Fresh Off the Fight
“It’s going great. It’s really extensive. I’ve gone to Europe, Asia, all over, and it’s incredible. I tour a lot, I mean, it’s a very big part of my life, and I am always on the road. And, it’s going really well,” says five-time Grammy and Emmy nominee Margaret Cho of her Fresh Off the Boat tour. It's a humid Saturday afternoon in late July; she’s in New York City, filming for HBO’s High Maintenance. Contrary to what you may think of her as a household name, she is quite soft-spoken and mellow even when a project is not a completely smooth sail, like Highland, an hour-long dramedy about a pot dispensary starring Margaret Cho as a version of herself. The series was initially going to be on Amazon Video upon its announcement in 2015, and then it was decided in 2017 that TNT was going to release it. “And now we’ve moved again so we will see where it’s gonna go,” she laughs. “It’s such a long process to put together a show. It’s been in development for a long time. We've moved a few times to different networks but we are just waiting to see. It’s just a long, long process.”
Born in 1968, Margaret Cho grew up in San Francisco. “The tech boom hadn’t happened yet so it was really a different city. It was still very freaky and weird.” says Cho. “But I’m glad that I’m coming from there. It’s a nice place to grow up.” Her upbringing was definitely a “schizophrenic” one, though, as she considers it “a very multicultural kind of experience,” and her traditionally Korean, Christian parents owned a gay bookstore. “All of the things that I experienced were really strange just because San Francisco is just kind of a weird place. It’s a freaky place, it’s very independent, very artistic, very spirited. And it was hard because the whole AIDS crisis happened, and that was really an awful thing to grow up through, and we lost a lot of people – that was really terrible, but you know, I think that it was a really amazing time in history and I’m glad that I got to grow up there,” she adds.
She began writing jokes at 14, and professionally performing two years later. Soon after starting her stand-up career, Cho eventually secured a coveted spot as an opening act for Jerry Seinfeld. She moved to Los Angeles in the early ’90s, and performed over 300 shows within two years. Additionally, Arsenio Hall introduced her to late-night audiences, and Bob Hope put her on a prime-time special. Throughout her career – her ground-breaking yet short-lived ABC sitcom All-American Girl (1994), off-Broadway one-woman show as well as best-selling book and feature film of the same name I’m The One That I Want, a 37-city national tour and its feature film Notorious C.H.O., Grammy-nominated Revolution, The Sensuous Woman featuring vaudevillian burlesque and comedy, VH1 reality-sitcom The Cho Show, Beautiful as part of the 30th annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, her rainbow flapper dress on the 11th season of Dancing with the Stars, self-released, Grammy-nominated Cho Dependent, her Emmy-nominated Kim Jong-il impression on 30 Rock, #BeRobin campaign, 2015’s psyCHO, American Myth (the follow-up to Cho Dependent) containing tracks like “Fat Pussy” and “I Wanna Kill My Rapist,” her co-host gig on E!’s Fashion Police, to name but a few – she’s been frank, fearless and outspoken. But again, in person, she’s very, very quiet, polite and sweet. At the end of the day, according to Cho, what makes a person unique is “identity, it’s how you approach your art, your point of view, but there’s a lot of different ways to identify – especially in the gay community, there’s a lot of different ways to identify and kind of relay to the rest of the world.”
(At press time, Cho was honored by the Ruth Ellis Center with the Legacy Award at its annual VOICES Gala on September 27 – as an individual who embodies “the spirit, grace and generosity of the non-profit organization’s namesake, an African-American lesbian who opened her home and heart to members of the LGBTQ community in Detroit as early as the 1930’s.”)
“Well, everybody has to struggle, but suffering is kind of optional...you can either choose to suffer, or you can choose to learn from it and just keep going.”
Back in 2016, Cho checked into rehab after her friends staged an intervention, which followed an onstage meltdown where her audience walked out on her during a performance at the Stress Factory Comedy Club in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was unusually quiet until getting back on track with the Fresh Off the Bloat tour. “I’m really grateful to be where I am today. I am just naturally kind of a fighter. I’ve always wanted to succeed, and I think it’s just about choosing to live as opposed to falling into thought patterns and addiction and negativity. It’s better to just embrace life,” she says as the conversation turns to the difference between suffering and struggling. “Well, everybody has to struggle, but suffering is kind of optional, whether or not you feel pain over it. That’s really more of a choice – you can either choose to suffer, or you can choose to learn from it and just keep going,” she warmly smiles.
I ask her, then, if there’s anything that’s currently bothering her most. Cho thinks for a while, begins to answer, then pauses. “Oh, I think, Trump?” In a nutshell, here’s her solid opinion on President Donald Trump: “It’s such a terrible situation, and it’s just gotten worse and worse and worse. Just when you think you can’t get it any worse, it manages to get worse. It’s really disgusting.” When asked to be a bit more specific, she elaborates, “Like, separating immigrants. Separating the families, separating children from their parents, and everything that has to do with that, and selling us out to Russia. But just the fact that he is the leader of the free world – it’s a nightmare.” She emphasizes that, moreover, it’s important for all of us to be “aware of what's happening, just being conscious of it” largely thanks to social media since “we are accessing the news and events more readily and instantly than ever. And that’s incredible.”
As Cho has just turned 50 (“50 is a milestone”), she continues to fight the good fight, staying healthy, happy, and focused. “It’s all about having a voice, having a point of view, maintaining that, and also having a sense of humor about it,” she confidently states.
We wrap up early because she has plans tonight: going to see Beautiful: The Carole King Musical by herself and enjoy life to the fullest.
Writer: Eiko Watanabe
Photographer: Ezequiel De La Rosa
Contributing Fashion Editor: Ty-Ron Mayes
Hair & Makeup: Jacqueline Morgan (using Kevyn Aucoin)
Videographers: Donovan Gomez & Joseph Santos
Social Media Manager: Dessiré Villeda-Zoll
Editorial Assistant: Mike Varius