THROWING COMEDIC GRENADES, IT'S MARGARET CHO!
Killing Them Loudly: Margaret Cho, Comedy Assassin, Has A New Book And DVD
By Carl Kozlowski
Margaret Cho has identified with society's outsiders from the time she was a child. Embracing the unexpected came naturally while growing up amid hordes of hippies in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, walking to school past stoners, burnouts, junkies and drag queens, and she's transformed those experiences into one of the most unique worldviews in comedy
Although she started with material that focused on her experiences with a hysterically befuddled immigrant mother and her experiences as a bisexual, Cho has become an ever more daring and expansive performer at each step of her career. She has also managed to pull off a feat no comedian has accomplished since the early-80s heyday of Richard Pryor by releasing a string of concert films to theaters nationwide rather than being relegated to cable specials and cheapo video releases.
Now, with her new book, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, and the accompanying DVD release of her latest concert movie, Assassin (Pick this up!..), Cho has taken direct aim at her most political targets yet: the Bush administration and all who would seek to roll back the civil rights advances of the past 40 years. Shot in a theater just three blocks from the White House, Assassin is as likely to induce gasps as guffaws as Cho says the things millions of disgruntled Americans are too scared to say.
"I think I've always been political, but it's grown the last couple of years because of the whole idea of representing a voice that has remained unheard and speaking for an audience that has been left out by most entertainment -- such as gay audiences and women, Asian Americans, and people of color in general," explains Cho. "I think it's all pretty funny. The message is there, but the comedy is more important to me anyway. I always want to be a better entertainer, but I don't always want to be a politician. If people are looking at the message more than they're looking at the material, that's their own problem."
Despite the unshakable strength with which she holds her life philosophies, Cho has undergone some major changes in the decade since she boomed onto the American scene. In her first book, I'm the One That I Want, and its attendant comedy tour and film, she shared the exhilarating high of being the first Asian actor to star in her own sitcom but also the devastating lows of ABC making it embarrassingly ethnic while ordering her to lose a drastic amount of weight or lose her contract. Cho lost 30 pounds in two weeks, but wound up in an emergency room with kidney failure.
But despite proudly espousing her right to be any weight she chose in that film and tour, Cho has noticeably slimmed down in the past year or so. She has also gotten married, a move that stirred confusion among some who fear that she might be selling out her outsider fan base.
"I don't feel uncomfortable saying 'us' when discussing the gay community, because I feel that it's all part of one big outsider community that I'll never leave. I absolutely feel that I'm a part of the gay community," says Cho. "The weight loss, though, was a conscious choice that I made just for me because I started belly dancing and that brought in a lot of different feelings for me physically, and dancing really improved my life and also changed the way that I was because I'd never had a physical activity that I enjoyed. Becoming a belly dancer was something I chose, because it's a hobby that ties in with a culture that celebrates women."
Furthermore, she sees the criticism from the gay community as rooted in a problem as old as the human race.
"It's weird that today, nobody would question the motives of white students marching with MLK in Mississippi, but today, someone working with a cause that's not explicitly about them is defined as an oddity," she says. "I always knew that the gay community was where I belonged, and I was always friends with lots of gay boys in the community. It was natural to land in the middle of the gay community because I never was apart from it, never went away from it. I don't care if people look at it badly."
To those who wonder if her marriage to writer/artist Al Ridenour has made her sell out in some way, she has admitted publicly that the union is "not a committed, traditional one." Nonetheless, Cho is an ardent supporter of gay marriage rights and has performed at many benefits for the cause.
"I think the fight for gay marriage will be state by state for awhile, I'm hoping that there isn't a federal ban because it would be unfortunate," says Cho. "People hang onto homophobia so hard. They give up sexism and racism but this is the one thing that's very difficult to educate away. I hope our government will be able to see through our own bigotry to some day allow gay marriage to exist."
Despite her frustrations with the nation's political scene, Cho is happier these days than she has been in a long time. She's even daring to make another foray into the world of network sitcoms, this time signing with Fox to produce a sitcom based on her impersonation of her mother, and she's also watching Fox News with amusement.
"It's a really interesting time because there's a real day of reckoning for the conservatives now. It's interesting to watch the Fox News channel and see how they're trying to minimize the damage and act like the Democrats are throwing a temper tantrum," says Cho. "It would be funny if it weren't so detrimental to the American public. It's hard not to gloat at the same time, but it's sad because our leaders are endangering national security just to get one over on each other. It's incredible, the depth of corruption. The crime here ultimately is they're not thinking of the American people enough, and that's clear in the war, after Katrina, everything going on in the last couple years, and it's intense.
"But I'm hopeful because there's a lot of enthusiasm for people to change things, and that energy is all over the place and it's really exciting. It seems to be really coming from young people, too, and for that I'm really hopeful because that means our future will be better than today."