Multitalented Margaret Cho coming to Treasure Island
Margaret Cho spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen the day that her latest comedy special, psyCHO, debuted on Showtime, but she had much more going as she prepared for The psyCHO Tour. Cho is planning her second music-comedy album, hosts TLC late-night talk show All About Sex, and tends to her homeless relief organization #BeRobin whenever possible. She’s also pledged to officiate marriages at each tour stop, so prepare for possible nuptials during her Oct. 16 appearance at Treasure Island.
This is a huge day for you, with your latest comedy special debuting on Showtime, then PBS immediately following that with American Masters: The Women’s List. Are you watching the broadcasts or heading to your happy place and curling up in a ball until it’s over?
I actually have to go to bed really early because I’m up at four in the morning to go to Denver to view a huge, um, special marijuana there. I have my own strain of marijuana and it just got voted the best strain in San Francisco, and so I’m going to go promote it in Colorado.
The last article I read before I interviewed you was on The Cannibist website. What’s the strain called?
It’s called “Cho-G Kush.” It’s a hybrid, a sativa-indica hybrid. It really is, if you break it down chemically, [popular sativa-indica hybrid] “Girl Scout Cookie,” but it’s heavier on the indica side, which I prefer. We’re also going into different mediums, whether that’s marijuana lube, which I am very much a fan of, or really, say, concentrate or [extract product] shatter. … and a body lotion, so I’m thrilled about it.
I hear Girl Scout Cookie’s an excellent hybrid.
Yeah, it’s a great hybrid, and I put my own spin on it. And I’m happy to share that with responsible adults, but I myself … I consider myself clean and sober. I really want people to look at marijuana as an alternative to alcohol or nicotine. I feel that those substances are rather damaging, if you think about really available they are. It would be better for people to just puff up!
Indica’s more for the medically inclined, I believe.
Yeah, and it’s more for the sleepy (effect). I actually use pot for insomnia. That’s something I’m very into. I had a long history with marijuana. I knew Brownie Mary before she died, and she dosed me. Brownie Mary was a pot activist in San Francisco. She was in her 80s, and she would go to all of the AIDS hospices and distribute medical marijuana edibles, and she was arrested multiple times. She gave people a lot of comfort before they died, and she was a friend of mine. She gave me medical brownies, and I don’t remember anything else. I know that it was good!
Another woman that could have been on The Women’s List, huh?
I don’t know! (laughs)
I’ll ask you about psyCHO in next, but what was your reaction when you were asked to participate in a documentary profiling accomplished women that puts you in the company of Madeleine Albright, Edie Falco, Alicia Keys and Nancy Pelosi?
I’m honored and flattered, and certainly grateful. I couldn’t imagine myself being in that company, but I just think they needed an Asian. (laughs) I feel like Any Tan was unavailable so they asked me. No, I’m very grateful.
When did you find out it was going to be broadcast the same night as … is it [pronounced] psy-KO or psy-CHO?
It’s psy-KO, but the title of the show is There’s No “I” in Team but There’s a Cho in psyCHO, so I think its psy-Ko. I don’t even know myself, which is the dumbest part. … If I don’t know and I wrote it, nothing’s wrong.
When did you find out your special and that documentary were coming out the same night?
I didn’t know! I’m glad and I think it’s great. I had no say in any of that but I think it’s really, really cool.
Was there any particular reason for taping psyCHO in at Gramercy Theatre (in New York City)?
That was a choice made by a group of us and John Asher, who’s a fantastic director who directed Tooken, which is a parody of Taken, the Liam Neeson movies. My latest music video that dropped yesterday, “Fat Pussy,” he directed also. He sort of compiled a list of places where we could do this, and that seemed to be his favorite so I went with his decision.
So you’re having an extended collaboration with him, basically.
Yes, I’ve been collaborating with him for a couple of years now and it’s been very fruitful.
A reviewer indicated your comedy was emphasizing social commentary more than jokes in this special. Would you agree?
That’s true, but it is comedy. It’s the best comedy, where we have now really understood comedy as being a big social instigator. I think the best example would be The Daily Show, which really invigorated progressive politics. I think comedy definitely has a lot to do with it. Bill Maher is definitely in there, and Stephen Colbert of course too. Social commentary is comedy.
Yeah, John Oliver’s really pushing that forward a lot lately.
He’s the best. He’s actually the best.
Would you say your comedy’s moving in a Lenny Bruce direction? Not Bruce-like, but you’ve established your audience and you can take them farther in a social commentary direction.
