Discovering the Relevance of Words
From the Margaret Cho Bio: While thrilled with her two Grammy and recent Emmy nod, Margaret has never turned away from the causes that are important to her. She is incredibly active in anti-racism, anti-bullying and gay rights campaigns, and has been recognized for her unwavering dedication. She was the recipient of the Victory Fund’s 2008 Leadership Award and the first ever Best Comedy Performance Award at the 2007 Asian Excellence Awards. She also received the First Amendment Award from the ACLU of Southern California, and the Intrepid Award from the National Organization for Women (NOW). Throughout her career, she has been honored by GLAAD, American Women in Radio and Television, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and PFLAG for making a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender identity. In June of 2011, Margaret was honored by LA Pride, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing an individual whose lifetime body of work has left a lasting major imprint on the LGBT community.
Through her hard work, Margaret has had the opportunity to be heard, to extend her point of view and become regarded as a true pioneer in her field. She takes none of it for granted. “It’s a wonderful thing to be known as a ‘safe haven’ for people. A lot people who come to my shows don’t necessarily consider themselves traditional comedy fans. I seem to be a safe alternative for people who don’t think they’re being represented in society. They come because my point of view satisfies a lot of what needs to be said out there, and that makes me really proud.”
TPQ: You grew up with your parents running Paperback Traffic, a bookstore in San Francisco. What types of books did you find yourself gravitating toward, and why?
MC: I loved everything. I read everything. Art and poetry and literature and trash and sci fi. I didn’t know what I would become yet and I needed to read to figure it out.
TPQ: As an educator myself, I’m always curious about arts based high schools. You attended the San Francisco School of the Arts. How do you feel your education differed from what you might have received in a standard high school environment?
MC: Yes we had 4 hours a day of our own chosen field, which was theatre, dance, art, music – then the rest of the time in math and science and history. I loved it, but I dropped out of the classes I didn’t care for which isn’t the best.
TPQ: In the early portion of your career, you had the opportunity to work on Golden Palace with Rue McClanahan, open for Jerry Seinfeld, and work with Bob Hope. What was the best piece of advice you received from those comedians?
MC: Seinfeld told me to quit school and be a comedian, rue taught me how to sing on key, bob showed me you could still do comedy at an age when most people aren’t doing that much.
TPQ: You have never had a problem with unfiltered comedy, and you are always willing to poke fun at things that tend to force people into either conversation or discomfort. Have you ever written jokes that you’ve been uncomfortable performing on stage, or do you feel that everything is fair game?
MC: I am sure I have, but that happens. and I kind of let it go in my mind, as I don’t want to bring myself down to place where there are hard and fast rules. In general I try to be compassionate, but that is dependent on the moment ultimately.
TPQ: Obviously you’ve been a constant activist for the LGBT community. We have a number of high school aged readers, and some of them struggle with the very issues that you campaign for on a regular basis. What advice would you give for teenagers who are struggling with opening up about their sexuality?
MC: I wish that I could give them the freedom to be themselves and the ability to face all of the future unafraid. But that’s something that has to come from within.
TPQ: What is your writing process, and how does it differ when you’re writing for stage versus screen?
MC: There’s no real process, it’s constant. I am always writing no matter what I am doing and no matter what it is for.
TPQ: Since we are The Poetry Question, we have to ask: What is Poetry?
MC: Good words in time.
TPQ: Since you’ve been working with Jim Short on the podcast Monsters of Talk, how do you feel podcasts, and social media outlets like Twitter have changed the face of comedy?
MC: It’s made comedy so accessible and topical and deep. I love all these things and utilize them daily.
TPQ: Do you prefer yogurt, or ice cream? What do you enjoy as toppings?
MC: Chocolate ice cream no toppings.
TPQ: If you could sit down for a conversation with any actor, author, comedian, or musician, dead or alive, who would it be, and what would you want to talk about?
MC: I’d ask Groucho Marx if there were any clubs he would like to go to, but not join as membership wouldn’t be required.