Comedienne Margaret Cho talks “30 Rock,” songwriting, and being Asian

Comedienne Margaret Cho talks “30 Rock,” songwriting, and being Asian

Margaret Cho is a dragonslayer of sorts. She’s had showdowns with drugs, alcoholism, weight, racism, and sexual discrimination which in turn resulted in activism, recovery, and a successful comedy career. Fearless and offensive behind the microphone, she crafts smart, shocking, sexually and politically charged humor that makes the audience squirm while they nod, cheer, guffaw, and giggle along. Cho brings her no-holds-barred stand-up act to The Jefferson Theater on September 26. She spoke to C-VILLE via e-mail about hippies, Spam, and the Palins.

CVILLE Weekly: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for “30 Rock.” Did you have any hesitation about playing Korean dictator Kim Jong Il?
Margaret Cho: “Thank you! I was so excited to do it. I loved playing him and I can’t wait to do it again. It is also very exciting to be nominated.“

You are on the Mother tour, which you describe as your “edgiest show to date.” Has your mother seen it?
“She has seen parts of it, but not the entire thing. It is fairly filthy, and so she might get mad, but I think she will laugh too.”

Our small city of Charlottesville, Virginia just hosted its first ever gay pride festival. What have you noticed regarding society’s comfort level with the LGBTQ community?
“I love it! It is very important to have gay pride festivals, and the very first time is the most memorable. Congratulations. I want there to be gay pride festivals in every town in the world.”

You grew up in the waning heydays of the hippie movement. Were you ever a hippie? What is the strangest thing you witnessed as a kid in San Francisco?
“I was a hippie, but not particularly one who fit with the times, as they were around before I was born. I think the strangest things for me were watching how drugs affected the people, as it went from pot to heroin to coke to crystal meth, and that had a detrimental effect on a lot of the counterculture. I think crystal meth is really deadly, and I could see it happening in front of me there in my youth.”

You have collaborated with many talented musicians. Do you write with a partner in mind or choose a name from your contact list when the song is ready?
“I do both. It depends on my collaborator really, and how we end up getting together. It happens all different ways, but it is always great. I have written songs with the best—Andrew Bird, Patty Griffin, Ani Di-Franco…I am so blessed.”

It’s reported that you had a coach on the set of “All American Girl” to teach you how to be more Asian. Beyond the insult, did you learn anything?
“To put Spam in things, which I loved doing. Spam is very Asian.”

Chris Rock stated recently (in regard to his July 4 Twitter comment) that the immediacy of today’s media inhibits the creative process. You were recently taken to task for a comment on “Watch What Happens Live.” Do you think comedians should play by the “rules”?
“I don’t know, but I think that with the way that media is, comics will always be in trouble. I think that comics haven’t changed, media has. We have always been the same, telling inappropriate jokes and saying the right or wrong things, but media captures it all now. It’s just the way things are.”

You and Bristol Palin had somewhat of a social media “postdown.” Are you still at odds? Can we expect any political humor at the show?
“Yes, there will be some political humor, I mean there always is, as politics are hilarious. I don’t think of the Palins as political as much as I think of them as a kind of American monarchy, or like a weird bastardization of a reality T.V. phenomenon, gossip and conservative ideology. The Palins don’t want women or gays to have rights —that is offensive to me.”

You have overcome personal and professional obstacles, turning to activism over victimization. What is your sense of accomplishment now and what responsibility does that hold for you personally?
“I just feel happy that I have some control over my life in a way that I didn’t have as a child, or as a young adult trying to start my career. It’s fantastic to be able to make good choices instead of desperate choices and I am really happy. I guess the responsibility lies in just continuing to do the best work I can do and take care of myself and others as well as I can.”

Who is the biggest diva you know?
“Oh, I am a big diva, but only to myself. No one really knows. It’s a big secret.”