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Published: Sunday, 7/22/2012

Cho's race and sexuality give context to her comedy

BY KEVIN C. JOHNSON
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Margaret Cho is also an actress, but says stand-up is her first love. Margaret Cho is also an actress, but says stand-up is her first love.
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- Unlike many comedians, Margaret Cho doesn't need to target certain groups at her shows. She finds enough laughs at the expense of her own people.

The witty, biting Cho mines comedic gold joking about Asians in ways others probably can't or won't, making for some uncomfortable moments. Cho is of Korean descent and says Asians initially were shocked by her comedy.

"What I do is so out there -- so edgy -- a lot of the Korean community didn't know how to respond," she says. "I had not been preceded by anything. Nobody saw this before. But now people have grown up with my comedy, and a lot of people are excited about it.

"I'm the first comedian Asians can directly identify with," says Cho, who sees more Asians in the arts but not nearly as many as there should be. "I'd love to see much more diversity out there. I'm not sure what it will take, but we need to produce work -- create our own work."

Cho is not only given a pass to say what she wants about Asians; she identifies as bisexual (she's been married to a man since 2003), giving her free reign with gay jokes -- sensitive territory these days.

Actor Vince Vaughn made headlines over a line in the comedy The Dilemma about electric cars being gay that caused gay rights groups to rage against him. Comedian Tracy Morgan was blasted for comments he made about gays; 30 Rock cleverly used Morgan's TV character to mock that real-life controversy.

Cho says that when it comes to dicey subjects, it's all about the context.

"What is the spirit behind it? If you're gay, you're talking about your own experience," she says. "I talk about being gay and being Asian, but it's part of my realm of experience.

"It's hard when things are taken out of context and put in the moment. To use it as an insult is an offensive thing."

Cho's new tour is titled "Mother." She describes it as "an untraditional look at motherhood and how we look at maternal figures and strong women in queer culture."

"It's probably my edgiest show to date," she says.

In "Mother," Cho explores "motherhood in general: the mysteries of it, the sacred nature of it, and the profound nature of it. It's the most amazing job anyone can aspire to."

Cho's fans know her mother, who at the time of this interview had not seen the new show, is often an integral part of her routine.

Cho doesn't have children but says she's very maternal.

"My mother character is really popular, and I love to talk about my family and being Asian-American," she says. "There aren't many people like me. It's a good starting point for a lot of things."

"So much of my material and my work is about and for the gay community," Cho says. "I was raised around politically active gays and lesbians. It was always inside of me."

While Cho's stand-up act continues to thrive, her acting does, too. She is back on Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva, which recently started its fourth season.

"I really wanted to do the show," she says. "I liked the message about women being beautiful and accepting yourself. You don't have to make a choice between beauty and brains. You can have both."

No matter how much acting Cho does (she also played North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il on 30 Rock), stand-up will remain her first love.

"That's what I'm most comfortable with, what makes me driven and makes we want to work harder," she says. "I love the immediacy of it -- the challenge. Live performance is live, and you can't control it. The unpredictability you have -- I appreciate that."



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