The last time Margaret Cho talked to Seattle Weekly, just a few months after 9/11, we feared she'd gone straight, so to speak. Rather than wrench our funny bones with her favorite cuss words, the famously foulmouthed, fag-friendly comedian remained intensely somber and described herself as "an educator," which worried us to no end.
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On the phone, she's still mostly serious business when it comes to talking about her comedy—you want to pull her aside and say, "Margaret, trust me—a good joke about a blow job will empower more people than any jibe about George Bush ever will." But, like a lot of us these days, she wants to find meaning in all this mess. And let's give credit where enormous credit is due: She's a pansexual Asian-American woman with a big mouth and fluctuating weight who draws huge crowds for standing up onstage in Dubya's gleaming Straight White America and saying some of the filthiest, funniest things since Richard Pryor retired.
As you'll see, she's lightened up some about that "educator" bit, and though the societal fallout from 9/11 and the rise of George Jr. fuels most of her one- woman show Assassin (Friday, June 24, at the Paramount; 206-682-1414), she seems dedicated to finding what's horribly amusing about the whole predicament. Wait till you hear how she regaled some Republican fund-raisers in San Diego. . . .
Seattle Weekly: The last time we talked, you said you wanted to be thought of as an educator. Is that still the word you'd use?
Margaret Cho: I think so. It's kind of a Miss America thing. Like, you know, I remember when that deaf woman was Miss America—it wasn't her, but the woman that was first runner-up, before she said anything she'd say [Cho affects a high, Southern accent], "Well, I'm an e-dyoo-kay-tur." And I thought that was such a funny thing that I want to always say that's what my profession is. "I'm an e-dyoo-kay-tur." In that accent.
Isn't being a comedian good enough?
No. Well, I guess it is. But I'm an e-dyoo-kay-tur.
Are you consciously trying to push the boundaries of what a comedian can say?
I think that a comedian should be able to say anything, and pushing the boundaries should be every comedian's job. Some people would rather not be political and would rather not talk about their opinions, but I think that's really kind of boring. I like artists who are very forthright about who they are. I think the whole job of comedians should be very confrontational.
Ellen DeGeneres doesn't really do political comedy, but you could argue that just by being an immensely likable, out lesbian who makes a lot of straight people laugh, she's very political.
Yeah, she is political; the existence of her is an incredibly political thing. Her charm, her affability—that's her politics, because the idea of who she is is so offensive to so many Americans. I mean, America is a homophobic country that is [so] incredibly prejudiced, we don't even acknowledge how bad it is. We live in such a very backward country in so many ways. So Ellen's existence is political. And she doesn't have to be political to be political.
How much of what you say and do onstage is a conscious decision to get across a message, and how much is just you being you?
I wouldn't know. I mean, it's all a conscious effort to get a message across, but it's also very unconscious. Ultimately, my message is this: We can all say whatever we like, regardless of who we are. Because the majority of the hate mail that I get is, "Who do you think you are, saying these things? Who do you think you are, supporting gays the way you do?" And the thing that is the most upsetting to people who do not agree with me is that I have the gall—being this sort of amalgamation of minorities that I am—to speak against the president. But I do, and I want to empower people to do the same if that's what they feel. So this show that I'm doing is an exercise in that. I say outrageous, very disrespectful things about our foreign policy, our homophobic nation, our president—everything.
Is there anything you won't talk about onstage?
Oh, I don't think so.
You never stop and think, "This is going to really throw people over the edge"?
No, no. I'm really not that sensitive, which is probably bad, but I just don't care. It has not cost me relationships or anything like that. So that's a good thing.
What about bookings?
Well, yeah, but that's more like their fault for booking me. You know, if they know who I am and they know what I do, they should know I wouldn't change what I do. I did this show, and they didn't know who they were booking, really, and it was for a Republican fund-raiser. And it was such a bad booking, because they were just so appalled.
Someone booked you for a Republican fund-raiser?
Yeah, but they just didn't know.
But you went knowing it was a Republican fund-raiser?!
No, I didn't know! It was like one of those things where nobody knew what they were doing. I didn't know what I was doing. They didn't know what they were doing. And it was just a disaster. They were just screaming at me to get off the stage, and then I wouldn't get off the stage because I was so angry, and then I kept going, and then they turned off the microphone, and I still wouldn't get off the stage. I was screaming more and gesturing, and doing it all in, like, sign language, and they were furious and mortified, and they wouldn't pay me—and I caused a huge ruckus about that, so they ended up having to pay me double. It was insane.
Where was this?
This was in San Diego.
So how long did you manage to stay onstage?
I was on for less than two minutes.
What jokes did you get out before you got kicked off?
I was talking about the Iraqi prison scandal, because that had just broken out that day, and I was saying that the conservatives didn't want photographs of the naked Iraqi prisoners leaked to the media because if the Americans got one look at that monster Iraqi cock, we would all convert to Islam. So, that was just too much.
Is Assassin more what people would think of as political comedy than your previous shows?
Yes, it's more topical. It's more about what is happening in the media—just talking about terrorists and talking about the religious right and talking about gay marriage and talking about the war. A lot of the stuff I was doing was very "personal as political," but now it's very focused on what is just political.
What do you say to people who just want you to tell dirty jokes and do the classic routine of your mother?
I enjoy talking about my mother and talking about things that I guess are somewhat apolitical. I mean, that's fun for me, that's something I like doing and I don't mind. But people don't really affect what I decide to talk about.