Margaret and her Multiples
Diverse performer brings music into the mix
by Mona de Crinis
The self-admittedly multi-orgasmic Margaret Cho can now justifiably boast about multiples of another kind—talents. The comedian, actress, director, author, activist and rabble-rouser is also a blossoming rock star. Her current tour, which stops in the Coachella Valley on October 30 at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa’s The Show, features a strapped-on Cho (a guitar, you gutterheads!) workshopping a new stand-up show that includes a blend of comedy and music.
Yes, Margaret sings. And not badly either. According to press material, she will be showcasing songs from a forthcoming album, tentatively titled Guitarded, a release she is writing with Patty Griffin, Jon Brion, Grant Lee Phillips and others.
But fans of her acerbic, socially germane comedy should not fret. The workshop still features her trademark raunchy wit and politically-charged commentaries, while offering an opportunity to see Cho in a more intimate setting as she diversifies and develops a new stand-up schtick and songs for her comedy album.
Diversity is nothing new to the San Francisco native. A vivacious product of her environment, Cho went to grammar school on the infamous Haight Street during the ’70s. Her life was a kaleidoscope of colorful characters—“Old hippies, ex-druggies, burnouts from the ’60s, drag queens, and Chinese people …. It was a really confusing, enlightening, wonderful time,” she reminisces in her biography.
It’s not surprising that such a fertile breeding ground, rich with imagination, would spawn such bountiful talent—a woman who’s been making people laugh and think since her first stand-up gig at the age of 16 in a comedy club called The Rose & Thistle.
From there Margaret went on to open for Jerry Seinfeld. She was the most requested act on the college circuit. Late night audiences got their first taste of the feisty Korean courtesy of Arsenio Hall, and an appearance on one of Bob Hope’s variety specials introduced her to prime-time viewers. In a matter of a few short years it seems, Margaret Cho had reached celebrity status. A few sitcoms, countless stand-up routines, a couple of books and an off-Broadway show later, she’s ready to take on the world of rock.
Most recently, Margaret’s been a fixture on the popular Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva, a cautionary tale about superficiality. Cho plays a gal Friday to lawyer Jane Bingum (played by Brooke Elliott), a shallow model-in-training who dies in a sudden accident only to come back in the body of a brilliant, plus-size and also recently deceased attorney. It’s a show Cho loves and credits with promoting the idea that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes—a principle that resurfaces with reassuring frequency in much of her work.
We had a chance to ask Ms. Cho a few choice questions via email in anticipation of her upcoming appearance in the Coachella Valley. Here’s how she responded.
You’ve been quoted as saying that Drop Dead Diva has a lot of heart. What other body parts would you attribute to it?
MARGARET CHO: I guess it has a lot of soul too, and a lot of cute butts. All the guys on the show have adorable behinds! That is what I noticed most about work in the beginning. Everyone has a super nice booty. But it is true that the show has a lot of heart, which is because of the excellent writing by our incredible show creator, Josh Berman, and the great writing team. And then it is beautifully acted by Brooke Elliott and the rest of the stellar cast.
This summer you lost your voice but still managed to do some shows. How did you accomplish this? And more importantly, how did you lose your voice to begin with?
This was suggested by my friend Jon Brion, who I am writing songs with for my upcoming album. For the first silent show, he read my material and sang my songs while I acted them out next to him. It was very scary at first, but he proved to be such a talented comedian that it all worked very well. So the first leg of my tour, I had different people reading my material as I acted it out. They would sing my songs as I accompanied them on banjo and guitar, and then in addition to that, I did some dancing. It was very special, and I am keeping some elements of the silent shows in the current incarnation of the show. It was a great test as an artist and performer.
I lost my voice just due to simple overuse. I was really working hard and also trying to play and sing over my new 12-string banjo, which is like the grand piano of banjos. It is very loud and so I had to be very loud to sing over it. This overwork combined with terrible allergies from moving to Georgia, which is where we film Drop Dead Diva. Also I was getting lots of colds and so I had generally very poor health for several months. I also had acid reflux problems. All these factors really messed up my voice. I had to make some major lifestyle changes. I can never drink, smoke, eat spicy foods, have caffeine or chocolate or carbonation ever again. And I cannot lay down completely flat. But my voice sounds great now. It went up several notes so I can sing much higher than I ever could before.
How did you come up with your “25 Random Things” and do they change?
I just wrote down all the ones that made good rhymes. I bet if I did another one the things would be totally different. The ones that I wrote in the song I did, the 25 random things are all true. I have done shots with Gorbachev, although I wouldn’t be able to do this today since I can no longer drink.
If you hadn’t discovered comedy, what other careers might have interested you?
I love animals, so I might have become a veterinarian, although a job like that might be too hard if you love animals as much as I do. I also love writing and playing and performing and wish I had started earlier as a musician, because this may have become something different for me if I had picked it up at a young age. I am also a very talented seamstress. Not fashion designer—just a seamstress. I really am good at stuff like alterations and sewing amazing clothing using vintage patterns and old fabrics. So either a vet, a rock star, or a tailor. But not a dry cleaner. Like a proper old-fashioned tailor.
If you could only have one subject to poke fun at who or what would it be?
I think it would be sex. It’s weird, the idea that we are trying to get so much satisfaction, self-esteem, pleasure, love, etc. by doing this particular thing with our bodies, and needing other bodies to fulfill certain requirements that go beyond the physical—but into the emotional and spiritual. And that everything truly leads back to sex. All existence requires it, we are all here because of it. There’s a lot to discuss. It’s also good to talk about in a humorous context because bodies are funny. Humanity is touching. It’s all super strange!
What’s the sexiest thing about you?
I am up for anything anytime. I am a fantastically good partner in all things sexual. I am tireless and enthusiastic and very flexible both physically and emotionally. I am a good time.
You obviously enjoy singing, if you could borrow anybody’s voice for one night, whose would it be?
I love Ani DiFranco’s voice because it is full of contradictions and character. It’s strong and sweet but also delicate and funny and serious. She’s a genius musician too, so I would love to borrow her hands as well. Also my friend Jon Brion has very enviable hands, as well as a tremendous voice I would love to use. I also love Patty Griffin’s voice and Andrew Bird’s voice. They are both songwriting pals of mine. I am lucky that way.
You’re having drinks at your home. Who’s invited?
Well, I can no longer drink but lots of people are invited anyway. All my musician friends. A bunch of comics. Some painters. Lots of tattoo artists. So a guest list would be Shawn Barber and Kim Saigh—I just bought a painting from Shawn, and he and Kim are opening a tattoo studio/gallery space together in Los Angeles. Perhaps Ed Hardy would come as well. Then I would love to have all the people working on my album—lots of folks, Jon Brion, Patty Griffin, Grant Lee Phillips, Andrew Bird, Kevin Drew, Ani Difranco, Jill Sobule, Tegan and Sara. Then my comic friends like Selene Luna, Ian Harvie and John Roberts.
What can fans expect from your upcoming show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa?
It’s going to be great! Lots of fun stand-up, my new songs and then some sketches/songs from my band, “Fag and Hag” with John Roberts. It’s going to be a hoot and a half.
You’ve performed in Palm Springs several times, how would you sum up the area in three words?
Windy, windy, windy!
If You Go— MARGARET CHO, Tonight at 9 P.M. at The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa in Rancho Mirage. Tickets: $55/$35/$25. To buy tickets or for more information visit hotwatercasino.com/TheShow or call 800.585.3737.