I hope so. That is a great compliment, thank you for that. Lenny Bruce is a tremendous influence for me, and I’m close with Kitty and have done work for her foundation. I would say Richard Pryor would be the ultimate … it would be Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams.
Joan Rivers and Robin Williams come up often in stories about you, but I don’t see their overt influence in your approach to comedy. I did feel Richard Pryor’s influence a lot, and not in an emulating way as much as much as a comedy bloodline.
I hope so. I was close with him and his family and was able to work with them before his death. I feel honored to have been able to do that. I just feel that Richard Pryor’s legacy is so enormous and we owe a great debt to him.
In The Women’s List you are filmed saying: “Oftentimes the women who are successful in comedy are the women who don’t care what men think.” Just minutes prior to seeing that I had made a note about Joan Rivers both filling the void for women in comedy in her time and fighting against expectations. When did you first become aware of her and when did she begin to inspire you, if not right away?
Very early on when I was a child watching her fill in for Johnny Carson, seeing her just crush on Saturday Night Live in 1983. I realized, when I watched her, who I was meant to be. And that was the career choice I made, and then she and I became friends in the ’90s. It was a tremendous honor to know her and become part of her circle. She was incredibly supportive of me. We worked together numerous times, and she was there for me in every way—any big question I had, if I needed immediate comfort. She buoyed me up so much, and I’ll never have a mentor like that again. The loss of her was devastating, but now to return and be able to add a little something to Fashion Police, which was her baby, and actually has her baby Melissa Rivers there … I’m proud to be there.
We just past the one-year mark of the passings of both Joan Rivers and Robin Williams. Did it cause you to reflect on them recently, or perhaps give closure to a period of bereavement?
I feel with Joan I do have closure because she lived such a long life and she knew how much I loved her. And she knew what she had given to society and to comedy, and to entertainment and to women. She was ready for it. She made all of her funerary arrangements and paid for everything far before any of this, so I think she was very prepared to die. Unfortunately it was difficult circumstances; in an accident really. I feel that made it easier. With Robin I will never, I don’t think, ever be able to feel OK about what happened. I don’t know how to put it into words. When he died, all of us San Francisco comedians banded together and created a homeless outreach to celebrate his philanthropic life. And that helped us with our grief a little bit. It was very, very hard.
You’re honoring Robin William’s memory with your next musical comedy recording from what I understand, or at least it’s inspired by your work with #BeRobin. How far off is that album and what is #BeRobin currently up to?
The documentary of the project (#BeRobin: the Movie) is in post-production, and the album is all recorded. We’ll probably put that out after the tour, so it’ll be sometime next year. But yes, there’s a beautiful song I’ve written for him. There’s a lot of different songs on that record that I think are important. There’s another one that’s very relevant to now. It’s called “I Want to Kill My Rapist.” That’s a strong commentary on all of us who are survivors of sexual abuse and work to heal. I think that’s a good one too, and I’m going to be making a video for that in a couple of weeks.
I tried to find that. Is that going to come out next year?
You talked about being bullied and sexually abused with Billboard recently, which was widely reported by other media. Did the anniversary of Robin’s death caused you to re-examine your past?
Well I had been talking about my sexual abuse and rape in many different forms dating back to 2000 in my book I’m the One that I Want. But I feel right now it’s receiving more attention because of the rape culture that we’re trying to combat. I’m always very open in my comedy and I have been for a long time, but I feel like these sort of details about my story have come to light and gotten more attention because we’re living in a very hostile era when it comes to women and women’s bodies.
I have this picture of you growing up with your mom playing second banana to your father as he riffed jokes off of her in front of an audience of your family. Is that anywhere close to how it was growing up?
I think that’s very true, but then they’re also very funny … I mean my dad is a very funny guy, and so I think we all share these jokes and my family still give me a lot of fodder for comedy, and I’m grateful for that.
You have transcended being pigeonholed as a comedian in regards to race, gender or sexuality, but you did a call-in show recently for the Huffington Post and a young Asian woman or teenager Skyped in to ask a question. When I saw her the first thought I had was, “Before Margaret Cho, she had nobody. She didn’t have any role models.” Does that notion still strike you nowadays?
Oh yes, oh yes! And I’m so grateful for that, and they’re so important to me. The new generation of Asian-American bloggers, writers, comedians, actors, musicians—all of them. I’m so honored to have influenced their work in any way, and it makes me very, very proud.
Are we going to see you officiate a wedding in Vegas?
Yes, I hope so. I don’t have couples for every city yet, so I encourage people to reach out. They just have to tweet me #MarryMeMargaret and they will be in the running. I encourage that, or a marriage proposal, or if people want to renew their vows. I’m there for them.