Margaret Cho at Masonic Hall
by Ronn Vigh
Surfacing on the national comedy scene in the early 1990s and remaining a comedic staple ever since, Emmy and Grammy-nominated actress and comic Margaret Cho will return to her hometown of San Francisco where she got her very first start.
If you thought Cho has been brave and outspoken in the past, she says her latest show, Mother, will be even more explicit and painfully honest, a show where nothing is scared as she gives her honest take on topics such as sex, queer politics, drugs, guns, identity and madness.
As a comedian myself, I know that audiences thrive on seeing exactly who you are rather than hiding behind an overdone series of trite "San Francisco vs. L.A." and "there really is a difference between men and women" jokes.
However, the stuff that is so truthful to your being usually is the most difficult to successfully put out to countless rooms of strangers night after night, let alone make it funny and leave them wanting more.
Margaret Cho has proven herself as a unique and complex voice who's not a one-trick pony. Her appearances in TV shows, films, even as a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, prove her versatility in performing. We talked over the phone, comic to comic, about stand up, the transformation of her as an individual and artist and a bit about San Francisco where we both dug our comedy roots.
Ronn Vigh: Being from San Francisco, is there anything you must go see or do when you come to town?
Margaret Cho: Get tattooed! That is a very big deal for me! I get tattoos done by many artists in the many places I travel, but I definitely will get some done from my artist in San Francisco. My family isn't there anymore, but I have a tattoo family and many close friends still in SF.
RV: I've always wanted tattoos but have always been given the unsolicited advice that being in entertainment and getting tattoos can put limitations on roles you're considered for and in other ways hinder your career. As you get more and more tattoos, have you ever experienced that?
MC: It's still a relatively new thing for me, yet I already have a good amount of my body covered and haven't had any problems. The stuff I do as an actor has never required me to show skin and haven't had issues with playing parts like Kim Jong Il on 30 Rock. My tattoos have not taken away from anything I can do.
RV: Speaking of parts you have played- I'm a big The Golden Girls fan and remember your guest appearance on their spinoff series, The Golden Palace.
MC: Wow, that was so long ago! And that was my first [television] job.
RV: Your character, Dr. Fong, was very funny, but also what many would consider a very stereotypical portrayal of an Asian person. You consider yourself an activist, so did playing that role bother you?
MC: It was a long time ago, I didn't have a lot of control over the roles and since it was my first "job," I was just happy to do it! I didn't know about any political awareness. It was a fun gig; unusual because I also got to sing and the whole cast was really sweet and helpful.
RV: You've done so much since then, but there was time between your first television role and putting yourself on the scene initially as a comic. What do you remember most about your start?
MC: I started at The Punchline.
RV: That's my home club and most favorite place to perform!
MC: I recall being at The Punchline when I was starting out and I was very nervous and intensely scared of people. I was so afraid to go in the green room and now it is weird to think back about being scared like that. For me, It was really, really terrifying yet somehow really wonderful and fun at the same time.
RV: Do you have any regrets or ever looked back at your career and thought "I should have done this differently."
MC: I don't think so. Because I grew up in comedy, I didn't have a fully formed personality when I started. I was still a kid. I grew up inside comedy and that affects the way you look at it already. I do wish I had gone to school and get more of an education, but I was anxious to do comedy and years later, still am.
RV: What's the best advice you can give?
MC: For comics or everyone?
MC: For comics: Start with your silver. Close with your gold. It sounds silly, but it's totally true. For everyone: Just try to not let other opinions be more important than your opinions. If you can manage that, it's the key to everything. If your voice is the most important that you hear, it's the best thing you can do for yourself.
RV: Besides your current show, Mother , you have a lot of other projects happening at the same time.
MC: Yes, I have my podcast with Jim Short. We just started and it's great and super fun and easy to do and we laugh a lot. That's the most important thing about it. And, I have my web series, In Transition and Drop Dead Diva and lots of guest appearances. I don't really turn stuff down.
RV: Is there anything you haven't done yet that you want to get into?
MC: Not really. I just want to get better. Once you're a stand up comic, it's the ultimate thing to do – the hardest. You can always get a lot better and keep writing new material! I think we hold ourselves to a real high standard and I always want to do better for myself and other people. Remember, it's okay to be angry. Anger can be positive, cleansing and funny too!
Margaret Cho performs at Masonic Hall. Saturday, October 12. 8pm. Jim Short opens. $40-$75. Masonic Hall, 1111 California St. www.margaretcho.com