Serious Side of Comedian Margaret Cho


By Nicole Hanratty
Posted January 18, 2013

GRAMMY® nominated Margaret Cho is sitting pretty in contention for “Best Comedy Album” for “Cho Dependent.” The comedian, actress, singer, politically outspoken LGBT activist, has a long career of delivering funny lines and making people laugh even though her life has not been all that comical.

Margaret has blogged about being relentlessly picked on and bullied as a Korean child of immigrant parents, being a victim of molestation, and struggling with anorexia. [E.G. See “Being Mad On Twitter” January 11, 2012 by Margaret Cho] She was assaulted with complaints from the Korean community about stereotyping while at the same time they complained she did not act Korean enough on her breakout All American Girl (1994) comedy sitcom which was cancelled after the first season. Through it all, Margaret fought back finding humor in her pain, standing up for individuality, and giving back to charities she supports.

In a recent interview with editor Nicole Hanratty, Margaret Cho opened up about how her mother—incidentally “Mother” is the title of Margaret’s current standup show— influences her, who she would like to work with in the future, fighting the ideal of what society considers beautiful, as well as her best and worst moments.

Charitable and unexpected, comedic actress Margaret Cho is known for her tattoos. While she says there is no specific new tattoo she would like to have, Margaret has a few to finish off but is reluctant to do so because they require tattooing in painful places like the back of her knee. However, the GRAMMY® nominated artist is no stranger to pain and if the saying is true that from great pain comes great art, then Margaret Cho is a living breathing literal adaption of that theory. Just looking at her body conjures images of endless hours of painful needling making it evident to me that this is one tough woman. Never shy with her opinions, I was excited to interview a woman known for her candor.

What I found was a woman who through it all finds a way to translate her struggles into successes while staying true to her authentic artistic self. “It’s really great to be able to do that,” Margaret told me, “and to be able to take things that are terrible and then turn them into something really tremendous and exciting.” She added, “I think it can also be a trap too. It doesn’t always have to be terrible. Things can be okay then you can still create great things out of your life and it doesn’t have to be so bleak.”

The entertainment world being laced with criticism as it is, most feel that to succeed in the industry you have to trust yourself and be able to say, “screw it,” which is an attitude Margaret is known to espouse. I asked Margaret if looking back there’s been a situation in her life where she wished she had moved on or gone forward with her own vision and ignored the judgment from others. She replied, “That’s a constant thing, you’re constantly having to do that. In general, it’s something that I think as a woman in show business, you’re always having to kind of deal with people criticizing the way you look, or your body, or whatever. I think the best thing is to just not pay attention to any of that stuff. It’s just dumb and it’s not valuable. It’s not anybody’s place to criticize either. It’s a weird thing when you don’t match up to an ideal of what society considers beautiful then you’re constantly kind of in battle with those sort of voices and I just don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s productive. I try to let that all sort of fall by the wayside.”

Margaret’s been a great spokesperson for promoting a healthy body image so I asked her if she feels like she is out of danger of falling back into that. “No,” Margaret answered honestly. “But, I think everybody’s in danger of hearing things that they don’t want to hear or don’t need to hear. I think that there’s so much online sniping and people saying things about you and you sort of can’t help but see it and hear it something. I think it’s really not productive and I think it’s really not good [or] beneficial. I don’t think it’s valuable.”

Soon after starting her career as a stand up comedian, Margaret Cho was opening up for Jerry Seinfeld and was a comedian on the rise when All American Girl came her way. The sitcom turned on Margaret from a dream come true into a nightmare when she was criticized for not being Korean enough and ultimately the cancellation of the show after only a few episodes. Having experienced that kind of a flip-flop, I asked Margaret does she handle success differently? “Oh, I don’t know. I think it was an important lesson. I think in kind of trusting myself and trusting my own work. It was a hard thing to go through when I was doing that show,” she answered. “It was just very, very tough because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was too young and I didn’t really understand what show business is about. I still don’t to some degree but at least I don’t blame myself as much now. Then it was a very difficult thing to take because I just wanted to have a job. I just wanted some kind of security in my work. I didn’t have that then and I wasn’t able to find it through that show.”

