Thursday’s gala dinner hosted by fellow comedian Kate Clinton.

Wilson Cruz:  The actor redefined the queer image on television with his work on My So Called Life. Through his acting on stage and screen, Cruz has also become an advocate for LGBT youth. He appears with Cho and Clinton at the gala dinner.

For more information on these and other guests appearing at the summit, visit OutAndEqual.org/2011-Speakers.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Out & Equal conference coming to Dallas in October

In working to create inclusive and non-discriminating workplaces, Out & Equal provides resources to companies and individuals to achieve its goal. The nonprofit makes a big splash in Dallas by bringing its 2011 Workplace Summit to the area Oct. 25–28.

Through workshops and panels, professionals in diversity initiatives, human resources and more will share their practices and strategies in having, literally, an out and equal work environment.

Here is a sampling of what will be offered throughout the event:

Leadership seminars set for the summit include “Developing a Strong LGBT Ally Program,” hosted by Dr. David M. Hall, author of Allies at Work: Creating a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusive Work Environment. Another scheduled session will be “Implementing Transgender Inclusion: Comprehensive Programming to Ensure Workplace Equality,” with Ann Dunkin and Jamison Green.

A-list plenary speakers include Bravo’s senior vice president of original programming and development, Andy Cohen, and transgender actress Candis Cayne on Tuesday and the recently out actress Meredith Baxter speaking on Wednesday.

The Gala Dinner is just as star-studded, with appearances by comedians Margaret Cho and Kate Clinton and actor Wilson Cruz along with remarks by Hewlett-Packard President Leo Apotheker and Fort Worth councilman Joel Burns.

With more than 140 workshops planned, Out & Equal expects more 2,500 to attend. To register for the summit, visit OutAndEqual.org.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Margaret Cho, Andy Cohen to headline Out & Equal’s Workplace Summit in Dallas

If you didn’t know already, this year’s Out & Equal Workplace Summit happens right here in town. It’s gonna be huge. But then we just found out who the keynote speakers are and were kinda blown away.

Instant Tea has learned that the celebrity roster for the Workplace Summit will include actress Meredith Baxter, trans actress Candis Cayne, comedian Margaret Cho and Bravo’s Andy Cohen. OK, Cohen sometimes drives me nuts on Watch What Happens Live, but he’s kind of a big deal. The dude isn’t just a talk show host, he’s also Bravo’s senior veep of original programming and development.

So, go to the summit because of the work O&E does, but definitely stay for the primo gay celebs willing to come here for the event. Now that’s some A-list.

The summit will be Oct. 25–28 at the Hilton Anatole. To register, go here.

—  Rich Lopez

Paula Poundstone tonight at the Majestic

Poundstoning the pavement

We love our Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho, but Paula Poundstone was right there with them on the up and up. She’s carved her own queer comedy path which comes this way. We give her props for her stand-up, but she’s crazy hilarious each week on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me trivia comedy show.

DEETS: Majestic Theater, 1925 Elm St. 8 p.m. $31–$106. PaulaInDallas.com

—  Rich Lopez

Weekly Best Bets

Friday 02.25

Poundstoning the pavement
We love our Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho, but Paula Poundstone was right there with them on the up and up. She’s carved her own queer comedy path which comes this way. We give her props for her stand-up, but she’s crazy hilarious each week on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me trivia comedy show. DEETS: Majestic Theater, 1925 Elm St. 8 p.m. $31–$106. PaulaInDallas.com

Sunday 02.27

Is that an Oscar in your pants?
One of these men (don’t forget Javier Bardem, too) will walk away with a best actor Oscar. You can watch that at one of many gayborhood watching parties, but first, listen to Dallas Voice’s Arnold Wayne Jones and David Taffet talk Oscar on Sunday’s Lambda Weekly on 89.3 KNON at noon. We predict Colin Firth wins. Yeah, we said it.
DEETS: Airs on WFAA Channel 8 at 7 p.m. Red carpet coverage at 6 p.m. Oscar.com

Thursday 03.03

Be Out of the Loop by being in it
WaterTower Theatre knows how to give a theater festival. The Out of the Loop festival returns with 11 days of shows. Faye Lane’s Beauty Shop Stories, pictured, is one of the opener shows and ends with a three-day run of Robert Wuhl’s Assume the Position.
DEETS: WTT, 15650 Addison Road. $10–$20. Through March 13. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright