Lia Chang caught up with Margaret Cho in New York July 1 on the
premiere of her new concert film "Notorious C.H.O." - a follow-up
to her hit concert film "I'm the One that I Want." "Notorious C.H.O."
filmed live in Seattle, is a hilarious, bawdy one-woman show inspired
by the raw comedy of Richard Pryor, George Carlin and the female
machismo of rap music divas L'il Kim and Eve.
In Part 2,
Margaret shares her thoughts about Chris Rock, having control of
her work, and even her occasional appearances on HBO's Sex and
Notorious C.H.O. Live at Carnegie Hal, a CD version of her
performance at the fame concert hall, is available through Nettwerk
America. For more information on the film, visit www.margaretcho.com
and actor Chris Rock
I think he's
great. I think he's incredible funny and bright, he powerful, political
and honest. I love what he is doing. I think that he is really brilliant
and I am very proud of him.
control over her work
as far as I can go. If I can enlist different networks to work with
me. The longer that I am around, there is a greater possibility.
With the work that I do, I have been doing it for so many years
that the appeal in itself is undeniable. I am kind of looked at
as a sure thing in so many ways, that I can imagine in the near
future that everything that I want will happen. I do want to self-produce
for as long as I can but if I can manage to get the powers that
be to agree with me, I think that I would to work in that capacity
any change in the Entertainment or sitcom industry since All
I don't think
that it has gotten that much better. I don't think racially things
have changed all that much. There have been a few instances where
people have done one or two shows that are great racially, like
ER does a really good job. There are couple shows that have just
really showed that they can be multicultural.
It's rare when
it happens when I'm on tour because when I'm tour I do the show
as it is for months at a time. It's just solid, like a Broadway
show or something, it just goes. When I am writing, certainly when
I am going through the development process of writing a new show,
I have no idea what is going on, it is very scary. I have no idea
what is going to happen. There are all of these people that just
trust me so much that I have to take it somewhere. It's hard. It's
the love of live performance. I love that kind of not knowing. I
don't really stay in that moment of uncomfortableness too long.
It's pretty tortuous. I try to get out of it by doing something
that I know works, by taking an extra little risk.
shyness as a little girl
I don't think
I've overcome that. I think that I am pretty shy still. I don't
feel like an outgoing person, I don't really feel that comfortable
talking about myself. In my work, it's a different think. I am there
specifically to entertain the audience. It's really not about me,
it's about them. I focus on the audience so much; it's their experience
that I am concerned with. So I don't really let that overcome my
shyness. I still feel very shy. After shows I have these receptions.
People have parties for me. I find that horrible because I have
to sit there and talk to a million people. I am so terrified in
those particular situations. I don't really go out a lot when I
am at home. I don't really have a huge circle of friends. I have
very close friends that I love but it's not like I am a big social
the show with some material about 9/11.
The way that
we were feeling at the time, there was no way that you could not
get away with it. It was on people's minds so much. At that point,
we shot the film in November, it was right then. I wanted to find
a way to talk about it that would not offend anybody but at the
same time allay the tension around whether or not I was going to
mention it. It was important for me to do it the right way, very
sensitive thing, very hard to talk about, very hard to make funny.
I found a way to kind of work around it.
I love children.
I would love to do an animated series that I worked on. When the
film is going to be in theaters I've made an animated short film
that will be a companion piece to this film. That will go before
this film. It's really funny and I would like to see more of that.
I made that film in hopes that I could go back and do a series of
films like it.
I think I just
value my life more. I think I value my time more. It changed the
whole world in the way that we view ourselves. And the way that
we treasure our lives and our loved ones. I think it changed the
way that people view politics. I think that it made the political
agenda much more immediate. I think made people pay much more attention
to the news, more than they ever have.
