Canal St meets Margaret Cho
Margaret Cho is one of America's most provocative stand-up comics. Never afraid to cover red button issues, her routines feature addiction, abuse, activism, Asian-ness... and that's just the A's. “Rolling Stone” magazine named her one of their 50 best stand-up comics of all time and last year, Cho made headlines when she expressed her irritation at non-Asian actors playing Asian roles. This resulted in 'spats' with Tilda Swinton for playing the Ancient One in “Doctor Strange”, and Jennifer Saunders for casting Jeanette Krankie as an Asian fashion designer in “Ab Fab The Movie”
Before she heads for The Lowry with new show “Fresh Off The Bloat”, Drew Tosh spoke to Cho about the politics of humour, her lifelong love of the gay community and having odd pinkies.
Your new show has a typically provocative title so what can audiences expect from “Fresh Off The Bloat”?
It's about the bloated nature of everything in my own life but, of course, also features a lot about Donald Trump and the bloated nature of politics. It's such a big, crazy and insane subject right now and I don't know how it all happened.
Doing comedy helps make sense of it all and of the crazy stuff in my own life. There's lots to discuss including my fights with Tilda Swinton, the “Ab Fab” ladies and going up against The Krankies. That all makes the show very British specific. I don't know why I get into spats with these UK icons but you really can't win especially with The Krankies. She's very small so you don't see her coming! It's been an amazing time to write and talk about things in comedy so I'm excited about it.
I would imagine that, for a comic, the state of the world right now offers an endless supply of material. If we didn't laugh about it we would probably cry right?
Yeah, or die. You can't gloss over things and think it's going to be OK because I don't know if it is. I've never seen it this bad. We're even at a point where people are thinking that George W Bush wasn't that bad of a President which is an astonishing thing to say after having been so critical of that administration back then. I care about what happens and I care about the planet. Everything with Trump is absolutely insane but we have to find a way to get through it.
From the outside, people observe how insane things have become in the States and find it all hard to believe. What is it like from within the US? Are people aware of how it looks?
Oh yeah, I think everyone knows how bad it is and that's scary and embarrassing in equal measure. I mean this is our President. Britain was ahead of the game when trying to ban Trump much earlier on so you guys had the right idea. There's got to be a reason for why this is happening and we need to get to the bottom of it.
One final Trump thought. He doesn't believe in global warming yet recently one side of his country was being battered by a hurricane and the other decimated by forest fires. Discuss.
We are very obviously affected by global warming. It's a huge problem and the weird denial of the real state of the planet is one of our main problems. Humour is the only way to find the positive. We turn to comedy to find some release. It helps us shift our preception and make things OK. Thank God we have that sense of levity to break down all the bad stuff.
The great Joan Rivers, one of your friends and comedy heroes, said nothing was off limits as regards subject matter for jokes. Is there anything you wouldn't cover in your show?
Joan was right, I don't think anything is off limits. I finally get to talk about AIDS in this show which is really cool and something I couldn't figure out how to do before because it's such a difficult thing to go through. Everybody had such a hard time, particularly in San Francisco, during the AIDS crisis. It's a very tragic and terrible thing but I think I've figured it out.
A huge part of your routines features the gay community. Where did your obsession with gay men originate?
It comes from my childhood because when I was growing up many of them worked for my family so I was around gay men constantly as a child. Then I got really into the politics of gay rights. Harvey Milk was out there at the time and had just been elected so my life was full of that stuff.
Do you feel any pressure or need to represent the Asian community?
Not at all. It's effortless and not any kind of burden. It's really important to speak about the community that I belong to. It's exciting and I don't see it as a pressure. It's an honour.
You've worked in a lot of different areas in your career including acting, fashion and music. Britain knows you best for your stand-up but have you found the UK a tough nut to crack ?
I think Britain is just a different audience and type of laugh. It's more sophisticated and the audience is used to their comedians writing a different kind of show every year and working their material in theatres, the Fringe and touring.
Comics like Stephen K Amos, Gina Yashere or the great Paul Foot work really hard in a different sort of space than I'm used to. Britain demands more from their entertainers which is great. All the other stuff I do is fun for me but I'm a comic first and foremost. It's what I do and the main focus of my work.
You mentioned Gina Yashere. Are there any other UK funny women that have caught your eye?
I love Andi Osho and, despite being miffed at them, I love the “Ab Fab” ladies. Dawn French is a friend and an amazing force in comedy and writing. She's better than Jennifer but don't tell her I said that (laughs). I think they're both fantastic but I have a great love for Dawn French.
I was watching some of your stand-up show recently and was astonished and slghtly freaked out by your abnormally small pinkies.
It's scary isn't it? I'm missing a phalange so there's one less bone in my hands which makes my pinkies so small. It's a really strange anomaly and rare. In Korean palmistry it means I'm going to be very wealthy so there's some truth in that because that's sort of worked out.
Margaret Cho interviewed by Drew Tosh for Canal St Online
Thursday 30 November
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