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Monday, October 27, 2008

Margaret Cho: Beauty, Burlesque and getting Sexual with Sarah Palin

Margaret ChoMargaret Cho burst onto my scene in 1994, clad in an all-leather outfit. She was, in hindsight, the Asian-American Leather Tuscadero, revving it up on Comedy Central.

I was in high school in Cincinnati, a place where there weren't a whole lot of Asian folks, and the ones who were around were expected to be good at math (except my pal Jonas, who couldn't even conquer Probability and Statistics) and quite asexual (again, except Jonas; he was one of my school's heartthrobs).

Needless to say, Cho -- who uttered lines like "Does anyone want my vagina?" and happily spoofed people's perceptions of Korean-American culture -- broke a lot of stereotypes in my mind.

Better still, she was and still is a strong woman unafraid of her sexuality (Cho has long referred to herself as bisexual and often regales her audiences with stories of some really interesting ways she uses her pinky finger.). She lampooned her long-suffering parents and, really, took every negative encounter in stride, with pride. I made sure to see every Cho act I could, including the wretched film "It's My Party" back in 1996.

Cho and I have a long history, even though she (like Kathy Griffin) doesn't know it. We are both Sagittarians with double-water sign moms who hate our tattoos; we both love clothes and do burlesque and talk maybe a little too much. However, unlike Kathy Griffin, she was willing to do an interview with in advance of her Oct. 10 show at the Murat. So I heart Margaret Cho.

Obviously, I am not the only one. San Francisco named April 30, 2008, "Margaret Cho Day," and has also deputized her to perform marriages there. Cho also got married recently to performance artist/writer Al Ridenour, and tried to launch a career as a pop princess as part of "The Cho Show," her scripted "reality" show now airing on VH1.

Jenny Elig: So I heard you were inspired to do your "Beautiful" tour by a DJ who asked you, "If you woke up tomorrow and you were beautiful, what would you do? If you were blond, blue-eyed, 5 feet 11 inches and weighed 100 pounds, what would you do?"

Margaret Cho: Well, it was just a suggestive thought. It was just a suggestion of how we should talk about beauty.

I think that the show is a beautiful show because it's very raunchy and raw. And I'm going to be 40 and I think that it's great to be sexual and older. So it sort of gets its title from that particular incident. I always feel beautiful, and I never did when I was younger. If you can talk about being beautiful, you can become beautiful.

I feel sort of crummy asking a question like this, because if you were a male comic, I wouldn't ask it. But what about body image? I know it's very important to you.

It's something that I address. I am an actor, also, so that comes into play in a very big way. As an actor, you're sort of defined in a very extreme way what you look like.

I heard you gained a lot of confidence from burlesque and belly dancing and you even had a touring burlesque show, "The Sensuous Woman." How did that give you a more positive body image?

I think when you learn how to move, that makes you a confident person. It gives you confidence naturally. The belly dancers in general are very confident in their bodies. It's not just dancing, but you're really supposed to relate that you're happy in your body. I've found that (to be true) because I spent so much time as a performer using only words.

How much coaxing did it take to get you to do the reality show?

It took a little while, because I wasn't really secure with any network or any idea. The way that they got me to do it was letting me script the shows. They're really written.

How did the "True Colors Tour" that you emceed go?

That was very different. It was very much a rock tour. I hadn't really done that much stuff. Cyndi Lauper is a huge idol of mine. I really love her, and she and I became good friends through the whole touring process. I thought she was doing something very noble -- which was using music to get rid of homophobia.

How does it feel to have a day named after you?

It's a great honor. I'm also a big fan of (San Francisco mayor) Gavin Newsom.

And how many marriages have you officiated in California so far?

I have done two. I think right now a lot of that has stopped because people are waiting until after November to make sure that we can keep (gay marriage legal). A lot of that concern is that right may be taken away. It's just a heartbreaking thing. People are much more cautious.

What will you do if McCain is elected?

Well, it's really about -- I'm kind of trying to figure out why this country wants to repeat the same mistakes. Haven't we learned after all this time that the Republicans really don't know how to run this country?

Would you really do Sarah Palin? (Cho wrote on her blog detailing some sex acts she'd like to perform on Palin.)

I wouldn't. I feel like what I was trying to do is make a point of her own homophobia. If you could imagine someone like that becoming president. My comments were really in order to put her homophobic ideology in relief to show how homophobic she really is. I don't really mean it, but that is the worst thing you can do to anybody is -- to objectify them.

Is sexism still something inherent in the comedy world?

Yes. It's so bad that we can't even address it without being attacked in some way. The women get no support in the community of comics. It's very hard to survive. The only women comics who can succeed are lesbians -- we don't care about guys.

Have you ever felt like you've pushed the envelope too far?

Not really. I don't care. I'm not a politician. Whatever I say is of no importance in particular; what I do is pretty rooted in compassion. I don't ever feel any kind of regret.

How do you feel about being a role model to other women like yourself?

It's more to do that I'm brave. It's more to do that I'm out there and I'm first. It's not because I'm such a brilliant performer, I just happened to be first and I happened to be brave enough.

How are you feeling about kids? Do you agree with your parents that children complete a person?

I don't want them. As I get older, I'm like, I really don't want them now. I have a lot of friends with children, and I'm very active in their lives. And I'm a great aunt, and I'm a great babysitter, and that's enough for me.

Can you give us any tips for getting started as a pop princess?

I think it's really a ridiculous kind of a thing. You mostly have to hire people. Anybody could do it if you have enough money.
by Jenny Elig

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