They are more
aware of what's happening in the world. Now these concepts such
as war and terrorism are not far off situations. They are really
happening and they are real. I think that it changed the racial
landscape of America too because it made people question what Americans
really look like. I thought that was really interesting, really
horrible thing for Arab Americans, really horrible thing for Muslim
Americans dealing with racial profiling. It really threw our country
into a completely new place than we had ever been. It was fascinating.
As somebody who works as a social critic, it is fascinating for
how it affected me, I try to love people more. That I try to be
more present. That I try to be a little bit more aware of what is
going on not just politically, but physically with myself.
parents in the audience
You know, I
want to I wish that I could just talk about going to college, having
a masters degree, and all the things they would like for me talk
about, having a husband who's also Korean. There's nothing that
I could say that would be honest. They really love my work. They
get into it in the way that they can. I don't think they fully understand
my friends and I were seated at the
premiere with my family. My friend was sitting next to my father
and the whole time he's laughing at the whole show. Then the whole
thing about fisting comes up and he's stonefaced. They can't really
relate to certain things. They can't really understand certain things,
but they accept it all, which is really great.
she had to explain any of her material to her parents
No. They don't
mind if they don't know.
On what makes
her mom a better comic target than her dad
I think my Mom
has a better accent. My father doesn't really have that much of
an accent. He sort of has let it go. My mother has a thick one,
it's fun. I always made fun of my mom as opposed to my father when
I was growing up because I was always really scared of my father.
So we could never make fun of.
And I think
part of growing up Asian American is that you automatically make
fun of your parents 'cause they're so foreign and that's so funny.
And we can't believe that they are so funny and that we are so American.
I was really
embarrassed by my family when I was growing up. Oh my god, my mom
makes beef jerky out of fish! We would make fun of them constantly.
By making fun of them and all of the Asian American kids making
fun of their parents that created a common language amongst ourselves.
A kind of really for the first time becoming Asian American. It
was a very bi-cultural experience. That's what my impression of
her is based on. Something that I have been doing since I was very
On her home.
I live in Los
Angeles. I live in an old mansion that was built in 1924. That I
am slowly and painstakingly restoring. It's very rough going but
it is a beautiful house. I live with two dogs. I'm pretty into living
on the West Coast but I would love to come and live in NY at some
point. I've always wanted to live here. I spent several months here
at a time. I know that with my next show my plans are to stay here
and do it on Broadway. That's my goal. What I think would be the
best for me.
I've just started
writing. It's really about Asian American identity. It's about race.
I think that it is probably going to be more political than my other
shows in a current events way. I've just started so I don't know
what it really will be. It takes about a year for me to write a
On what prompted
her to concentrate more on race
It just was
interesting to me right now. I read Frank Wu's Yellow which was
incredible inspiring. He is just so eloquent in the way that he
has presented all of these ideas about Asian American and about
how much we have been pandered to by society. That there is all
of this subtlety in racism that happens with Asian Americans. It
illustrates how all of these instances have made him over time really
feel uncomfortable here. There are a lot of ideas that I got from
him that I would like to work on. In my own self. Maybe getting
older and coming up and realizing there is a new generation of kids
growing up behind me that are redefining Asian Americans and redefining
themselves as this culture.
On what she
would like the Asian American community to know about her now and
in the future
I think that
now it very steady. At the point that I am at now because I have
been around for so long. There are all these kids that have grown
up with me. I feel very secure there, I feel very happy there. I'd
like them to know that would like to continue working on their behalf
in terms of entertainment, in terms of activism, in terms of politics,
there's a lot of things that I think still need to be done. And
I think that my experience has been valuable because I have been
around for so long. You are pretty much the only Korean American
celebrity in the United States. What do you chalk that up to? What
is the lack of Korean American representation in the media about?
