THE NOTORIOUS MARGARET CHO

How do you decide what material to use for each show? ^ I just go with what I’m feeling. I think the next show that I do will be more political, more about the things that I’m dealing with right now — which is mostly a lot of racial identity ideas and stuff like that. That’s kind of what’s on my mind at the moment, but last year I was having a lot of sex! That was before September 11 though when everything was just great, but now everything’s changed.
During your past two shows you’ve talk about everything from colonics to your own father’s run-in with homosexuality. Is there anything that you won’t discuss on stage in front of millions of strangers? ^ I don’t know, I’m not sure. If there is something I’ve always felt the need to repress or remain silent about, I haven’t come across it yet. I don’t think so though as long as it’s funny. I guess where I draw the line is if something’s boring.
Now “Lesbian News” recently wrote a cover story about you, dubbing you as “The Darling of Gay Comedy.” How do you feel about that? Do you consider your comedy to be “gay comedy?” ^ I don’t know, that’s actually never been said before. I’ve been called the taboo buster, but this is very nice, ‘The darling of gay comedy.’ I think that it is gay comedy. It’s very queercentric; it’s focused on queer issues. It’s all about different aspects of gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual life, so it’s very appropriate to say the darling of gay comedy.
Does that put any pressure on you as a stand-up comic? You’ve mentioned that you expect your next show to be more politically based and Notorious C.H.O. deals a lot with your own heterosexual relationships. Do you fear that you could lose the gay audience if you don’t structure your comedy around them? ^ No, because it’s always going to be really sensitive to that audience and completely involving that audience. It’s always going to be that. Just because we are dealing with political issues and racial issues doesn’t mean that they don’t include gay issues. I think that gay issues are incredibly political, especially now days, and it’s important to talk about politics amongst ourselves. So I think it will be good for all of us.
Obviously both the public and the media are quick to associate you with gay issues and gay rights, but what about Asian-American issues? What do you think, being a female Asian-American yourself, is the most important issue today for the Asian-American community? ^ I think it’s about perceiving and claiming our power as an ethnic minority and refusing to be silent about small crimes that we suffer daily. Things like what happened with Abercrombie and Fitch — a T-shirt line they put out that depicted a very racist portrayal of Asians. All these sort of Internet pioneers getting out there and connecting to universities, and Stanford students really encouraging other students all over the world to protest these T-shirts, they really got them off the market very quickly. It got the word out to the world that here’s this huge corporation being completely racist and we’re going to do something about it. So I think that’s really what’s facing Asian-Americans now, and with Asian-American women it’s uniting feminism with this racial consciousness.
You’ve been pretty open about how during the beginning of your career your family and friends didn’t really encourage you to become a stand-up comic. You’ve also discussed how growing up the only Asian-Americans you would see on television were hookers or extras on “M*A*S*H” — that you never really saw any Asian-American females with a prominent role. When you first started out in this business, did you resent being Asian-American? Do you feel that your journey to the stage would have been much easier for you if you were Caucasian? ^ Oh yeah, totally. But I think I resented it much earlier on. I really resented it when I was a child because I grew up in a very Asian community and I was really kind of baby-sat by television. I never saw Asian people on television, so it was very shocking when I realized that I didn’t look like the people on TV. They looked like a totally different species because they didn’t look like me at all and I kept wondering what was wrong with me and what was wrong with my family and what’s wrong with the city. So, I had a lot of problems like this internal inferiority complex coming into entertainment. That’s why when I started doing television and working in kind of a broader medium than stand-up, I felt really insecure because I didn’t look like anyone else. So I felt like ‘well, if I can’t look like anyone else, at least I can be skinny’ and so I really wanted to lose weight because I wanted to at least fit in that way because the way that I was, I didn’t fit in anywhere. So, it was really hard at first. Now, I feel very comfortable where I’m at in terms of race, in terms of my body. All of these things, I’m very at ease with whereas when I first started, especially here in Hollywood, it was very difficult.
Do you think you would have had the same opportunities growing up in Korea as a female stand-up comic that you did in the U.S.? ^ I don’t know if I would have had the same kind of opportunities in Korea. I mean it’s possible — certainly anything is possible — but I think that I would have had the same kind of rebel heart. I’ve always had the same mind and I’ve always wanted this and I can’t see that changing no matter where I was brought up.
When you first started out you actually won the opportunity to open for Jerry Seinfeld. Since your friends and family obviously didn’t encourage you, who did you look up to or who were some of your comedic influences growing up that gave you the courage and persistence to keep going? ^ My influences for comedy are probably Richard Pryor, more recently Sandra Bernhard, who is really a genius and really amazing. I used to really love Joan Rivers. I actually saw her in Scotland, doing a show when I was there like a year ago, and it was tremendous because she’s amazingly dirty. She’s just so foul. She came out in this blue dress that had this big white stain on it and she’s like, ‘I borrowed it from Monica.’ She’s such a pioneer. She’s so cool in that way, and I’m amazed that she’s been going for so many years. Phyllis Diller is amazing too, but the amount of plastic surgery Phyllis Diller’s had is so startling. It’s like, ‘oh my God. What the?’ It’s so weird. I hope that I don’t get that much plastic surgery, but you never know. Comedians always seem to age weird and turn out weird when they die. Or they set themselves on fire — it’s always something bad.
Finally, you’ve accomplished so much in your career — sold-out tours, a best-selling book, a ground-breaking sitcom… what are you the most proud of and what’s really left for you? Is there anything that you haven’t already conquered and are looking forward to doing? ^ Well, I’d like to make other films and I think the thing that I’m most proud of is the fact that I’ve been able to make these two films. That now that I have a couple of them under my belt I get to go on to the next one. That I get to be a filmmaker and a producer as well as a stand-up comedian. I’m very proud of that. As for what’s next, I’m just really focused on doing comedy, producing my own comedies, doing stand-up and making my own movies. I have a new book coming out that is pretty much very similar to the last book that I wrote, which was autobiographical essays. My new show is all about racial identity and politics, sort of what’s happening right now. It’s really in the very beginning stages, so I don’t know exactly what it will turn into, but that’s my next project. I also have a screenplay that I’ve written, a very broad comedy, very physical and fun. I don’t know exactly what that will be either, but I think it’ll be good.




Posted on July 2, 2002 in Interviews by
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