Margaret Cho‘s career has spanned two decades and every viable performance outlet possible: five stand-up concert DVDs (I’m the One that I Want, Notorious C.H.O., Revolution, Assassin, Beautiful), several roles in film & TV (All American Girl, Sex & the City, Drop Dead Diva) and two memoirs (I’m the One That I Want, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight), and repeated U.S tours.
Throughout it all, the out bisexual has been a champion and an advocate for the gay community across gender boundaries. Her stand-up material is raw and honest and she speaks frankly of her own sexuality and her big queer life with an explicit self-deprecating/loving edginess that might give even Kathy Griffin some pause. Cho’s a long-time regular of the gay circuit, including a gig on Olivia Cruises which inspired these legendary words from the lesbian-required viewing I’m the One That I Want:
“Lesbians love whale watching. They fucking love it. They love it more than pussy. They love it! They LOVE WHALE WATCHING. It’s any kind of sea mammal, really. Whaaallllessss Dolpphhihinns. They go crazy for the Dolphins I don’t know what it is. I think it’s the blow-hole.”
Recently Margaret Cho thought it would be fun to go into the studio with her favorite artists and essentially join their bands (Tegan & Sara, Fiona Apple and Ani DiFranco, among others), producing tracks which laced each artist’s work with her trademark lyrical comedic sensibility.
The result is (Cho Dependent), coming out in August. She’s also returning for a second season of the hilarious Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva and is about to hit the road in August for a stand-up tour to coincide with the CD’s release.
Jess chats with Margaret about tattoos, her romantic relationships with gay men, celebrities who come out later in their careers, her pick for “the next Gaga,” Adam Lambert, Sex & the City and more.
Jess: Growing up in San Francisco what was your earliest exposure to gay people?
Margaret: Oh, I was exposed very early because my parents owned a bookstore in a gay neighborhood in San Francisco, so all of the people that I was in contact with when I was a very young child, maybe as early as 6 or 7 years old, were gay. I mean, it was not just one person, everybody I knew was gay. And also, interestingly enough, they were all tattooed, everybody was getting tattooed very early, like in the late 70′s, early 80′s. That was a trend in my small community. So, I was in the gay community from very, very young, as soon as I understood what gay was, which even then it took me a while to get it.
Jess: Over the past 10 years you’ve slowly tattooed a great deal of your body. Have you ever gotten a tattoo that you later regretted?
Margaret: No, not one particular tattoo. I do, in a sense, always want to start over. I mean I’ve always wanted to be tattooed and I’ve always wanted to have this on my skin since I was exposed to it as a child. But, now you look at Jon Gosselin’s big back piece and you go, oh you kind of look like an asshole! I realize that my history with tattoos is different than Jon Gosselin’s, but… it’s kind of embarrassing! [laughs]
Jess: Aside from Jon Gosselin, have you ever seen a tattoo someone and thought, “wow, that is the worst tattoo I’ve ever seen?”
Margaret: No, I think everybody who adorns their body… it’s very tribal and it’s very interesting, but I always wonder what is worth somebody’s pain. Tattoos are also a very physically a painful ritual, it’s very painful art, so I always want to know, what is worth that suffering? I think all of them are beautiful to some extent, you know there are some that aesthetically don’t make sense to me, that don’t fit my particular aesthetic, but I think they’re all great.
Jess: I remember reading your blog on being a Christian. What would your advice be for people who have a strong faith and are gay and feel torn?
Margaret: I think that they can seek out a church that does not reject them. There are plenty of places of worship that don’t discriminate against gays and lesbians. I think it’s really important for those people to know that you don’t have to leave the faith or become an atheist just because your church is discriminating against you. I also don’t think it’s very healthy to stay in that church… why be in a community that doesn’t accept you wholeheartedly? And, I think there are so many different kinds of churches that would accept who are gay. To me, it’s a ludicrous idea anyway that churches are against gays. It doesn’t make any sense to me, so I think that there’s a lot of places where you can take your spirituality, and take your relationship with God, and make sure that you don’t feel victimized.
MARGARET RECORDING WITH TEGAN & SARA
Jess: Comedy albums tend to go for funny lyrics set to generic tunes. I was really impressed how the songs are actually quite catchy and fully produced. If the lyrics weren’t comedic your song with Tegan & Sara would fit right in on So Jealous or The Con. Same with Fiona Apple, Ani DiFranco, etc. How’d you talk all these amazing performers into collaborating for a comedy album?
Margaret: Well, I’m a fan of everybody on the record, and I approached everybody in a different way. Some people I had known for many years, and others I met through the process of making a record. So, like with Tegan & Sara, I’d been a big fan of theirs for a long time and we had attended each other’s shows, so I definitely wanted to do a song with them when I first started making the album. I wanted to make an album that was funny, but at the same time had a high production value in terms of music, where each song sounded as if this is what happened when I joined that band for a day. Same thing with Fiona Apple and Ani DiFranco – these are the songs that I made with each of these artists who I love and got to join their band. Everybody had a different way of working, but every collaboration was really satisfying and exciting.
Jess: Who were you a superfan of growing up?
Margaret: I always loved Steve Martin and Richard Pryor, as comedians they were really important to me. Also, Joan Rivers was a big deal, I really loved her and still do, she’s great. Musically, the first concert I went to was The Go-Go’s and I’m still a huge fan of theirs, and they were very influential and made me think that we, as girls, could really do anything we wanted. It was so empowering to see them play, and to see them play their instruments, that was just a really great thing.
Jess: What do you make of the crew of female comics who have come out later in their careers?
Margaret: Well, people have different reasons for when and why they come out and what will make an impact. Sometimes when somebody comes out it makes a tremendous impact on society, so in those cases it’s very helpful later on in their careers, as opposed to if they were always out to begin with. I don’t know if it would make as big of an impact [for a career just starting]. I think about Ellen DeGeneres and when she came out, what a big huge deal that was, and how it really changed the way that middle America viewed lesbians. That was really powerful, and maybe that wouldn’t have had such an impact if she had been out all along. The other person I think about is Wanda Sykes, who I love, and she came out in order to further the fight against Prop 8, which I think is very admirable. So, people have different reasons and different times where it’s appropriate for them, and it makes an impact on society then.
Jess: Joan Rivers recently said in an interview that young performers should still keep their sexuality a secret. She mentioned that it was smart of Ricky Martin to wait until the height of his success was over to come out.
Margaret: Ideally I think everybody should be out all the time. That would solve so many problems, if people would just come out from the get-go. But I don’t know how our society would support that, like I don’t know how much homophobia exists within our society. What I do know is that a lot of times when people come out, the responsibility isn’t just about coming out. When you come out in today’s society you have to also become an activist, and a lot of times that activist role is something that people don’t want to play in addition to being an artist. So, I think it’s a personal preference. I feel like everybody’s got their own idea of who they want to exhibit themselves as, what level they want to do, what they want to be seen as.
Read the full interview at Autostraddle.com