When we get Margaret Cho on the phone and ask if she feels pressure to be funny even when she's not on stage, she says, "No. The people that I hang out with are mostly artists; they don't have expectations." Sometimes, however, "People are surprised that I'm not a cutup."
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Today, she is decidedly uncutup. About her new show, Assassin, she says shortly, "It's about everything that's happening in the news. Current events, the pope, Terri Schiavo, gay marriage. It's about a lot of things." About the movie that she wrote and starred in, Bam Bam and Celeste, which is set for release in the fall, she says only, "It's a film about two kids who leave their hometown to be on a reality show. It's about the power of TV and this culture that thrives on the idea that we're all somehow flawed and need to get made over." Asked whether she has any interest in returning to the boob tube herself (she had a sitcom called All-American Girl but hated the watered-down version that aired after ABC's "image consultant" hacked away at it), she says, "Nothing's appealing."
Usually, Miz Cho is not so reserved. This is the same woman who, in talking about her reaction to the September 11 attacks during her Notorious C.H.O. tour, said that she went to Ground Zero "and I was there day after day... giving blowjobs to rescue workers." This is the woman who, in talking about the strange and unfulfilling quest to find her own G-spot, said in puzzlement, "I don't have some kind of cavernous pussy that I've gotta spelunk in!" And in imagining what it would be like if straight men got periods, she inflected a deep redneck accent and whined, "Duuuude, you got a tampon in your truck?"
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But if you know anything about her, you know that, in a nanosecond, Cho can downshift from a hardcore left-leaning rant to a wickedly funny story. She's a big proponent of gay marriage and even has a website pressing for it (loveisloveislove.com), but she also does a very un-PC impersonation of her Korean-born mom: "Gays... They like picnic! They like eat outside, eat some kind of potato salad." Her liberal views come from growing up in San Francisco; the self-proclaimed news junkie never went to college -- in fact, "I didn't graduate from high school," she says. "I have no formal education. It's terrible!"
Cho is funny when she wants to be, serious when she wants to be, and confident all the time. She's not trying to impress anyone, and that, in turn, has impressed a lot of people. Her massive following is a notoriously lovely collection of gay boys, bull dykes, and regular schmoes. On-stage, she's made fun of Trekkies and S&M junkies but says, "Those same people could be in my audience. There's nothing wrong with diving into a dorky subculture." And meeting with her fans, she says, has "never been anything less than extraordinary."