You can’t keep her down, so it’s best fly high with Margaret Cho at Mountain WineryHer comic inspirations were Richard Pryor, Sandra Bernhard and, funny enough, Flip Wilson, so it seems natural that the chic Korean comic that is Margaret Cho somehow became one of the most savage trailblazers in the entertainment industry today. That she hovers just below pop’s perverse buzz-generating radar yet so cleverly knows how to dip into it, using it to her advantage, is one of the things that make Cho standout in her milieu.
It’s a skill that particularly comes in handy when she has to promote her own work, which Cho is doing—big time—this month.
For starters, her new reality show on VH1,“The Cho Show” has generated praise—it’s quirky, loaded with dark humor, features a gal-pal dwarf but has a great deal of heart. (A recent outing found Cho holding a beauty contest rigged so that she would be the winner.) She’s also just been added to the cast of Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva,” which chronicles a dead aspiring actress who is reincarnated into the body of a smart, overweight attorney—Cho plays an office assistant. Beyond the small screen, Cho is back on the road with a new tour. Dubbed “Beautiful,” it promises to be a scathing, comedic hellride. The show hits Saratoga’s Mountain Winery at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12. (Take note: the MW season is ending in a few weeks, so this is one of your last chances to experience the new amphitheater in one of the most stunning concert settings in the area.)
Cho is no stranger to the Bay Area. She grew up in San Francisco in the early ’70s. Her grammar school was located right in the Haight and the hotbed of hippies, druggies and drag queens gave her plenty of material to work with. The daughter of a Korean mother—a popular character who’s been woven into Cho’s now-famous act—and a supportive father, she began stand-up at 16 at SF’s Rose & Thistle comedy club, right above the bookstore her parents managed. She thrust herself into the medium and later found herself opening for Jerry Seinfeld. After relocating to L.A. she eventually became one of the most sought-after comediennes on the college circuit—she was still in her twenties. Then, in 1994, she nabbed the American Comedy Award and cavorted with late-night audiences, thanks to Arsenio Hall—now, there’s name from the past—who introduced her to the masses. An appearance on a Bob Hope special seemed to lure the spotlight over for good. Inevitably, the network suits saw something in the Asian performer and her comedy and suddenly there was All-American Girl, the ABC sitcom everybody was cheering for. It showed promise but ultimately tanked.
“There were just too many people involved in the show,” Cho would later realize. “… so much importance [was] put on the fact that it was an ethnic show. It’s hard to pin down what ‘ethnic’ is without appearing to be racist.”
It didn’t keep her down for long. By 1999, Cho’s off-Broadway hit “I’m The One That I Want” hit big and was made into a film, this after being hailed as the Performance of the Year by New York Magazine. She also penned a book with the same name. A few years back, she starred in the offbeat film “Bam Bam and Celeste.”
And, while other comics’ personal real-life moments—those hard-to-tell stories about weight, dating and fitting in—may seemed forced and only something done for laughs, Cho happily sinks her teeth into them with a refreshing sincerity.
“It’s part of human nature … to doubt ourselves,” Cho once revealed to me. “We are helped along definitely by images of the media that are sort of these idealized images of these people that we should be or try to be. That’s why there is such an epidemic of low self-esteem—it’s global. It’s really worse and it affects my generation—Generation X—who grew up with role models that were really about self-hatred. All of our rock stars and artists are about this self-hatred, which they projected through art but they made this self-torture very poetic.”
Prodded further about some of the biggest things she has tackled in regards to low self-esteem, Cho was candid: “For me it boils down to my own issue of weight and eating disorders and never feeling like I was enough or I fit in—or never being the right type of woman. I still have it. I still have a weight issue.
“But I think it’s gotten a lot better. Certainly I administer my own medicine. It’s part of my show; how I am my own audience. It’s really wonderful.”
I recently caught up with Cho for a quick—and I do mean quick—interview. Here’s what she had to say.
Your new VH1 show rocks creatively. What did you love most about creating it and seeing it through?
I loved working with my family and making it such a fun group effort. It really is exactly my vision and I am so thrilled.
Any word yet on whether there will be another season?
No, but I think we will know soon.
So, what do you love most about your life these days?
I am excited because I am getting to do lots of stuff—comedy, TV, music, dancing, lots of touring. It’s great!
Any thoughts on the current comedy scene? Is there anybody out there you're particularly impressed with, and if so, who, and why?
I love Wanda Sykes, who is going to make an appearance on 'The Cho Show.’ She is a genius and makes me laugh so hard because she is so smart and astute.
Funniest thing in politics at the moment?
The terrifying arrival of Sarah Palin. Funny, but scary.
Other thoughts on the current political scene? What do you find most amusing about what is unfolding?
That the GOP is trying to reach out to disillusioned Hillary voters with Sarah Palin. It is laughable and pathetic. She is the un-Hillary. She is the anti-Hillary.
Thoughts on California's gay marriage movement?
I am utterly devoted to gays and lesbians achieving these rights. It is fundamentally important.
What can people expect to experience from you on your current tour?
Really raunchy and raw—the filthiest and funniest yet.
Best advice you've been given about life?
Don't worry, everyone is just thinking about themselves anyway.
Most interesting thing you've learned about yourself lately?
I am addicted to getting tattooed.
Margaret Cho performs at 7:30 p.m Friday, Sept. 12 at Mountain Winery, 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $45-$55. Call (408) 741-2822 or visit mountainwinery.com or margaretcho.com for more information.
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