Comedian, actress, director, producer, writer, musician and activist — there is nothing that Margaret Cho can’t do! In her two decades on the scene, she has established herself as one of the hardest working entertainers in the game. Her her unique brand of humor and quick wit have garnered her legions of fans around the globe. Even with all of her success, she has no plans on slowing down! In fact, 2013 is shaping up to be one of her biggest years to date. Her tv show, “Drop Dead Diva,” now in it’s 5th season will air brand new episodes thru the fall every Sunday on Lifetime while her new YouTube series, a dark comedy about three women fresh out of jail titled, “In Transition,” on Cho’s YouTube channel has been a huge hit with fans. In addition, Cho has teamed with comedian Jim Short for a brand new podcast show called “Monsters of Talk.” Margaret & Jim get intimate and up front with their guests which have included Tegan & Sara and Billy Bragg among others. Even with all of those irons in the fire, Margaret Cho is never one to stay idle for long. This Fall she finds herself traveling from city to city, winning over audiences and entertaining hordes of dedicated fans with her latest comedy creation. Her edgiest stand-up tour to date, ‘Mother’, is currently making it’s way across the United States to a venue near you. A master at her craft, her live show is not to be missed and is earning rave reviews! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Margaret Cho to discuss her longevity in comedy, the creation of the “Mother” tour, her musical side and much more!
You have been incredibly successful as a comedian. What initially drew you to the world of comedy and ultimately made you pursue it as a career?
I started very young. I really thought it was my entire life! I was pretty anxious to become an adult. I didn’t really enjoy childhood. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t control anything. I wasn’t popular and I didn’t have friends, so I wanted to escape it pretty quickly. I loved comedy as soon as I saw it and understood what it was. I also realized it was a job I could do! I think I started doing my first performances around the age of fourteen. Then I was on the road doing comedy professionally pretty early. I was around seventeen. It was a choice. I chose this ride and knew it was a career I would love and still do! I assume it is something I will always do!
Who were some of the biggest influences on you as a young comedian, be it other comedians or the people around you?
I think a lot of comedy I got to see came from people like Paula Poundstone and was very influential on me when I was starting out in San Francisco. The people on television who really made a difference where Richard Pryor and Joan Rivers. I was a big fan of it. Even now, I think those same people are still very inspiring. Nowadays, I go to see people like Kathy Griffin, Fortune Feimster and Chelsea Handler. There are a lot of great comedians I tour with, like Jim Short who is wonderful. I just love the artform!
You have been doing comedy for years, very successfully I might add. To what do you attribute your longevity in the scene?
I think it is just that I try to work as hard as I can. I try to think originally when it comes to the subject matter and also think very positively about it. I just love it. I am really lucky because I have a great deal of excitement about my performance. I love that audiences come to see me over and over. I am very happy and lucky to have the opportunity to continue to perform and doing comedy, which I have for so long. I would like to keep doing it!
Much of your material is based on your life and you are fearless in putting it out there. Was that a difficult transition for you to make early on?
I don’t think so. You are always trying to look for things to talk about and to find material that resonates honestly with people. I think if you put you into it, there is a lot you can get out of it.
You have been hard at work on your “Mother” tour and it has been getting great reviews. What initially sparked the idea for devoting the show to maternal figures?
I think it was because that is what I am kind of considered now as a woman in my forties. It is an idea and an identity that is assigned to me because of the way women are perceived in society at different ages. The perception goes from being an ingenue and a daughter to a mom. Even though I don’t have children, I still feel like it is something that I am. I have a maternal instinct and personality. The show is about where I am with my life in a very general way. It separates into a lot of different things and is very everywhere! That is a great thing. “Mother” is a great title because it touches on all of those things. I talk about my mother too and that is another reason the title is very appropriate.
How do you go about starting to craft a show like this? What goes into it to bring it to life?
You start by figuring out what you are going to talk about. It kinda just happens. It comes out of performing. I don’t really set out to do something with something to accomplish. My live performances are constant, so I am always out on the road and doing stuff, whether I am on an official tour or not. There is always something going on, so you are constantly building as you go.
That is my next question for you. How has the material evolved as you have been touring with it?
I think it has gotten more specific. There are also places where you pursue more tangents. I think a lot of the show ends up having to do with a lot of bi-sexuality, mostly because people were asking me a lot of questions about it. For some reason, it just seemed to be a topic that people were fascinated about and wanted to hear about it. That provided a lot of material to go to, so the show ended up being a lot about that.
