September 16, 2008

A chat with Cho

Margaret Cho is finally at ease. With a new semi-scripted reality show on VH1, a cross-country stand-up tour and multiple projects in the works, Cho, 39, says she is happy to still be working in a cutthroat industry after 20 years — now on her terms. 

Cho struggled for years to find her place. Never one to shy away from controversy or taboo topics, her popular stand-up routine has evolved from relaying her experiences growing up in a Korean family in San Francisco to outspoken social and political commentary, including being a major advocate for gay rights. The failure of her NBC sitcom “All American Girl” in the mid-1990s merely served as a lesson — and provided much fodder for her stand-up. At one point during the filming, TV executives told her she was “too Asian,” then later, “not Asian enough.”

We caught up with Cho last week, and the discussion bounced from beauty to Obama — and all things in between. 

LEO: What made you take the leap back into television? 

Margaret Cho: This is the right time. It’s been really amazing. I love VH1 because they gave me so much freedom and creative control and the ability to do exactly what I wanted to do. I’m also a producer on the show, which helps a lot.


LEO: You appear to be content and happy in your career and life. Does that come with age?

MC: It comes with age for sure. I’m 39 and I feel very comfortable and happy — I’m in a great time in my career and have great relationships. I’m healthy. So, you know, it’s a really good time.


LEO: If you could be 25 again, would you?

MC: I don’t think so, because when I was younger, I had so many issues — like body issues and weight issues. That’s one of the reasons I’m naked all the time on my show. When I first did television, they told me I was too fat, or you’re ugly. Now I’m, like, naked in every episode, so they can see my ass and kiss it! 

Photo by Austin Young: Margaret Cho, 39, says she is happy to still be working in a cutthroat industry after 20 years — now on her terms.
Photo by Austin Young: Margaret Cho, 39, says she is happy to still be working in a cutthroat industry after 20 years — now on her terms.

LEO: Any regrets? 

MC: I wish that I had gone to school. I wish that I had an education — I feel like I missed out on a huge part of life. But then, that whole time I was on the road doing stand-up comedy. 

Career-wise, I have no regrets. Even the bad times, when I did TV the first time. I don’t have regrets then because I could not help anything that happened. A lot of the stuff that went on was totally out of my control. I tried so hard, and there’s only so much you can do when you’re in that situation. I feel like I made the best of it. 


LEO: You recently were in Denver at the Democratic National Convention. How was that?

MC: It’s been an amazing journey. I’m proud to see that we’ve actually done it. It was really thrilling. People were so jazzed, so excited. It was the youngest convention I’ve ever seen. There’s more younger people involved than ever, which is directly because of Obama. It’s been a wonderful ride, and I can’t wait to see what happens. 


LEO: Do you sense the same energy in the fly-over states?

MC: I feel like there is that same kind of energy everywhere. It’s not just in L.A. or New York — it’s everywhere. It’s very much a feeling that’s spreading across the country. People are ready. 


LEO: Do you think America is more accepting of gays? 

MC: I think it’s getting better. It’s gradually getting better little bit by little bit. We have gay marriage in California — for now. The right wing and the Christian right wing here are very threatened by that. In other states as well, because other states are now donating to right-wing organizations here in order to get rid of gay marriage. It’s really ludicrous. That, to me, is appalling — that people would actually go outside of their own state politics and try to vote on our state politics. It really is a statement of how deep homophobia exists in our country. 


LEO: And you’ve even ordained several gay marriages?

MC: I got to perform gay marriages, which to me was such a fulfilling thing because working as a marriage-quality activist for four years, I was used to talking about gay marriage in terms of anger and hurt. But now, I’m so excited. When I go perform these ceremonies, it’s like a reward. It’s so fulfilling to be able to unite people. You realize how dehumanizing not having the right to marriage is. You’re affirming not only their love but their existence. It’s something I’m willing to dedicate my life to.