Photo by Miss Missy
Margaret Cho may be known as the outsider’s comedian, but throughout her decades long career insiders have certainly taken note. From opening for Jerry Seinfeld to conquering off-Broadway to stints on Dancing With the Stars and Drop Dead Diva, not to mention sold out national tours, Cho’s a new kind of American Sweetheart. Openly poly, frank about her bisexuality, and perhaps most significantly, in touch with a vulnerability born of a childhood spent trying to fit in, Cho continues to attract fans of all stripes. She took time before her Mother Tour hits Chicago to speak with Our Town about crafting a joke, her sexuality and how she defines success.
Our Town When did you first realize you were funny?
Margaret Cho I think it may have happened when I was a kid, but I was painfully shy for a long time, so I didn’t share it with anyone until I was into my teens.
OT How has your comedy changed over the years?
MC I hope to have gained some insight and sensitivity and compassion – but then again I do really enjoy very crude jokes!
OT Can you take us through the process of writing a joke or a bit from inspiration to final product?
MC It can arrive totally complete – which is the best way – jokes should be fully formed if at all possible. I can also just ask my mother what I should say.
OT As a comedian, what do you wish you’d known early on?
MC I wish I had known to trust myself more.
Photo by Kevin Lynch
OT Which comedians working now do you find personally inspiring or influential?
MC Jim Short – really amazing comedian I work with on our podcast, Monsters of Talka> – so funny and brilliant. I also love Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin and Selene Luna.
OT What’s the biggest misconception about being a comedian?
MC It may be that we are crying on the inside – I don’t know if clowns are so teary after all.
OT You’ve been called the outsiders comedian, but have there been times in your adult life when you’ve just really wanted to fit in?
MC Always! But I never do! It’s really ridiculous to even try to – but I keep trying!
OT You’ve spoken about being in a long term, open relationship. What made you decide to take that public?
MC I have talked about it for awhile – I have always had lots of jokes about it. it’s just the way my life is, and it’s funny to me too.
OT You joked that you had no other option as a bisexual. Do you think being bisexual makes it impossible to commit to one person?
MC No, that’s just a joke. To me it’s all very separate – relationships and sexuality – but it’s easy to make fun of because it’s seems like the stereotype of bisexuality is about being noncommittal – but that’s not true.
OT Obviously, your material is very personal. Are there things you’ve hesitated to include or have written, but when you began to hone the material onstage, felt you uncomfortable performing?
MC I don’t know, which is problematic at times in my personal life. I think people do get upset about the fact that I include them.
OT What are the moral implications of using friends, family etc to create art? What is your responsibility?
MC I think the artist has to try to be great – whatever that might entail. That’s the noblest goal!
OT How did your collaboration with Girlyman come about?
MC I am a fan of their music, and we have written fun songs and jammed together. We have also eaten lots of great food!
OT What does a typical day on tour look like for you?
MC There’s no very typical day – all days are wildly different, but in general, it’s travel to a show/then do a show/then go to bed as early as possible to do it the next day.
OT What are you looking forward to doing in Chicago?
MC Playing with Wilco’s wonderful rhythm section, Glenn Kotche and John Stirratt.
OT How do you define success?
MC Satisfaction!! And well deserved rest.
Margaret Cho hits The Chicago Theatre October 19th.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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