When it comes to your craft, you are a seasoned pro. What do you consider the biggest challenges of doing comedy these days?
For me, I think it is the wears of traveling and the lifestyle of it is pretty tough. It was a little easier for me when I was younger. It gets a little harder to get up and go to a different city every day. That is always the challenge; the physical reality of what it is that we are doing. Everything else is really fun and really great. Touring will always be a challenge no matter where you are at in your career.
Do you have any plans to do a DVD/Blu-ray release of the “Mother” tour at some point?
Yeah. Eventually, that is eventually happens with these kind of shows. I don’t know exactly when and where that will happen, probably earlier next year.
Louis C.K. made a huge impact on the comedy world when he self-released his album. Is that an avenue you might consider in the future?
For sure! I love that he did that! I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of releasing my stuff, like making a standup comedy movie own my own. That is a really great. I haven’t gone the route of releasing them online but I think it is a great idea to get them to the fans. It is really great to have that independence.
Looking back on your career, how do you feel you have evolved as a comic along the way?
Now I trust the moment more and it is less about preparation. The material is more about the relationship you have with the audience and you can go with the moment and you can be very intuitive. That is really appreciated by people as well. You can just be in the reality of the live performance and I think that is something people can really apprecaite.
One of the things I find most fascinating about you is how multi-faceted you are with all of your endeavors. A great example of that is your music. For people who aren’t familiar with your musical side, how would you describe it?
My music is basically an extension of my standup comedy but it is also about my relationships with a lot of different great musicians that I have been working with over the years. I am a musician myself. I am a pretty good singer, so there are many ways I can interpret things. The songs aren’t comic really but to me, it is still very much standup comedy but it sounds different. They aren’t joke songs either. It goes beyond novelty. I really wanted to have beautiful music but still touch on the comedy within me.
I hear you have been preparing something new when it comes to your music. What can you tell us about it and when might we expect it?
I have! I have finished an album. I think it is going to be a double album. It explores different genres , so I am very excited about it. I have finished up everything in the studio and now I have to mix it. The biggest challenge ahead is finding the time for that and also figuring out how to release it. That will be in the works after I finish this tour!
That’s terrific! Where there any particular goals you had in mind for this album?
I really just wanted to become a better player. I wanted to become better at production and the technical aspects of it. I wanted to have more input into how the tracks were arranged. Those were my goals. It was all about gaining more of an aptitude in the way the music is put together. That was really great. I got to work with some of the greatest producers ever and take some of the things I learned and applied them here!
You have done so many unique things in your career. Is there still something out there that you are anxious to tackle in a creative sense?
Quite honestly, I would like to be better at comedy. It is a life-long journey where you constantly try to get better and find the higher road. It is something I have been applying myself to for thirty years . I want to continue to do it and continue to get better. It is the same thing with the music too. I just want to be better. That is what is cool about music, you get to play different instruments as well. That is another thing I really enjoy challenging myself by doing.
Do you feel there are any misconceptions about yourself at this point in your career?
I don’t know. I think one might be that my life is really wild and is full of adventure. The truth of it is that so much of it is focused on work, traveling and getting to the next city, that there is rarely time for the kid of misadventure people want to imagine! [laughs] It is the same for rockstars too. Most of it is just getting from place to place because you are always on the go. It is never as decadent as you wish it could be.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to people who look to you for inspiration as an artist?
Keep doing it! The joy is really in the action of doing it, as opposed to whatever is perceived as success, fame or rewards. It is really about the love of the craft. That has to be enough! There are so many ways to succeed but for me, success is about the personal satisfaction in what you do. The best way to go about anything in this business is to really finding the joy within yourself and not look to others to validate you.
What are some of the creative outlets you are finding most rewarding right now?
I have a great podcast that I do with Jim Short called “Monsters of Talk.” Jim is on the road with me and have had the chance to talk to so many great people, such as Joan Rivers and Kurt Sutter, who is the creator of ‘Sons of Anarchy’. We just talked to the guys from Wilco a few days ago. They are my favorite band and the actually came onstage and played with me in Chicago! We have some great surprises in store for people, as well as a great backlog of artists like Billy Bragg and Tegan & Sara. There have been so many wonderful people! It is a fun thing and we have more than fifty episodes up right now, so it is a good thing to go back and listen too! It is on Soundcloud.com, www.margaretcho.com and iTunes!
Thank you so much for you time today, Margaret! We can’t wait to spread the word on all of your projects!
Great! Thank you so much, Jason!