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Whether it’s starring in her own sitcom, touring the globe as a stand-up comedian, or starring in a big screen romantic rom-com, there’s very little that Margaret Cho has not done.
As she hits the road for her Live & Livid stand up tour, Cho is beyond aware that her comedy and advocacy is important now more than ever. I sat down to chat with this famed funny lady and we discussed how her stand up has changed in today’s world, the impact of the beloved Joan Rivers on her own career, and the possibility of a "Fire Island" sequel.
Michael Cook: Margaret, you are hitting the road with your "Live & Livid" comedy tour! In a world where stand up comedy can be, to put it mildly, polarizing; how has stand up comedy changed for you?
Margaret Cho: I think you have to be more thoughtful about what you are talking about and what the intention is behind it. I think often though, if we are really authentic in our truth, it is going to balance out. The thing is, we are just trying to look to make language, culture, and society more fair...some of us. Others of course are trying to make it more unfair with the ban on drag shows and anti-trans legislation; they’re trying to police identity, which is really offensive. I think that the rise of that and this neo-nazism that is going on, this facism that is emerging, that has always been there, it has always been a part of America. It has now become really mainstream, which is horrifying. I think you have to be more thoughtful about what words you use, the history of those words, and what you are really trying to get across. I actually comedians should always have done that anyway, so I actually think that it’s a benefit, so I think it is going to make the art form better.
MC: Do you think that the attempts at banning drag and the general attacks on queer people nationwide is the thing right now that you are the most “Livid” about?
MC: Yes. It’s between that and the conservative embrace of firearms. Like, why do we need guns, why?! If you really believe that much in “pro-life” and you are really “pro-life”, you would allow trans children to have gender-affirming care because that is the primary cause of suicidal ideation, the feeling of not feeling right in your body and not allowing people to be who they are; you’re killing people. It’s not a pro-life argument. If you’re going to jail women who have had abortions, it’s not a pro-life argument. If you have the death penalty for people who have had abortions, that’s not pro-life. I want to put “dummy” on the end of everything about it; it’s literally the only response.
MC: This opens up a bigger conversation about where the line for policing things goes. Will it trickle down to taking a sixteen year old to a rated R movie for example?
MC: Yeah, it’s really sinister. Also, what’s sinister is Ron DeSantis eating chocolate pudding with three fingers. DeSantis period, but eating it with three fingers, it’s like “girl”. That’s just fisting basically (laughs). Fisting is fine, but eating chocolate pudding with three fingers.
MC: Is there a point in your life that you looked around and said to yourself “I’m funny as hell.”
MC: I have not done that yet. I think what it is is that people who actually are funny don’t really know that they are still. There’s kind of a thing that we’re just being ourselves and other people can interpret it as being funny. I look at it as just trying to cope; a sense of humor is just kind of a coping mechanism. So if you have a well defined one, you’re not noticing it as particularly any sort of talent or whatever, you are just trying to cope with whatever is going on; I think most comedians are that way. I don’t think we acknowledge or understand what it means to be funny, it’s just an aspect of our coping mechanism.
MC: "Fire Island" was an absolutely sensation last year. Not only was the cast of the film spectacular, but it truly redefined what a “summer romantic comedy” was. What was the experience like for you?
MC: We had a great time, we laughed so much. We partied, we had the best cast, the best crew, and the best director. Everybody there was just so down to have an incredible experience. For me, it was like a gay summer camp. It was also like being in the woods with my children, they’re all my babies. We loved it.
MC: Do you think that there is space for a sequel or a spin off of the film?
MC: I want sequel, I want prequel, I want a whole cinematic universe. I think we definitely have to shoot a million. I want movies about every single character. Like Star Wars, I want movies about every single person in this landscape, because I think that their stories should be told, they’re so rich. Joel (Kim-Booster) wrote such a beautiful script and these characters have so much life that I want to know about and I want to follow them all. I think that it definitely has so much potential for so many stories, and I am pushing for that.
MC: You mentioned all of your babies, and I think that was such an important statement. When you look around and you see Bowen Yang, Joel Kim-Booster, Awkwafina, and you realize that you laid so much of the groundwork for them, that must be truly remarkable for you.
MC: Oh it’s my greatest achievement. To inspire those incredible artists, and Ally Wong of course. She is like my prize fighter, she is fighting everything and going for it and doing so much. All of their achievements are my achievements, and I am just so proud.
MC: Having that kind of an influence over an entire generation of such talented performers truly must be a spectacular feeling.
MC: It’s the best. I see that my work was meaningful and that it had value and it has a legacy. I think that every good hag wants a legacy (laughs). Every hag needs a legacy, that’s all that she wanted; and I am carrying on the legacy of Wayland Flowers and Madame.
MC: I feel that Wayland Flowers and Madame don’t get nearly enough current reference in today’s pop culture landscape.
MC: (Laughs) And I think that is something that is really misguided because we need to look at the coded Hollywood queerness. Hollywood of the '80s was so queer, but no openly so. Madame is the ultimate; let’s look to the 80’s for all of the queerness, like the music shows like Solid Gold. Madame was a commentator on Solid Gold.
MC: Solid Gold and shows like that are part of the origin story for so many of us, myself included.
MC: Absolutely. That is kind of how a lot of us understood that we were gay, during the dance sequences (laughs)! I love it.
MC: I just read about Ron, your new project with John Cameron Mitchell. This is truly a passion project for you, is that fair to say?
MC: Yes. It is based on a song that I wrote, “Ron’s Got A DUI”. It was written and Leslie Jordan was actually the star of the music video. Then we started developing the film over the past few years, and then unfortunately we lost Leslie. John is so great, a wonderful person to step in and reinterpret this idea of who this character would be. John and I have a long history of many shows, many different things. I used to do my Off-Broadway show a block away from Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell played the title character in the premiere of the Tony Award-winning Hedwig and the Angry Inch). So I would finish my show and I would go to his show, so I have seen the second act of Hedwig and the Angry Inch a thousand times at least, also in many different countries, different casts, different interpretations of that. I love John and I am really looking forward to doing this with him.
MC: We spoke about you being a mentor to so many, but you spoke about the dearly missed and eternally beloved entertainment icon Joan Rivers being such a mentor to you. What do you think is one of the biggest lessons that you took from Joan Rivers?
MC: I think that you can really combine the elegant with the crass. She created the blueprint for class elegance, she was so classy but she was so crass. For me, that is the best way to live because you are inhabiting all spaces, you know? That feeling of everything, she was everything. And that aging is not something to be feared, it is something to enjoy. She really set that into motion for me, that idea.
MC: How do we as a community, push back on so much of the horrible rhetoric coming directly towards our community right now and truly make a difference?
MC: I think what I love is all of the counter protests that are trying to shield children from all of these nazis trying to attack the drag queen story hours. That to me, I think all of the counter activism that is going to protect our community and really joining in on it. Whether it is communicating and sharing your thoughts on it on social media, it’s about talking about what is happening in our community and uniting every aspect of who we are as a community to fight this. I think when we can let go of our infighting-which is very frequent... there is a lot of infighting within the queer community, even if we can use the word “queer”. There are a lot of aspects to that, when we can unite against the larger problem of homophobia, we are really doing something good.
Follow Margaret Cho on Instagram @margaret_cho