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Margaret Cho: Totally Guitarded

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Margaret Cho started her career like a bottle rocket and, at first appearances, seemed to burn out just as fast. By her early 20s, the young comic was already doing acts for big names such as Arsenio Hall and Bob Hope, and had opened for Jerry Seinfeld. And in 1994, she starred in her own sitcom on ABC, All-American Girl. The show, however, was made on shaky ground, as the producers weren’t sure how to handle a sitcom family of Asian heritage. They wanted to keep things ethnic and edgy, but at the same time stay clear of anything that could be construed as racist.

Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho

The confusion resulted in a show that was muddled, watered-down, and cancelled after a single season. It was a hard hit for Cho, and led her into the throes of drugs and alcohol addiction. But by the 2000s, Cho, and her career, started to rebound. She returned to stage performances, having several stand-up specials as well as launching a burlesque-style variety show in L.A., and has become a prominent figure in the gay and lesbian rights movement. She has now returned to television with Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva, and is in the midst of entering the music world, recording her debut album, Guitarded, which is set for a 2010 release.

With her tour rolling into Buffalo on Monday, September 28, AV and Margaret had a brief chat.

AV: What’s it like to return to the harsh mistress that is syndicated television? Hopefully Drop Dead Diva is treating you better than All-American Girl.

MC: Yes. I love Drop Dead Diva. It’s an incredible show and I am so excited to be a part of it. We have incredible guest stars like Rosie O’Donnell—who I was laughing with about how we have done so much together, from standup comedy to writing books to playing in Cyndi Lauper’s backing band, me on backup vocals, Rosie on drums. Also we had Liza Minnelli and Paula Abdul and Tim Gunn. Every episode is like a gay pride edition of The Love Boat.

AV: On the topic of All-American Girl, it’s been reported that the show’s producers hired a coach to teach you how to “be more Asian.” Was that situation just as absurd and degrading as it sounds?

MC: They hired an Asian consultant to help with the “authenticity,” which is to me ludicrous. Do they need authenticity for any other ethnicity? It’s not like we were some remote tribe from the Andes. They were treating Asian people like we were some kind of extreme outsider culture—but there were never Asian people on TV then, so I guess that is why. Yes, it’s very insulting and absurd, but they didn’t know better and neither did I.

AV: It’s often been said that every comedian wishes he or she was a rock star. Now that you are touring for your upcoming CD, do you feel you are fulfilling a long-standing dream? And do you feel you are doing a better job at it than Eddie Murphy did (granted that “Party All the Time” is a unwaning classic)?

MC: Well, the songs are more like Eddie Murphy’s “Boogie in Your Butt”‘ than “Party All the Time,” although “Party All the Time” is a great song and was produced by Rick James! And it’s is true that all comics want to be rock stars, but we are also very sensible about it. What I want to be is a guitar comic—a long-lost profession, very popular in the ’80s but now they are extinct. I am bringing it back. So it’s joke songs, not serious at all.

AV: What should music fans expect from your show: hard-hitting punk; solemn, heartfelt folk; gangsta rap; jokes about people’s privates?

MC: It’s all there, every genre from hip hop to a bit of electronica, totally guitarded folk music, putting the “cunt” back in country. So everything.

AV: Hard-rocking, burlesqueing, politically outspoken, Asian-American comedians seem to be everywhere these days. What makes you so different?

MC: I am the greatest! [Laughs.] No but really…I am the fucking best.

interview by geoffrey anstey