Margaret Cho - wickedly edgy & going strong

by Mona Elyafi

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 27, 2011

Stand-up comedian, actor, celeb-reality star, author, dancer, singer, ordained minister, minority advocate and inveterate LGBT rights activist, is there anything Margaret Cho can't do?

And isn't it hard to believe that it's been more than 20 years since Cho got her start doing stand-up in the club next to her parents' bookstore on Polk Street in San Francisco? Next came her first big break - the lead in television sitcom - was the kind of experience that could have easily broken any young performer on their way up. Cho, though, turned her experiences on ABC's ill-fated "All American Girl" into comic fodder for her stand-up that became the basis of her first concert DVD "I'm The One That I Want."

Over the next decade other titles followed - "Notorious C.H.O.," "Revolution," "Assassin" and "Beautiful" - as well as two memoirs, role in numerous films and television shows, a stint on "Dancing With the Stars," a Grammy-nominated music album "Cho Dependent," a heavy schedule of tour dates, as well as appearances at LGBT events and benefits.

Running out of breath yet? Ah, there’s more!

Working almost around the clock, the indefatigably feisty, out bisexual comedian continues to be anything but idle or (for that matter) silent.

Her latest artistic endeavor - in addition to her series regular role on Lifetime’s popular TV show "Drop Dead Diva", now in its third season- is the new stand-up concert film titled "Cho Dependent", based around her Grammy-nominated album of the same name (a collaborative music production with a variety of prestigious indie-rock artists in the likes of Ani DiFranco, Tegan and Sara, and Fiona Apple, to name a few).

Filmed in Atlanta, Georgia at the Tabernacle during one of Cho’s tour performances, the 83-minute live recording documentary DVD marks the fourth creative collaboration partnership with filmmaker Lorene Machado. Capturing Cho in her notoriously famous gut-busting, envelope-pushing, and gender-bending natural habitat, "Cho Dependent" delivers a brand of comedy and song that is nothing short of fiercely blunt and hilariously funny.

Uncensored, unrated, uncut, this American-Korean spitfire never skips a beat and tells it like it is, sparing nothing and no one. With her lightning-quick wit, and wicked edginess, she takes an opinionatedly raw and honest shot at the hypocrisies, dysfunctionalities and idiosyncrasies that shape today’s social, political and cultural landscape - not excluding its famous, or rather infamous, public shakers, makers and movers.

Gushing and dishing with an unrestrained style on the Palins, sexting, "Dancing with the Stars", gay marriage rights, immigrant deportation, online porn, marijuana and her legendary caricatured depiction of her mother’s Korean accent and cultural/ethnical idiosyncrasies, Cho dodges no bullets.

Edge caught up with the self-proclaimed "fag hag" to talk about "Cho Dependent" DVD and Tour, Drop Dead Gorgeous and of course her mother!

Music & stand-up

EDGE: "Cho Dependent "premiered in Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival and has since been traveling the film festival circuit primarily within the LGBT market, notably with a recent stop at LA’s Outfest - What do you think makes your live recording so appealing to the LGBT community?

Margaret Cho: My films are always all about gay culture and so I think that people want to come and see them and see themselves talked about on screen. It’s very important for me to document my performances, mostly because I change my material so much and I forget what I did! This gives me a chance to archive my work and also present myself to the community I belong to and write about.

EDGE: "Cho Dependent" is the live recording of your stand-up show during the Atlanta, GA leg part of the tour. Did you choose to film it in Georgia because "Drop Dead Diva" is also shot in that state (in Peachtree City)?

Margaret Cho: Yes I used many of the same crew members who work on "Drop Dead Diva," and I feel very at home in Atlanta, so it was in fact a kind of homecoming that I wanted to bring to the film. Atlanta is an extremely progressive and queer city - which is surprising considering it is in the Deep South. I love Atlanta and I wanted to introduce people who watch my films to it.

EDGE: For "Cho Dependent" you’ve partnered again with filmmaker Lorene Machado. What’s your experience working with her? What do you like about her filmmaking approach/style?

Margaret Cho: Lorene and I have worked together for so long, our style of collaboration is very intuitive. She knows what she wants to shoot and how to do it. It’s very important for me to work with her as she understands exactly what I am trying to do and how to capture it. We have made so many films together and we keep going!

EDGE: The film incorporates a lot of original music from your Grammy-nominated music album of the same name - "Cho Dependent" - which featured collaborations with such prestigious artists as Fiona Apple, Tegan and Sara and Ani di Franco to name a few. What inspired you to take on this new creative direction and how did you approach those artists?

Margaret Cho: I have wanted to incorporate music into my standup comedy performances for a long time. Fortunately I have many friends who are incredibly talented and accomplished artists who wanted to help me out. What was awesome was that we got to come together on a song and I learned so much from the process, from writing to recording. It was a blast!

Story continues on following page:

Watch Margaret Cho pan Joy’s Comedy Corner on ABC’s "The View":

On being ’Cho Dependent’

EDGE: How would you describe "Cho Dependent"? Is it a music show or is it stand-up?

Margaret Cho: It’s a standup comedy show, as the music is also very much standup comedy, even though there is musical components to the jokes, they are still very much jokes!

EDGE: How did you come up with the title "Cho Dependent"? What are you personally "cho dependent" on?

Margaret Cho: This was from my friends Amos Mac and Rocco Kayiatos from Original Plumbing magazine, which is the transgendered male fashion quarterly. They are good friends of mine and two of my many tranchildren. I am a tranmother to many! They were staying with me in Los Angeles and they claimed to be ’cho-dependent’ and it just stuck! It’s a perfect title. I am not sure what I am ’cho-dependent’ on, but I know that many are dependent on me!