I think that
it's about the way that we are brought up. Because there is no encouragement
to go for careers in the arts. I think that Korean families, there
is such a hold on the children, that they are so completely driven
and controlled to do certain things with their lives. That Korean
community is so about family values and they have such a hold on
the kids. They don't want to venture into other careers other than
doctors or lawyers. Korean culture idolizes education -- it's so
important. We are not encouraged to go for things that we dream
about, to be filmmakers, or artists or comediennes. We can be musicians
but we have to be cellists. The feeling with the family has to do
with the control they have. It's just so hard to break free from.
I think holds us back in a lot of ways and at the same time pushes
us forward in other industries. It is a strange place to be because
we are given all of this fire and drive but it is directed towards
things that we don't necessarily believe in. I know that there are
a lot of people my age that are now in careers that they don't want
to be in. They are very frustrated with their lives and their families
because they are stuck in this place. I was just afraid that I was
going to turn into that so it was very important for me to do my
The answer is
within themselves. We all kind of know what we want to do. People
that say, oh I don't know what I want to do. I don't think that
is entirely true. I can't speak for other people. I know that I
have always known. The things that I had problems with were when
people told me, oh you can't do that.
Like my mom
would say, "Oh no Koreans can't do that, they cannot be in entertainment."
Or that Koreans don't do that would go in mind and would prevent
me from taking certain risks. So I would encourage people not to
listen to the voices that are going to do that to them. I would
encourage people to listen to their own opinions count more than
anyone else's. That's not just Asian Americans. That's not just
Korean Americans. That's everyone who wants to do something that's
different, or something that takes a lot of guts and ambition. That
they've got to make their voice the loudest one that they hear.
On why she
decided to do Notorious C.H.O. as a theatrical release rather
than a cable special
they have a time constraint and my shows generally; I would like
to do 90 minutes. I didn't want to have to cut the show and have
it fit into somebody else's box of what they wanted for it. I wanted
to release the film and be free enough to do what I wanted to do.
On the collaboration
that goes into making the show
between myself and the director, and the producer. We all have a
say in how things are going to be structured. I do the shows completely
on my own and then the film is very much collaboration.
On who convinced
her parents to be interviewed
They were happy
to be in it. They're so media savvy though. Being on camera, sound
bites. Totally intentionally. They really love the attention. I
think it is really great. I think they come off so cool and elegant
and eloquent. I am very proud of them.
On how she
discovered the desire to tell funny stories
I just knew
that was what I was going to do. I knew very young. I knew that
this would be my career. When I started I had felt so uncomfortable
being in my own skin. Very uncomfortable being my own self. As a
performer, that was the only place, on stage, that I felt safe.
I did comedy clubs. I did performances at my school; I went to a
high school for the performing arts in SF. I loved it.
On the difficulty
of doing standup as an Asian American
One time I was
doing a show and I walked up to the marquee and there was this picture
of me but it was a drawing with somebody with a queue (the long
braid like chinese workers had on the railroad) and buckteeth and
eating a bowl of rice. It was so incredible. I was so mortified.
The caption read: Margaret Cho: proof that the Chinese are no laughing
matter. I'm not even Chinese. It was so incredibly racist and it
was advertising ME. Wildly insensitive types of things, very racist
things would happen. You can't do anything. You just take it with
a grain of salt and you just keep going. Stuff like that happened
all the time.
and the Abercrombie & Fitch issue
More on the
defensive and angry a lot from the very beginning because I couldn't
believe that people were so silly and stupid. But it happens now.
Things happen nowadays that surprise me. After the whole Sept. 11
thing, a journalist asked me how it felt to be part of the Axis
of Evil. Korea is part of the Axis of Evil. So now I am part of
the Axis of evil. And I said, what is that like, Access Hollywood?
It was crazy
but people just have such a casualness about racism against Asians.
That there is a really an agreement in society that this okay. Typified
by Abercrombie & Fitch who put out a line of t-shirts
with very racist Asian depictions on them. This is SO not acceptable
and yet it was done by this huge corporation. And they excused it
by saying they had asked Asians in the office and they said it was
It is not okay.
by the kids from Stanford who started a huge boycott of Abercrombie
& Fitch and got kids from all over the country to go and boycott
the stores and got the t-shirts off the market immediately. The
younger generation is really flexing their political power. That's
what's really inspiring to me.
