FEATURES / EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS

Margaret Cho is a Stand-Up Gal
Stephan Horbelt
5/20/2011

Margaret Cho has accomplished quite a lot since the last time you may have seen her. Always the button-pushing stand-up queen of social commentary, she’s gunning for the role of rock star as of late—having released the Grammy-nominated album Cho Dependent in 2010, the first acclaimed album of comedy music by a comedienne.

Cho Dependent was released on Margaret’s own Clownery Records and featured collaborations with the likes of Fiona Apple, Tegan & Sara and Ben Lee. The concert film will be presented at various festivals throughout the summer and will be available on DVD later this year. And Margaret still has more music in her, with an album tentatively titled Yellow currently in its beginning stages.

In 2009, Margaret took on a starring role in the comedy/drama series Drop Dead Diva, alongside Brooke Elliott and a slew of hilarious guest stars. Airing on Lifetime, the show revs up for its third season premiere on June 19.

The SoCal community is in for a nice treat on Sunday, June 12, when Margaret is slated to perform at this summer’s L.A. Pride festivities, in addition to being honored with the Morris Kight Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedicated service to the LGBT community.

Frontiers sat down with Margaret to discuss all of her recent projects, her relationship to Los Angeles and how our community’s favorite stand-up comedienne feels about receiving such a meaningful award.

You’re going to be in L.A. soon, and you’re not only performing at this year’s Pride celebration, but you’re also accepting the Morris Kight award! What can we expect from the always hilarious Margaret Cho?
Well, I don’t know yet! I think I might do a little music, I’ll definitely do a lot of stand-up comedy. I’m gonna be acting really fierce and really cunty, in that ‘lifetime achievement award’ way. I’m gonna be so fierce about it, just gloating about it. [Laughs] No, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna do stand-up comedy and it’s gonna be really funny. It’ll be awesome.

And how does it feel, receiving a lifetime achievement award?
Well, it’s a little soon, because it’s kinda like, lifetime? I mean, it’s true—I do deserve it, because I’ve been doing it my entire life, yes, but I’m also pretty young. [Laughs] I think it’s really an honor, and I think it’s really phenomenal, but to me it’s all about the community. It’s never really about awards or anything—it’s all about talking about our rights and our growth and our fight for equality. For me, it’s never really about winning anything or celebrating yourself. I appreciate this on a lot of levels. It’s a great honor, but it’s really about community—always.

They’re bestowing the award on you as a comedian, actress, activist and humanitarian. How do you see yourself inside the LGBT community?
Well, it’s definitely a changeable role. I do a lot of different things, but I think it’s as a ‘defender’ of human rights and LGBT rights, and also as somebody who can entertain. I’m an entertainer within our community. But I always define and label myself as a stand-up comedian— that’s what it has always been about for me.

I know that you’re from San Francisco, but you’ve spent quite a lot of time here in L.A. How would you describe your relationship to Los Angeles?
Oh, I love Los Angeles! L.A. is my home. I am originally from San Francisco and I’ve spent a lot of time there, but I’ve always felt like this was where I was going to end up. It’s my permanent residence and where a lot of my life is. Now I’m kinda spread out a little bit and I tour so much and I’m kinda everywhere, but L.A. is my true home.

At this point, you’ve had your hands in so many different things, and one of your latest projects was yet another about-face for you. What was the spark behind Cho Dependent, a comedy-music album?
A lot of it started because I wanted to do a protest song when Prop. 8 passed. I envisioned doing it during a protest march, and I was gonna play and be a musician—that was, like, three days after Prop. 8 had passed. So I learned the guitar really fast. I took two or three days to write a song. And that’s the trick—if you write a song, then it can be easier. I wrote the song, and it was easier for me to play. So that’s how it began. Also, I had planned to do music and comedy together for a long time. Finally, it all came together—when Prop. 8 passed I thought, I have to do a protest song. So I did!

How has touring been different for this album as opposed to your stand-up comedy tours?
It’s not that different, because the majority of the stuff I do is still stand-up comedy, ya know—it’s not like I’ve changed genres. And then, the songs themselves, they’re songs that have a lot of humor to them. To me, it’s actually not that different. What is different is that I sing and play, which is new, and I really enjoy that.

So now that you’re a rock star, you’re not trashing hotel rooms after your gigs?
No, nothing like that. I wish, but I’m too much of a neat freak. [Laughs]

Tell me about the upcoming Yellow album, which I know for the most part is somewhere up in your head still. What can you tell me about that?
It’s going to be a lot of songs about Asian identity and race. So far I’ve recorded one song from that album. My mom and I are singing together—it’s like The Judds. It’s kinda a version of “She’s Leaving Home” by The Beatles—it’s our version of it. I think it’s pretty powerful and very emotional, but it’s also quite funny, too.

The third season of Drop Dead Diva is about to start up, so I want to switch gears and talk a bit about that. For those who haven’t caught the show—which is really funny and smart—how do you describe your character?
Well the show is about a woman who is a model and is very shallow, and she dies and returns in the body of a lawyer who is not shallow at all. It’s really about different women and how we choose whether we’re going to live in the body or the mind. I play the lawyer’s assistant who’s always there to help her out in her new body and her new life. I love the show. It’s really wonderfully written and really funny and fun. We’re enjoying our third season now—we’re about half-way through shooting. My character is kinda the voice of reason, but also pretty bitchy too, and she’s fun to play. She’s similar to me as a person, so it’s not a big stretch.

Have you developed a preference at this point for working in TV, or for the stand-up or the music?
I love it all! I’m always gonna identify and think of myself as a stand-up comic. That for me is the best—and the easiest for me, and the most fulfilling. It’s the thing I do most often, and it kinda requires nothing—no preparation, it’s just me. So I always will return to that.

At this point, is there any undiscovered territory that you’re interested in exploring?
There’s always going to be more to do as a stand-up comic, and there will always be more to do as a musician. It’s a never-ending journey and a constant discovering of what you can do and what you can accomplish. I really love that.


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