Your comedy has earned you a great deal of recognition outside of the entertainment world. The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund recently awarded you with the Lambda Liberty Award for showing people how false constructions of race, gender and sexuality demean a person’s identity, and Kweisi Mfume recently acknowledged your accomplishments on the show “Remarkable Journey.” I would imagine that your fans are pretty open with how you’ve touched their lives as well. What are some of the more touching and powerful stories that people have told you after a show? ^ A couple of things have been pretty profound. One was this woman who had a very distant relationship with her father. They were not close at all because he was a gay man and he had had her before he had come out of the closet. So he had a very difficult time having a relationship with her. He actually had AIDS and was dying, and one of the last things he got to do was see my show at the Wiltern on the “I’m the One That I Want!” tour. So he went to the show and really enjoyed it, and he called his daughter up just so excited saying, ‘oh you have to go see her. She’s wonderful.’ He was telling her some of the jokes in the show and they were having a good laugh over it, and that was the last time she spoke to him because he died a few days later. She never got to see my show, but almost a year later she went to go see the film “I’m the One That I Want!” and she got to sit in the theater and really remember the conversation that she had with her father. And in the context of the film, in her own way, sort of said good-bye to him. She just remembered how much he had laughed, and he hadn’t laughed very much because he was so ill. She got to sort of connect with him over the humor in the show, and so she wrote me a letter telling me and thanking me for giving her the ability to say good-bye to her dad. Stuff like that is really profound and it happens a lot. It is a kind of bringing people together and connecting and it’s really beautiful. There have been a lot of different people who have said, ‘Well, I’m coming out of the closet and I brought my parents to come see you. We just sat there together and we both laughed at the same things, and at the end of the show we realized that we weren’t so different. It helped us feel better.’ Or kids that are kind of isolated and living in rural areas who are dealing with being gay and having to come out or not come out or not know what to do about coming out. It makes them feel better, to see me talking about gay issues. A lot of Asian-American kids have grown up with me and feel the same way, like so excited by the fact that I’m out there doing what I’m doing. And I don’t look at it as recognition from my ability, I don’t think it’s that. It’s not that I’m great, it’s just that I’m a symbol. I’m so different from what’s out there entertainment-wise that people really latch on to me as a symbol for their growth or a way they can change or a way America has changed. So I’m really honored by that– I think it’s a really tremendous honor.
Your first film, “I’m the One That I Want!,” was filmed in San Francisco while Notorious C.H.O. was filmed in Seattle. Was where the films were shot a conscious decision on your part since both cities are so diverse and represent the different types of people your acts draw so well? ^Yeah, absolutely. I wanted the audience to be captured on film. I wanted people to see who was coming cause, in a sense, they were seeing themselves. They were seeing people like them. They haven’t seen that on film before and that’s what’s so exciting about the power of film because it can really make you feel like you exist when you see people like you or hear stories that are yours. It is so important to have that kind of image out there, that kind of inclusion, because these are groups and people who have been invisible for so long.
You recently wrapped up your Notorious C.H.O. Tour and already have a new tour in the works. Can you go through the process of what it’s like for you to put together these tours? Do you test out bits and pieces of your material before touring, or do you just change material as you go based on audience reaction? ^It takes a long time. I’m really prolific but I have a lot of standards. I have a very particular way I want a show to turn out so I have to spend a lot of time working on something and making sure that it’s perfect — it can take almost a year or more if I really want it to be where it should be. I will write all the time, though. It’s less discipline than writing a book or writing essays — which I do also — or writing magazine articles, which is more time consuming. With stand up comedy things just happen and I record them, I journal. Then I start out with an idea and think, ‘Oh, well, I want to start with this,’ and go and collect all of the little pieces of paper that I’ve written on — because I always write everything down and put it somewhere. Then I write it all out and go to different theaters or small comedy clubs to try the material out. It takes a long time, but it eventually becomes a show and then I go on tour with it. It’s a slightly different process every time. For the first one, I put together a show and then I stayed in New York for several months and worked Off-Broadway. Then I went on tour all over. This last one I workshopped it in a couple different places and then I waited ’til the very end to go to New York just for one night. So, it’s different. I think for the next show I’ll do a tour and then end up on Broadway.
Get the rest of the interview in part three of THE NOTORIOUS MARGARET CHO>>>
Posted on July 2, 2002 in Interviews by Heather Wadowski
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