Interview: Margaret Cho of LIVE AND LIVED at Straz Center

Tour coming to Ferguson Hall on May 19

By: May. 01, 2023
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Interview: Margaret Cho of LIVE AND LIVED at Straz Center
Photo by Sergio Garcia

Margaret Cho is an author, musician, actress, and cultural and political comic icon who never shies away from controversial topics. Before her Straz performance on May 19, Broadway World spoke with Cho about many things, including being a trailblazer in comedy, paving the path for LGBTQIA and Asian-American comedians and actors, the travel advisory to avoid Florida, and why you should really try Fusion Pasta.

BROADWAY WORLD: When last we spoke in 2018, you were here for your Fresh Off the Bloat tour; you always talk about real issues while poking fun, and there are so many more real issues today. How have your comedy topics changed, or have they?

Margaret Cho: The jokes have changed, but there is the same urgency to it. You have literal Nazis coming to protest drag shows. You have all of this anti-trans legislation. There are so many things going on, but it's also dealing with the same things, like homophobia, racism, sexism, anti-trans - all the stuff. It's terrifying.

What is the meaning behind the show title - Live & Livid?

Live is exciting because we haven't been able to do that for a while, and Livid because I'm furious about all this stuff like don't say gay in Florida, which to me is actually quite a gay state. I've never thought of Florida as anti-gay, but it's rapidly becoming that. The travel advisory is don't go there if you're gay, don't live there if you're gay, and it's scary.

What is your process for writing comedy? Are you up at 2 am tapping the keyboard, or is it something that comes to like an epiphany?

It can be both. My process is all over the place because I do work all the time, so there's a need to constantly create different kinds of content so that it could be regimented, but it could also be very fast. Fortunately, technology has the ability to capture whatever I need at any time, so that's really great.

Many comedians discuss using humor as a shield to protect from bullying in childhood. Is that also your experience?

Yes, and also to feel protected as being a person who's very different. I'm an Asian-American. I'm Queer. I'm a feminist and progressive, and for a lot of these things, you have to fight against the mainstream to feel accepted in society. Comedy and humor are a shield to protect the message.

If you could only tell one joke/one story for the rest of your career, what would it be and why?

I think it's just talking about being different. Why am I here? The existential joke is the explanation of why and how I got here, and that's a very rich topic to draw from. There can be a lifetime of jokes.

What does it feel like to be named Vogue's nine best female comedians of all time and Rolling Stone's top 50 next to other comic icons and one of your mentors, Joan Rivers?

It's a huge honor. It's wonderful to have acknowledgment, and it's something that I want to strive to really deserve. The thing about comedy is we don't have hits that we can sing, and everybody loves like music. We must keep delivering different takes and perspectives on what we do, rewriting, revisiting, and reinventing.

If you could have a phone call to heaven, what do you think Joan would say to you about all you've accomplished at only 54?

She'd be very proud. She'd tell me to wear more makeup. I already know what she would say.

What do you love most about performing, and do you have a favorite between comedy tours, film, television, author, and music?

I think it is all kind of the same in a lot of ways. I treat it as the same type of work. I identify as a comedian, and that covers everything. Comedy is a really vast and pretty diverse field, anyway.

Interview: Margaret Cho of LIVE AND LIVED at Straz Center
Photo by Sergio Garcia

I read you are interested in starting a sustainable fashion line. Is this coming to fruition because you have the coolest style?

Thank you. No, but I think that's a great idea. What I actually would love to make it a fashion challenge that we all wear repurposed garments, only buy pre-worn garments, and only items that are refabricated and reimagined. That's my own project in my own life. That's what I try to do, in general.

Do you design any of your clothing?

No, but I wear only vintage. I don't work with a stylist or anything. I work with my imagination of what I'd like to wear, have it look new, and have it be old. That's my challenge for myself.

What would you label your style?

Futuristic Retro. I like anything that speaks of the Space Age from the 1960s, whether that's Courrèges or Paco Rabanne's crazy silver silhouette. I also love anything Vivienne Westwood who was very into alerting everyone about climate change and trying to create a climate revolution. It's that too.

As a huge activist, can you talk about the organizations you hold most dear?

Of course, I love GLAAD. I just did a lot of stuff for them for their media awards. I hosted, and it was such a fun experience. They're just a wonderful uniting force in a way where we can be very political but political together.

Also, as an activist, you are in Florida during the most horrific time in our history; what do you want to say to the beautiful LGBTQIA community attending your show?

We have each other, and we have Pride, and we're not going to let this take away our Pride. This is what Pride is for. This is how we got together and celebrated, but it's always been a political event. We're not trying to change their lifestyle. They're trying to outlaw ours. We're having a big fight, and we have to be ready for it. Through humor, we can really come together.

What other career path would you have chosen if you hadn't created your opportunity to be a comedian at the age of 16?

I think I would have liked to be a veterinarian or zookeeper. I love animals. I have three cats and a dog, and there's always some kind of lizard or bird drama happening in my house. Animals give me a lot in exchange for so little. I love cats. I'm such a cat lady. They're just the best - and dogs!

What is the best advice you've ever received?

It was from Joan Rivers. It wasn't as much advice as it was to understand that as comedians and women, we'll be more desirable as we get older, and people will want to hear what we have to say. I love thinking about that. It's true.

To counter that, what is the worst advice that you didn't take?

Don't talk about sex!

You've blazed the path for so many Asian-American and LGBTQIA actors and comedians; what advice would you give to a Gen Z sitting in the audience wanting to do what you do?

Just do it. We need their voice. We need their presence. It's such a wonderful way to express yourself as an artist. It's necessary. We need them.

What do you think when you realize you will probably be in the history books for pioneering the path for Asian-Americans and LGBTQIA to see themselves represented in the media?

I love it; I hope so. I'm really proud and happy about it.

When did you truly consider yourself a celebrity?

I don't know that I do. I think it is comedians who are workhorses of the entertainment industry. We just never have that same kind of adulation. Nobody is ever starstruck. You have to keep delivering - have new jokes, new material, or a better perspective or point of view. That is constant. You always have to improve on what you are doing, on the methods and techniques. It's like Rodney Dangerfield said, "We get no respect," but it is kind of true, and I think that is great because it keeps you hungry, which I think is really meaningful.

You are everywhere. You don't think people are starstruck when they meet you?

I don't know. I don't think about it like that. I get excited when I see (famous) people.

The last question is silly, but my husband wanted me to ask - what is your favorite food?

I love - this is controversial - fusion pasta which is like Italian mixed with Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, or Korean. It's incredibly controversial, like pineapple on pizza. People don't want to talk about it, but I like that kind of fusion.

Are there any touristy spots you want to visit when you are in the Tampa Bay area?

There's always something interesting. I have to see, but yes, there will be something. I'm very excited to come to Florida even though we've been advised not to come.

Get tickets to Margaret Cho's Live and Livid tour on May 19 at Ferguson Hall, Straz Center at 730pm.