She's a self-described "fag hag," a bisexual woman who craves the company of the gay and transgender community. She also has a mouth so dirty it could make a Blackwater mercenary cry for momma.
She's acclaimed stand-up comedian Margaret Cho, whom The New York Times has praised as "brilliant carrying candid sexual humor into previously unknown territory." Richmonders get a chance to preview her upcoming world tour, "Beautiful," when she performs at the Byrd Theatre with transgender comedian Ian Harvie.
"This tour is verrry raunchy, even for me. I'm like, 'Oh my God, I can't even believe it sometimes,'" Cho says from her home in Los Angeles. "To me, it's just funny to be really out there and wild, testing the boundaries of where I can take the audience."
Much of her material seems written for the queer community she loves (although Cho is married to a man). But she often addresses such wide-ranging topics as politics, religion, Asian-American stereotyping, substance abuse, eating disorders and beauty myths. Onstage she is relaxed, with perfect comic timing, while always unflinchingly honest -- almost to the point of making people cringe. Talking to her on the phone, though, she comes across as sweetly down-to-earth and (gasp) polite.
She's released a number of films and books, dated celebrities from Quentin Tarantino to Chris Isaak, appeared on "Sex in the City," and launched a burlesque-style variety show that played off-Broadway last year. But her comedic masterpiece so far has been her first one-woman show, "I'm the One That I Want" (1999), made right after her short-lived ABC television series, "All-American Girl," was canceled. (Producers said her face was "too round," which eventually caused her to drop weight so quickly that she suffered sudden kidney failure.) That powerful show made people laugh and cry as Cho talked intimately about her personal struggles. She's grown more political in recent years but says the new tour is thematically closer to her earlier material.
Cho says the idea began during a radio interview, when a DJ asked her, "What if you woke up tomorrow and you were beautiful?"
"I was like, 'What?! Whaddya mean, "what if"?' and he said, 'What if you were blonde, 5-foot-11, blue eyes, weighed 100 pounds, what would you do?' I said, 'I probably wouldn't get up, because I'd be too weak to stand.'" Still, Cho says the rude DJ inspired her to create something that would "help people feel good about themselves and laugh and have fun, too."
This tour will feature the relatively new addition of singing and dancing. "I wanted to do something different keep it exciting for me," she explains. "My mother was a singer, so I kinda thought, 'Well, I must have some kind of voice.' Then Cyndi Lauper taught me how to sing on the 'True Colors' tour we did together last year." That tour raised money for Human Rights Campaign and helped get a federal hate crime law, The Matthew Shepard Act, approved by Congress.
Cho grew up as the daughter of Korean parents who ran a bookstore on Polk Street in San Francisco. Her first name is actually Moran, which predictably led to years of childhood name-calling ("Moron") in school. Her parents have since been thrilled by her international success, and Cho says they especially loved it when a popular Korean magazine named her "Korean of the Year" in December.
When asked if she ever finds the tag of queer artist to be limiting or overshadowing, Cho says she never had a problem with it, probably "because most of Hollywood, the world I travel in, is pretty queer anyway. I doubt I'll be in any Chuck Norris movies soon."
She wouldn't mind hooking up with Shane from one of her favorite television series, Showtime's "The L Word," though.
Watching her recent stand-up material, it can seem like Cho is preaching to the choir. And when she says things like "straight people are boring" or red states are just maps to where the stupid people live she could be accused of stereotyping herself, but she says that's not the case.
"I think the choir should be preached to. People need their beliefs to be enforced in a way," she says. "But I don't want to stereotype all red states as super-conservative, bad places, because I go to there all the time. I talk about those stereotypes and the audience reacts because it's a different perspective for them. I want to approach everything with a level of passion and equanimity. But I love the jokes, and it's hard to negotiate where you can be sensitive."
One thing she will have to negotiate soon is Barack or Hillary.
"I'm being courted by both camps to appear at their events," she says. "I know Hillary and think she's great, but I may be leaning toward Obama, because I love his optimism, youth and his representation of change. But Hillary is a great leader I don't know. I think they should just run together." S
Margaret Cho brings the "Beautiful" tour with special guest Ian Harvie to the Byrd Theatre Friday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are $25 and available at Plan 9 Music.