The many faces of Margaret Cho
Reading Margaret Cho's Wikipedia page is equal parts inspiring and exhausting. The Korean-American queer comedian not only tours globally with her forthright and hilarious stand-up routines, but is also an actor (you may have seen her most recently on the TV show Drop Dead Diva), author (of 2001's memoir I'm the One That I Want and 2005's book of political essays I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight), has been nominated for a Grammy in 2011 for her comedy album Cho Dependent and an Emmy in 2012 for her guest appearance playing Kim Jong-il on 30 Rock, and still finds time to be an advocate for LGBT issues and feminist causes. “I just feel inert when I don't do stuff, so I have to stay in motion to really feel good,” explains Cho. Her next stop is Australia in April for her latest comedy show, Mother, and in anticipation of her tour Cho talks to Daily Life about feminism, officiating gay marriages, her love of K-Pop and good versus bad '90s fashion.
So, what can we expect from your new stand-up show?
Well, this show is about how I'm the age of everybody's mother. I could be anybody's mother, but I really act like a child. It's about how do you figure out how old you are when you're not taking a pathway that most people take? Like when you don't go to college and you don't get married and you don't have kids – what do you do to mark time? It's about how society doesn't really reflect us back when you're different. And also stuff about my own mother, too.
Margaret Cho as Kim Jong-il. Photo: NBC
Is your mother always happy to be mentioned in your performances or is she ever like “Why did you say that about me?!”?
Oh no, she loves it. At my Mum's age a lot of women in Korean society become invisible. I think it's hard for her, and I think it's hard for Korean girls who are pretty and then they become older and they're just sort of invisible. That's hard for women all over the world, but I think especially in Asia it's really tough. She's a big part of my work and a big part of my life. I talk about her a lot and I think it's an encouraging thing for her and all her friends. They love to be the centre of attention.
Do you or have you ever wanted motherhood for yourself?
Oh, yes, for sure. I love children. But because I've had so many body issues, just everything I've dealt with over time with anorexia and bulimia [Cho battled an eating disorder after her 1994 sitcom All-American Girl, during which producers asked her to lose weight], it's almost that I don't trust my body and I'm afraid of letting that control go – letting somebody else in there is really scary. I'm also scared of loving somebody that much, which I know happens to all parents.
You've always been very open about being a feminist, why is that important to you?
We need it so badly. The way that patriarchy comes at us is in different ways, and the way that is most difficult for me is invisibility. If you don't have the body type that is out there in the media or you don't look like the girls on TV or in movies, you start feeling like you don't exist. And this is a really difficult thing. In a lot of ways we're at a disadvantage, because we can't talk about feminism in the way that women were doing in the '70s and the '60s even, when it was desperate that they needed to get reproductive rights and equal pay for equal work. We're dealing on another level of we have some rights, but at the same time we're dealing with body image and this idea that we have to look a certain way to exist. When we don't exist in the media, then we don't exist anywhere. It's frightening. And it's getting more force the way that thin models and actresses are the norm, and the fact is most people don't look like that. So feminism is really important.
I wanted to touch on gay marriage rights. How do you feel about the fact we're still waiting for it to happen in most places?
Yeah, it should happen. It should happen in America, it's happened in a few states. Now a bunch of corporations have gotten behind it and it's become a big trend to support gay marriage. I think this is something that needs to be global. Most people are in favour and are understanding that we all deserve this right. And in truth gay marriage doesn't affect anybody except for gay families who need to be able to exist. The most important building block of society is families.
You can perform marriages, right?
I can! I'm licensed to do it in a couple of different states. In San Francisco when it was legal I was able to do it in government buildings, so in City Hall I performed two ceremonies there which were amazing.
Researching you I kept reading the words "edgy" and "transgressive". Do you consider yourself shocking, or are you almost shocked that people think your opinions are out there?
I don't know. I feel like a very common sense person. I think my issue is that I lack a sense of privacy. I feel comfortable sharing things that other people don't feel they would be OK with people knowing. I don't know if the human experience is that specialised, I think we've all experienced the same things. So I don't have a problem revealing things that other people might find shocking or that are sexual or about politics. I just want to disclose it, because I think it's more fulfilling. Maybe that is what's transgressive?
You've said in the past you have a lot of crushes. Who is your current crush?
Everybody in Korea right now. I'm obsessed with Korea and I love Korean movies. I'm super crazy about everybody on the scene there – all the K-Pop stars. It's the biggest export for the country – and it's my country. I have a very far away relationship with it, I haven't been there since the mid-'80s, which is a long time. I'm looking to go back. So I have a crush on every single person in the whole country!
You're 44 now. What is the best thing about getting older? And how do you feel about seeing '90s fashion coming back?
It feels good to be older. The best thing is there are a lot of things I just don't care about. My beauty maintenance has gotten really low because I've gotten to an age where that doesn't matter to me. It's a great feeling to not care, and I think that comes with age.
And what about '90s fashion?
Oh, I was trying not to answer that! (laughs) Because it's a horrible thing! Pirate shirts, I wore them. And I'm so grossed out by them. Nineties fashion is so alarming. Like, I love '80s fashion, new wave stuff is cool. The '90s really freaked me out, maybe because the '90s was my heyday or something? I think maybe '90s grunge I would be into, like the Courtney Love, riot grrrl sort of look. But that's not really been a thing yet, right now it's kind of like early '90s – and that really is upsetting! (laughs)