Interview: PSYCHO tour this fall brings Margaret Cho back to standup

September 16, 2015
Margaret Cho's The PsyCHO Tour (Ken Phillips Group)

Margaret Cho’s The PsyCHO Tour (Ken Phillips Group)

By Tae Hong

Margaret Cho is back on stages across America with a standup mic this fall for The psyCHO Tour.

Famous for her candor and nothing-is-off-limits comments on every which topic ranging from sexuality and LGBTQ rights to sexual violence and racism, the 46-year-old comedian is ready to do it again for the first time in two years.

The tour — set to make stops in 22 cities from October to November and titled “There is no ‘I’ in team but there is a ‘Cho’ in psyCHO” — is a culmination of the anger felt by her and society on issues like police brutality, gay marriage and the Bill Cosby scandal.

“It’s also about loss. I miss Robin Williams, I miss Joan Rivers. I’ve created these things around my own grief. It’s about enduring suffering and trying to be comedic about it, which I think is kind of a magic,” Cho said.

The Margaret Cho story is one you’ve likely heard: She grew up in San Francisco as the daughter of uncommonly liberal Korean immigrants, owners of a book store. As the rare female Korean American comedian, she saw a quick rise, first on the standup circuit (including opening gigs for Jerry Seinfeld, a feat for any act) and then memorably as the “All American Girl,” the 1994 television show that catapulted her to household-name status.

“I was just a kid when I was doing ‘All American Girl,’” she said. “I didn’t understand comedy as an art form quite as well as I do now. Before, I was very much concerned with introducing myself to a wide audience because people didn’t ever see an Asian American comedian before that. It was trying to ease them into what that looked like, who that is.”

So who was the Asian American comedian presented by Cho? She was OK with her cultural baggage, for one, those that ranged from an oft-impersonated Korean immigrant mother to her own identity as an Asian woman out to disprove a stereotype. She was intentionally too strong, too crass, in efforts to prevent people from underestimating her as a performer.

“Now, I don’t have to do that as much. I can just really be myself, which is a really great feeling,” Cho said.

Still, there’s no denying that Cho has become a visible face, a representative, for a number of communities — besides the obvious Asian Americans — throughout the years. She’s been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights, the importance of rape victims speaking out to combat sexual violence, and homelessness.

How do those labels influence her comedy?

“I do, really, what I want to do. I get to. I think activism is an important part of my work, but it certainly isn’t everything. There’s a lot more to it,” she said. “I’ve dedicated my entire life to [comedy] and I’ve just always wanted to be better. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. I never have.”

Margaret Cho (Mary Taylor/Ken Phillips Group)

Margaret Cho (Mary Taylor/Ken Phillips Group)

She credits a lot of her pressure-averse attitude to her parents, whom she said never pushed her to excel in academics or in finding a career in a traditionally desired job.

The recent, fast rise of Korean pop culture — and its performers — through the Internet and word-of-mouth, even to stateside corners, has her wishing she’d had something like it growing up as a second-generation kid.

“I would’ve felt, maybe, more like something like my life was possible,” she said, “even if that’s from Korea.”

Cho has seen the booming country’s shows and heard the K-pop, from Sistar, Girls’ Generation and Super Junior to the “older things” like Rain and Se7en.

“I’d love to [go to Korea]. I think it would be so exciting to go on ‘Running Man’ and all those talk shows on Korean television,” she said. “I would love to do movies over there, any kind of performance.”

For that to happen, Cho wants to develop her mastery of the language first, to get to a point where she can think on her feet and deliver comedy the way she would as an American artist. Right now, she’s focused on her current projects, on which she cannot yet divulge but for which she said she’s taken on behind-the-scenes roles.

And, of course, there’s the tour.

“It’s all new jokes, a new take on everything,” she said. “I’m so glad. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. I love being able to create these new shows and to go back out. I love doing comedy.”

The psyCHO tour kicks off Oct. 1 at Andiamo Warren in Warren, Michigan. For the full schedule, check out margaretcho.com. Don’t forget to follow the comedian on her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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