Funny, unpredictable Margaret Cho still on top of her game | San Diego Uptown News
By Pat Sherman
SDUN Assistant Editor
From “All American Girl” to druggie to “Drop Dead Diva” and now as a recording artist, Margaret Cho is a hands-down favorite among audiences. (Courtesy Bob Mahoney)
When it comes to eviscerating homophobia, jingoism and conservative hypocrisy, nothing quite slices through the rhetoric like Margaret Cho’s salty tongue.
For close to two decades Cho has been entertaining audiences with her brand of socio-political humor–most recently, in the form of her first music CD, “Cho Dependent.” On it, the Korean-American comedienne is joined by music powerhouses Ben Lee, Andrew Bird, Tegan and Sara, Fiona Apple, Brendan Benson, Ani DiFranco and Grant Lee Phillips.
Though the CD is performed with professional musicians, Cho’s wit is still in place, as evidenced on songs such as “Captain Cameltoe” (with DiFranco),“Calling in Stoned” (with Lee and bong-toting comedian Tommy Chong) and the cabaret-crooner, “Eat Sh-t and Die” (with Phillips).
Cho’s first foray onto the small screen was as a star of the short-lived 1994 sitcom “All American Girl,” based on her popular stand-up routine about life in her parents’ gritty San Francisco bookstore. During filming, Cho was pressured to lose weight and criticized for not living up to the producers’ image of Asian stereotypes–a period in her life Cho has chronicled in her routine and that led to her much publicized battle with drugs and alcohol during the mid-’90s.
In recent years, Cho has returned to television as a regular cast member of the Lifetime Television series “Drop Dead Diva,” in which she plays a paralegal assistant named Terri.
Cho will be in San Diego Sept. 24 for a performance at Humphreys Concerts By the Bay. She took a moment to speak with San Diego Uptown News recently from the road.
Perhaps one of the most amusing songs on Margaret Cho’s new CD, “Cho Dependent,” is her countrified stalker anthem “I’m Sorry (I Shot You in the Face),” a collaboration with Andrew Bird recorded in Nashville.
Cho said the song was inspired in part by “the first ladies of country–Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton.
“Andrew Bird is the composer of that song, so he actually selected that genre for it. He heard it in the words that I wrote,” Cho said. “I wanted to be like a real country diva, kind of (achieve) a ”˜Coal Miner’s Daughter’s’ realness.”
Cho enlisted professional musicians for the project so that “the music would endure the joke.”
“Everybody that did it is so great and people that I love,” she said. “They really helped me make this record what it is and I’m really proud of it.
“This album is the first time that I really committed myself to singing and really worked on getting my voice to a different place, getting it to be really good,” she added. “I learned how to play guitar from the beginning of making the album.”
The CD, Cho said, is her tribute to the “Divine Miss M.”
“I’m really inspired by Bette Midler and this idea that cabaret is still going strong and, you know, that these sort of funny, bawdy, sexy songs can be found in piano bars all over the world,” she said. “This is my total tribute to that kind of culture.”
Despite Cho’s enthusiasm for the project, she said she’s not inspired to pull a Sandra Bernhard, crooning through the entire performance. Since her last stop in San Diego, Cho has amassed a lot of comedic ammo and will likely only perform two or three songs, to give fans a taste of the CD, she said.
“I am dying to do standup and that’s kind of what I do,” Cho said. “I’m not used to switching over that much–plus I have all this new material that I wrote that I really want to do.”
The show will include plenty of material about the immigration debate, Proposition 8 and, of course, Cho’s mother–who was fodder for her shows long before Kathy Griffin introduced her boxed wine-tipping parental figure.
Asked how her mother compares to Griffin’s, Cho responded with a laugh, “My mom’s a lot younger than Maggie”¦(but) I think they would hit it off well. I wonder if they’ve met. I feel like they have, actually. I can’t remember. But I know Maggie very well and I love her.”
Cho and Griffin were contemporaries in the 1990s, working their way up the comedic ranks in hot, sweaty LA comedy clubs. However, asked for a juicy memory, Cho said the specifics are a bit hazy.
“It’s hard to remember, because of all (my female contemporaries) I’m the one that did the most drugs,” Cho said. “I’m the most brain-damaged one. (Kathy Griffin) probably remembers everything ’cause I don’t think she’s ever drank or taken a drug in her life. I remember nothing–and I’m the biggest whore. But we all sort of started together. Her and me and Janeane Garofalo. We were just all hanging out and we were just kids.”
A portion of the proceeds from Cho’s tour will benefit Gulfport, Miss.-based Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, which has been working to save marine mammals and sea turtles affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I thought that it was just a really important charity,” Cho said. “They’ve got to make sure that the ecosystem is back where it was, and that’s making sure the animals are okay. That’s definitely a major concern and I think it’s a very worthy organization.”
Asked for her assessment of President Barack Obama, whom she championed on the campaign trail, Cho said she still stands by him.
“I think people should give him a chance because, anyway, he’s so much better than McCain,” Cho said. “If McCain had won, first of all, he would have died before anything happened. Then Sarah Palin would be president, and then where would we be? I think people need to just calm down about it and give Obama a chance.”
Asked for her take on a Palin presidency, Cho said, “We gotta make sure that she doesn’t take over that office–ever”¦because she just wants to take away women’s rights. She’s just so wrong for this country.”
Cho’s tour will continue through December, after which she will return to Peachtree City, Ga., for more tapings of “Drop Dead Diva.”
“I really love it,” Cho said of the show. “It’s a lot of fun and it challenges me. I get to have sort of a dramatic role on that sometimes. It’s all about self-esteem and body issues, which I’m so down with, you know. It gives that subject a lot of, I think, hope and love and heart.”
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