She’s unapologetic, sexual, political and always up to something new, quirky and fabulous. Margaret Cho’s career has taken her on a wild ride from stand-up comedy, to acting, producing, writing and now designing a clothing line. Daily Xtra chats with Cho before she graces Toronto with her presence for the all-women SheDot comedy festival.
Daily Xtra: Are you still using “comedy as your weapon” after all these years of making us laugh?
Margaret Cho: I mean, I’m not a violent person, I have no guns. I put my message out in the world that works in a lot of particular ways and in a lot situations, for example, with my portrayal of North Koreans, oddly enough, it was mostly people who weren’t Asian that had a problem with [the skit] . . . it was white people wanting to tell Asian people about race. I find that, in general, we are less intimidated, we can be told about race in ways that other people of colour can’t, because we are easy-going. I hate the North Korean government and their Republican way of brainwashing people. If everyone could understand the human rights violations that happen there, they would not be angry with me, as an actual Korean. The North Korean government deserves to be made fun of, because there are real human rights problems happening. This is where comedy comes in handy; we can make statements about social issues and have free speech.
You’ve never been one to keep quiet about LGBTQ issues. In your view, what’s pressing your buttons concerning the LGBTQ community?
What we are facing is a genocide of the trans population that has long been ignored. We don’t hear about all of these crimes, we don’t hear about the murders. There is violence towards actual minorities and trans women are being murdered. We exploit the trans community when we talk about rights, hate crimes and laws and my trans family has long been with me. Trans people, queer people of colour and teens . . . we have suffered and we won’t take it anymore. We are seeing people who are outraged and coming to [the] forefront now.
Your new jumpsuit is getting a ton of attention. Tell us about your magical creation and your fashion line.
I wanted to create a cool garment for women where they didn’t have to wear a purse. I was living in a dangerous area of Atlanta, which is populated by wealthy women. These boys got a van, had AK47s and they were stealing Prada handbags. It was such a huge divide between the rich and the poor there. I wanted to have the freedom to punch these guys; I didn’t want to protect my handbag and protect my life, so my hands [needed] to be free. I also don’t want to forget anything, and I’m not an accessories person. That’s what sets me apart [from other designers] — there are certain displays of wealth in the circles that I travel in, and I want to create fashion that serves people. Fashion is how we are seen in the world and how we can change in our lives. I don’t come to my line like a celebrity . . . I do it all on the fucking sewing machine. I come from the sweatshop, I could have sewn it myself. I work with [think tank] BetaBrand and we brainstorm together.
You basically have the dream life, talking about sex on your show All About Sex. What’s your favourite sexuality-related issue to talk about?
Sexuality is always interesting, because it involves so many levels of humanity: who we are, what we do, what we are about. My speciality is alternative sexualities, which has gotten a big boost because of BDSM and sex toys. I served on the board of Good Vibrations [sex store] for years, where I learned to test and market so many sex toys, which gave me a lot of experience. I was in a poly marriage, which did not break up because of polyamory. I know how to have these relationships that [a lot] people don’t. I am queer, I’m bisexual and have a lot of different experience in queer politics and in queer relationships where there’s fluidity.
Where are we at in terms of visibility for queer women of colour in the public eye, on TV shows, now that you have marked more than 21 years for All-American Girl?
There are no queer women of colour who are out there doing stuff except for Wanda Sykes and Laverne Cox. I think that there has to be more women of colour and also queer ones out there, doing comedy and in shows. We fight white male privilege and invisibility and it’s hard to fight these; to qualify and explain it. I work too hard, every day, which is wonderful and I am happy about that. I’m excited about every message that pushes women forward and that creates a discussion, as well as every message that celebrates women and queers.