Chances are, you know Margaret Cho. She’s an Emmy-nominated actress who has starred in shows like All American Girl and Drop Dead Diva. She’s also one of the world’s most prominent stand-up comedians who’s had numerous world tours. Now, she adds reality star and podcaster to her already hefty body of work. With lockdown keeping everyone at home, I had the chance to catch up with her for a nice long phone call, where she dished on her new podcast, her world tour, and the first thing she’s going to do when quarantine is over.
I don’t know how else to start this interview without addressing the elephant in room… How’s quarantine going?
It’s going ok actually. What’s interesting about it is that we’re not alone in this. Everyone in the world is in the same boat. But it’s definitely a crazy and intense time. Fortunately, I have my little dog here, who has been very happy that I’m home all the time now.
But, I know that everyone is going through their own thing right now. I mean, it’s something that the world has never been through. I think the closest thing most of us have to compare this to was 9/11, which isn’t even similar at all because, then, what we all did was come together, whereas now, it’s like, we have to stay separated. But thank God we have the internet! If we didn’t have streaming and podcasts, this would have been so much more of a challenge.
Speaking of podcasts, I have to say, I’ve been listening to your new podcast The Margaret Cho to pass the time, and I absolutely love it. I’m a huge Kathy Griffin and Shirley Manson fan, so to hear you chat with them was like a dream come true for me. What was it like transitioning from the world of stand-up to the world of podcasting?
Oh, I love podcasting! And especially for The Margaret Cho, because the guests I have on are just my friends. So they’re people I want to chat with anyways. In the entertainment industry, you and your friends are always on the road and always gone, so having the podcast has been a great excuse to just hang out, which is a lot of fun. But you know, sometimes we record the podcast live, so it’s a really interesting way to blend the two worlds together.
You’ve also been touring the world with your show Fresh Off the Bloat, which had to get postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak. What was it like watching the world shut down while you were in the middle of touring the globe?
Honestly, it’s one of those things where you just really don’t even believe it. Again, with 9/11, I remember I only canceled or moved a couple shows. There was such a big push after the attacks to “get back to normal” and we all wanted to get back to work and not shut the country down. Whereas now, this sort of is the new normal, at least for a while.
What’s really crazy is how fast everything happened. I mean, my last show was only about three weeks ago or something. I was in Oklahoma City, and I’m a huge fan of Orville Peck, who happened to be doing a show in OKC on the same night. And when I got to soundcheck, I had found out that his show had been postponed. And it was so weird, because it was when I started realizing that this was a real thing, that entertainers were having to cancel shows. It was crazy because when I got back to LA, the lockdown was in place, and it was just insane to see the city shut down. It was completely surreal.
We’re also seeing a lot of racism from this, towards China, Chinese Americans, and Asians in general. Have you had to experience any of this?
Luckily, I haven’t, but I’ve seen the mean comments online and stuff. In my opinion, if you want to blame someone, blame meat eaters! Although (laughs)…I totally eat meat, so I’m guilty too. But this has more to do with what humans are doing to the planet than about being Asian. Plus, countries like South Korea have become the model of how to squash the outbreak, so if anything, we should be looking to Asian countries as a blueprint of how to fight the outbreak.
But you know, again, looking back to 9/11, we had all that racism back then too. I think people just want someone to blame, and blaming by race is just so easy because it’s a visual thing. Fortunately, I don’t think a majority of people are acting that way, it’s the loud minority. The real issue is that countries like both China and the US didn’t take the outbreak seriously enough from the start.
You’ve decided that you’re going to try and get the show up and moving again starting early June, assuming the outbreak will be in much better containment by then, so can you tell me what audiences can expect from Fresh Off the Bloat?
Well, it’s about finding excitement in the new wave of Asian Americans in media; from movies, to TV, to music. So it’s a lot about coming into visibility, especially for me as an Asian American. And it’s also about my bisexuality. Bisexuality is still so misunderstood, so the show explores that. And, it explores me being single, because I’ve been single for a long time now (laughs). It’s been a lot of fun so far.
On the topic of bisexuality, why do you think so many people find it hard to accept? It seems like more people believe in homosexuality than they do in bisexuality, and I’ve always been curious as to why that is.
I think it’s because it’s always a place people go to before they’re ready to fully come out. So many gay people will be like, “I’m bi” before they finally come out as gay. So, even though it’s a real sexuality, like it is for me, so many people have kind of used the term simply as a way to ease into coming out. Which, I can understand why people were afraid to reveal their queerness. It’s not easy to be yourself.
What was it like for you starting up in the industry? You’ve been in entertainment for a long time now. What was is like being LGBTQ and Asian and a woman in Hollywood back then?
I think Hollywood is going in the right direction. Back then, it was such a different case. To be queer, Asian, and a woman, was very different from what a lot of people knew and were exposed to back in the 90s. But I think by talking about it through comedy, I really opened a lot of doors to have it be heard. But nowadays, I think there’s so much pride within the LGBTQ community, and we’re even talking about things like pronouns, which never would have even been discussed back then. So I for sure think there’s been progress.
As a comic who isn’t afraid to speak your mind, and who isn’t afraid to be raunchy, did the changing views ever make you worry that there might be backlash against you?
Well, I am a raunchy comedian, so basically, I invite the backlash. I kind of invite controversy, because I deal in controversy. I try to talk about sensitive topics with compassion, but in general, I’m not afraid to go there, which I think is the job of a comedian.
Ok, I have a random question that I’ve been dying to ask. You were on the first season of The Masked Singer, the show where celebrities sing in costumes, and everyone has to guess who they are. How did you end up on that show, and what was it like? Because to me, the whole premise of the show is totally bonkers, so I’m dying to know how they pitched you the idea of the show, and did you know it was going to be such a huge hit?
For starters, the show is bonkers, and that’s why it’s so great! And I had no idea the show would be so big, but it was already a huge hit in Korea and Thailand, so they showed us clips from those countries’ shows. It was so lavish, and the costumes were so grand. I was like, it might not work for audiences, but at least it will be fun! So, I instantly knew I really wanted to be a part of the show. What’s most interesting is that the costumes hide who you are, so you’re being judged solely on your voice.
I have to say, you had a very good voice on the show. Do you have professional training?
I do, actually. Throughout the years I’ve done various singing classes and had coaches, and for the show, they give you a vocal coach. So, you get some good training. But what really shocked me is that there is literally no audio help! Normally, when you sing, you know, you have some kind of “assistance” from the mic and the soundboard, but we got none! So, you’re being judged purely on the voice, which was such a challenge.
And do you know that we didn’t even know who the other celebrities were? I was surprised every time someone’s mask came off… Well, except for the Pineapple. I knew that was Tommy Chong because I could smell the weed…everywhere.
Ok, so to end the interview, we’re going to do some lightning round questions. You can’t think about these answers. You just have to say the first thing that comes to your mind. First question, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when lockdown ends?
I never thought I’d say this, but… go to the gym!
Favorite food to pig out on after a show?
Oh, I do love a good chicken finger or any kind of fried chicken moment.
What’s the craziest city to perform in?
Oh, definitely New York City, because audiences come from all over, so there’s such a diverse mix. Same with San Francisco.
What’s been your favorite on-stage moment from your career?
Honestly, it’s just that I’m still having fun doing it. Even the Oklahoma show a few weeks ago, I had the time of my life. Every time I step on stage, it’s just a party, and I love the fact that I love what I do, because not everyone gets to have that privilege in their life.