EDGE: You epitomize the definition of self-empowerment - what would you say is the message of "Cho Dependent"?

Margaret Cho: It’s about challenging yourself to do different things, about growth, about putting yourself in a new world and not being discouraged by being different in a different place. For me it was about adjusting to being queer and living and working in the conservative Deep South.

EDGE: Do you feel that comedy is the most effective medium of communication to talk about controversial topics such as gay marriage rights, immigration, laws, racial & gender discrimination, and effectively get your point across?

Margaret Cho: Yes it’s a wonderful medium and tool for change. It’s entertainment and politics at the same time. I am very fortunate to be able to do this, and these issues are important for me to talk about.

EDGE: With your comedy you very much succeed in giving a voice to "minorities" and giving visibility to people who are different - with that in mind would you call yourself a political comedian?

Margaret Cho: I am most certainly a political comedian. I didn’t used to think that I was, because I assumed in the past that politics and social commentary were for straight white men, but that is not the case at all! My voice is essential in the dialogue!

EDGE: Speaking about giving visibility to people who are different, one such group that still remains a largely invisible community is the bisexual community. As an out bisexual woman, why do you think bisexuals are (perhaps) not taken seriously and being discriminated against from both ends of the spectrum (meaning the straight & gay communities)?

Margaret Cho: Yes bisexual and transgendered members of the community often suffer from invisibility, which is something that is difficult to fight. How do you get your point across when you are unseen? I feel that bisexuality is a real lifestyle, and often it is thought as some kind of cop out, but for me it’s a true identity.

EDGE: You’re known for being controversially provocative with a stand-up comedy style that is boundary-pushing and gender-bending. Is there anything that is ever off-limits for you to discuss onstage?

Margaret Cho: I don’t think so. I try to be compassionate in my work and if I am critical of others it comes from a fair place. I haven’t come across anything that was really taboo or off limits. I think it is ok to talk about everything.

No limits on comedy

EDGE: "Cho Dependent" covers topics such as Sarah Palin, sexting, same sex marriage, immigrant deportation, and geriatric strippers to name a few. What is your process in selecting your material/content?

Margaret Cho: It all comes down to what is funny, politically relevant - what is right to me. It’s hard sometimes because I write so many things and I want to include it all but it’s better to edit!

EDGE: Of course, no performance of yours would be the same without the expected appearance (via impersonation) of your mother who’s very much become a staple of your stand-up routine. Why do you think she has such a huge appeal with your audience?

Margaret Cho: She is the voice of my Asian-ness, and what is ancient about me. Her voice is constantly questioning where I am, what I am doing - I think that many people have this type of voice in their lives, whether it is parental or just an elder. Someone is always going to be questioning what you are doing and what you are about from a very loving place.

-EDGE: Any chance she might one day join you on stage for a duet or perhaps a freestyle rap and jam?

Margaret Cho: We recorded a song together for my new album, which is all Beatles-esque songs about race called ’the yellow album’. We did our own version of ’she’s leaving home’, not a cover, but something about growing up and coming out and your parents being supportive but worried and scared still. It’s a great song and I am really proud of it and I am hoping that we will get to perform it live. She’s got a heartbreakingly beautiful singing voice and we sound great together.

-EDGE: You’re a self-proclaimed "fag hag" and much like your fellow female comedians such as Kathy Griffin, Wanda Sykes and Chelsea Handler, you’ve remained on the forefront of comedians embracing the "gays". Do any of these ladies inspire you?

Margaret Cho: Oh these women are fantastic! They are all my role models. I love them all very much. I know Kathy best, as we have had a very long friendship, but I absolutely adore Wanda and Chelsea too! They all make me laugh so much!

EDGE: Speaking about Kathy Griffin and Wanda Sykes, they both guest-starred on Lifetime’s "Drop Dead Diva" - how was it like working with them?

Margaret Cho: We had an amazing time. I love bringing them into my little world there. I had a great fight scene with Kathy and we were dying laughing the whole time!

EDGE: "Drop Dead Diva" is now in its third season - what do you attribute the success of the show to?

Margaret Cho: It’s a great show and I think everyone is in love with Brooke Elliott, who is the star. She’s an exceptional talent and I feel that she is the reason the show is so successful.

EDGE: What is it about your "Drop Dead Diva" character that motivated and inspired you in the first place to take on that role?

Margaret Cho: I really love the premise of the show, which is all about living in and loving the body, which for a lot of people is difficult to do. The show features and highlights the beauty of many different types of women and l love that.

EDGE: Going back to "Cho Dependent" where is the film going next?

Margaret Cho: It will continue to run in theaters and then onto TV and then will be released on DVD later in the year.

EDGE: What upcoming projects are you currently working on?

Margaret Cho: I am writing and recording ’the yellow album’ and going to work at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and then doing a tour of Australia then back to London. Lots of adorable accents!

Margaret Cho takes her "Cho Dependent" tour to the Edinburgh Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland from August 3 - 29, 2011. In early September she travels for three dates in Australia, followed by a UK tour that includes a run in London (10/13 - 10/18); Brighton (10/16) and Glasgow (10/23-24).

To find out more about the DVD of "Cho Dependent," including its release date TBD, visit her website.

"Drop Dead Diva" airs Sundays on 9pm on Lifetime.

Watch this interview with Margaret Cho:

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