There are no tattoos, bold makeup or crazy costumes present as Margaret Cho sits down for our video interview. Instead, she cradles a mug and excuses herself every once in a while to cough. She’s lost her voice, she explained. While such is the case in a literal sense, Cho is far from losing her voice as a multi-talented comedian, actress, author and now musician, singer and songwriter.
In her work and her life, Cho has always pushed boundaries by challenging traditional notions of being female, Korean American and a performer. Tattooed, tantalizing and lovingly loudmouthed, Cho’s standup routines often touch on taboo issues such as sex and drugs, as well as plaguing issues such as immigration and same-sex marriage.
Saying what needs to be said is no problem for Cho.
“I never allowed any doubt to seep in,” Cho said. “Don’t worry about the consequences.”
It was perhaps this mindset of complete abandonment and absence of fear that has made Cho a leading figure and voice for a number of social issues.
Besides speaking frankly about gay and lesbian rights in performances, Cho is known for her advocacy for same-sex marriage and acceptance of the LGBT community. Cho’s satire exaggerates events and experiences gays and lesbians go through.
In one of her standup routines, Cho takes on the role of her very traditional Korean mother, talking to Cho’s answering machine about sexuality: “Are you gay? Come talk to Mommy about it. You have a cool Mommy. Mommy is so cool and Mommy know all about the gay … They all over the world, you know. But not Korea. Not Korea. Everywhere else.”
Offensive, perhaps, but skits like this one are among Cho’s specialties, as they help shed light on the side of Asian society and culture that is rarely expressed.
For her work, Cho has been recognized by the most prominent LGBT advocacy organizations. She was deputized to preside over same-sex wedding ceremonies in San Francisco when the city legalized gay marriage in 2004.
“It has nothing to do with whether it’s constitutional,” Cho said about same-sex marriage. “Having a partner is very important.”
Cho also pokes fun at racial prejudice, bringing her experiences of growing up in a traditional Korean family to stages and screens. Her thoughts on immigration and racism appear frequently in her standup routines and served as the storyline for her 1994 sitcom, “All American Girl.” Her message: Making fun of people can be pretty funny, but it can be really mean when you mean it.
In the early years of her career, she was the opening act for Jerry Seinfeld’s standup comedy series and then the star of a sitcom based on her standup routine. But along with the great roles came pressure from network executives, stress and eventually substance abuse and addiction.
“I turned to drugs and alcohol and food and shopping and this and that and whatever in order to endure the pain of people,” Cho wrote in her blog. She also detailed her life, career and substance abuse in her autobiography, “I’m the One That I Want,” in 2002.
Cho’s latest project also touches on dependency. Her debut album “Cho Dependent,” which was released August 24, is a product of her latest musings—singing and songwriting—as well as collaborations with artists such as Ben Lee, Fiona Apple and Ani DiFranco.
“It’s something I wanted to do about dependency and addiction.” Cho said. “Not only to drugs and to people, but everything you experience in life.”
Those experiences, according to “Cho Dependent,” include love, lice and the pursuit of large genitalia—another display of Cho’s unconventionally bold (but honest) humor.
There is a song about killing a lover and stuffing him in an attic (that humorously comes with a music video featuring Andrew Bird as a dead man). Then there is a tune about needing an intervention (featuring Tegan and Sara, who write a letter to Cho about her “problem”).
Cho is currently on her “Cho Dependent Tour,” where she will perform a few songs from her album. You’ll also see her this fall on the newest season of “Dancing With the Stars.”
“I’ve got some mean stripper moves and I can pick up a dollar with my butt,” Cho wrote in her blog. “However, the Viennese Waltz is all-new for me. I’ve been training with my partner for three days now and I can’t believe how much my body hurts. I’m trying to embrace the pain.”
May we suggest using the experience as emotional (and physical) fodder for her next project? We’d love to hear about Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and Bristol Palin on her next album, which the constantly multi-tasking entertainer says she is already thinking about now.