She has since found a great amount of security with the success of her career landing a permanent roll on Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime Television as Teri Lee, the paralegal assistant. She also recently appeared as a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars” competing against Brandy and Bristol Palin. Margaret has appeared on a long list of popular sitcoms including 30 Rock and has played more serious film roles as well. She has authored two books I’m The One That I Want about her struggle with addiction and I Have Chosen To Stay And Fight that deals with human rights and global politics.

Throughout her comedy, Margaret pokes a lot of fun at the differences between herself and her mother so I wanted to ask Margaret about something they have in common. Margaret’s mom had the courage to stand up for what she wanted and refused an arranged marriage. So I asked Margaret if she thinks that she could liken her mom’s courage to stand up for what she wanted and believed in to the courage that she has had to stand up and be a voice for gay and lesbian rights. “I guess so,” Margaret answered. “I think that would be great. My mother was also very into understanding and having me understand what LGBT rights [were] very young in the 70s when that was all sort of happening, she was very into learning about what was going on politically in the day…and helping me understand it. She’s always been very influential that way.”

Given all of her struggles along her journey to the security in her career, I asked Margaret “What do you think the hardest thing is that you have lived through?” Her answer surprised me. “I don’t know actually. I don’t know if I’ve been through it yet. …To me I have it pretty easy and I really enjoy my life in a very basic way. I don’t have to struggle in the way that my family did in coming to America and immigrating and learning a whole new language and learning a whole new culture. I have it pretty easy in that I was born into it. I don’t suffer that much.”

So what has been her best moment? Margaret said, “I’m just really pleased and proud that I still get to do stand up comedy and that I enjoy it and I love touring. I get to make albums and do lots of different stuff. It’s always really varied and really exciting.”

Listen to more excerpts from the interview on this YouTube clip:

Margaret on CHARITIES she supports:
“There’s the Ali Forney Center which is really a great place in New York that’s [for] homeless LGBT youths. I found out about them through True Colors, which is Cyndi Lauper’s thing. Something like the Ali Forney Center is really great for LGBT kids and for youth outreach. I think it’s really cool.” She also shared her passion for animals and talked about the importance of paying attention to animal rescues in need of help and raising awareness about animal cruelty. Said Cho, “A big one that I’ve given to in the past is ASPCA .”


Margaret Cho “Cho Dependent” Live In Concert

Ali Forney Center Housing for Homeless LGBT Youth
ASPCA We Are Their Voice

“It Gets Better” from
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012–“Music was like a hot bath I could escape into, steamy and warming me to the bone. I still am comforted greatly by sounds. Chord progressions and lyrics were my cliques and confidants. Songs sustained me more than I can say here, more than I can explain in words.”

“I like a lot of different things. I like a lot of 90s stuff, 90s alternative, rock and roll things like very 120 Minutes kind of stuff like Bob Mould or Sugar or even newer bands like The Hold Steady. Even things like sort of electronic, Phoenix or I love Lady Gaga. I love all sorts of different things happening in music.”

Harry Nilsson “Greatest Hits”


What song title best describes your personality?
“I don’t know, maybe it would be a Harry Nilsson song. It might be “Cuddly Toy.” I’m very cuddly, I think. That’s probably what I am.”

What’s your favorite comedy show on t.v.?
“I love Portlandia. I think it’s a great show. I love Fred and Carrie. I think they’re awesome and super funny and super just so current and so right on the nose about stuff. It’s so great to see that. I love kind of all the different stuff happening online with comedy and it’s fun to watch how acceptable comedy is, how different stuff all the YouTube celebrities there are. That’s really fun for me. I think my favorite is probably Portlandia.”

If there was an existing show that you could write your own character in on what would it be?
“I don’t know. I’d love to ride motorcycles on Sons of Anarchy. I’ve been trying to bug Kurt Sutter about it. I love that show and I love Katey Sagal and I love the whole drama and intrigue and the motorcycles on it. That would be great to do.”

Is it true you want to get your pilot’s license?
“No, I haven’t been working on it but it may be a far away, it may be something that I do eventually. I don’t have one yet of course.”

We might see you flying in the future?
“Maybe, we’ll see.”