On the universal
nature of her material
I think it's
universal in a lot of ways. It works on different levels for people.
I work on that. I try to make it inclusive and universal at the
or not it's difficult to reconcile differences in her audiences
everything. It's more fun that way. Because it is so diverse. That's
what I love about the audiences that come to see me. They are so
different. And yet they find so much joy in this one common thing.
I think it's great to do it all.
On the link
is between sexuality and performance
There's a big
link. There is certainly a kind of fluidity that I had that is very
similar to what I have sexually. There is a lot of transference.
Like a transfer a lot of sexual energy into performance. It is so
physical and so hot in a way. I find it's such a great way to enhance
my own self-esteem to perform well. Which inevitably helps me to
feel more attractive. I'm encouraged.
matter to me. The fact that I don't want to be labeled is really
about. The idea that labels is not for the gay community. They are
for the straight community so that they can tag us like we are wild
game. I don't think that's right. I think that labels in a sense
serve us politically but not enough to always have to use them.
When we all have equality, when all of those labels don't matter.
Yesterday, this woman was talking about how it's not a parade, it's
a march. We're not at the parade level yet because we are not celebrating
our equality. We're marching for our right to equality. It was so
important to point out. That's how I feel about labels. When we
can stop using them, that's when we are truly free.
it is rare to have women monologists. My shows are very shocking
in Britain. Women aren't speaking about sex in the same way. The
audiences were very traumatized. In Australia, they're so excited
by what I am saying. There is such a large Australian Asian community
that is completely ignored by the media there. The excitement about
my work is so strong. Canada is similar to America.
I always knew
I had to make my own path. I never felt safe at home anyway. I never
felt safe with them. I do now. I'm grown up and they have to do
what I say. I'm glad that I came from there because it gave my rebellion
meaning. I love the city, I love the people, I love the way that
people are smarter, cool better fashion here, better food, so beautiful
in so many ways. I get so inspired here by so many things and I
feel good here.
On her appearances
on HBO's Sex and the City and other roles
Sex and the
City was great. I am friends with Sex and the City writer
Michael Patrick King. He loves me and I love him and he wanted to
write a part for me that would be perfect so that's how that worked
out. John Woo who directed Face Off is also a fan and I met
him through Chow Yun Fat who insisted that I be in a John Woo Film.
and political correctness
It serves me
and it doesn't. Do I as a minority artist have the right to talk
about my life as it is? And I think that I do. I'm not making fun
of a caricature of somebody; I'm talking about somebody in my life
and someone that I am very close to. What I think about that kind
of PC is that it is just as oppressive as what it is trying to eradicate.
PC can be really annoying. I wish we could have more fun. And unfair,
and racist, and homophobic in it's own way. Narrow-mindedness.
women in the media
Lucy Liu Powerful
sexy Asian woman. There needs to be more. I think it's great. I
like Lucy Liu a lot. Her visibility helps a tremendous amount. There
are so few images. I don't have anybody that I could look to as
a Asian American role model. I'm so proud to be where I am in the
Gay community. Advancing us politically. That's really important
to me. Filling each moment.
Asian and in the entertainment business
The most difficult
place to be in. [It's a] very hard thing as a performer to do. So
few opportunities out there that we must create our own opportunities.
I have my own production company. I generate my own work, writing
books and don't have to rely on a studio or a network. I encourage
others to do so. That's the only way that I think we can survive
On her relationship
with other Asian American actors from her TV show
friends of mine. We have a really great bond. It's rare that Asian
Americans get to work together. You never get to see other people.
We became like a family, really connected. Bd and I were crying
because they had us making Spam and eggs on the show. One accurate
thing. Great moment. The friendship among the cast members has lasted