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Margaret Cho on Her Mom, New Music, and Her New Show About Weed

Margaret Cho's comedy always shines when she covers two subjects in particular: gay issues and her Korean-immigrant mother.

Put them together and she slays. Cho perfectly captures her mom's naive, old-school attitude as it plays out against Cho, an openly bisexual woman who grew up in ultraliberal San Francisco. In one classic standup routine, she says complete with spot-on accent: "Dey drive to countryside because gay – dey like picnic, dey like eat outside. Dey eat some kind of potato salad!" In another, Cho imitates her mom leaving a voicemail, drawing out each sentence with a perfect pause in between: "Are you gay? Pick up telephone! If you don't pick up the phone, then you gay. Only gays screen calls!"

It's been awhile since Cho broke into the national consciousness; she opened for Jerry Seinfeld in the 1990s. But despite constant touring and dabbling in TV and film, she's still not that famous, she insists.

"I'm friends with people who are so famous that they can't do anything," she says via phone after returning from Asia and getting ready for a trip to New Jersey. "They can't go anywhere without, like, dark glasses and a hat — some kind of disguise or at least a little bit of a cover. I never have ever had to worry about that. I very rarely get recognized. It's not a big deal.

"I have friends who've been famous a long time — or are, like, Asian-famous, which is a totally different category. When people go out, they have to shut down the streets and stuff. I've never experienced anything like that."

"It's a show that's about the marijuana boom in California," says Cho.

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Cho says that she "decided very early that [comedy] was going to be my job. I was probably 8, and I realized I was going to be a comic. I've been doing it since I was 14, and I really love the job. It's something I still absolutely need to do and love to do."

She honed her craft in San Francisco clubs and on college campuses, hitting the big time in 1994, when ABC developed a sitcom, All-American Girl, for her. But it flopped, and she went through a period of alcohol and drug abuse.

She came through that, as detailed in her 2002 autobiography, I'm the One That I Want. After that, her career got far more interesting with a mix of funny and serious turns. Her 2002 show and film Notorious C.H.O. explored her bisexuality. In her 2005 book I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, she opined on politics and human rights. She also revealed she had been sexually abused.

In recent years, she has lived in an art commune in San Francisco and done homeless outreach and other charitable work. But now, she is back in Los Angeles, developing a television show.

"It's a show that's about the marijuana boom in California," she explains. The show, called Psycho, will debut on Netflix later this year. She's also a cohost on Fashion Police on E! throughout the 2016 season.

"And then I have an album coming out in April," Cho says, "which is songs that I wrote with Garrison Star, who is an incredible singer/songwriter. So I have some videos coming out for that. I'll do a couple of songs in my live shows too."

Her band is called the Dog Children, and they debuted on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Sample song titles: "Lice," "Ron's Got a DUI," "Fat Pussy," and "(I Want to) Kill My Rapist."

Cho says inspiration is "always everywhere. It's just kind of constantly happening. And certainly now with the presidential race and everything, there's a lot there. Certainly, it's kind of not the best time, really, for anything except for comedy. The world is kind of in a desperate state, but comedy is the one thing we can count on."

She'll vote Democratic: "I am planning to vote for Bernie Sanders if he gets the nomination, but I don't have anything against Hillary [Clinton] either. I used to be a big Hillary supporter. We'll see what happens. I just want to make sure we don't have Trump for president, that's for sure."

And her mom? She's still trying to get her head around Cho's sexuality: "They're very accepting whether it's gay or straight, that's fine, but bisexuality is a very confusing status. For [my parents], they're pretty traditional, I guess, in their way of thinking about gay rights. They've been working for gay rights since the '70s, so my family is very gay-positive. But bisexuality is something, to them, that's new."

Margaret Cho
8 p.m. Thursday, March 31, through Saturday, April 2, at the Improv Comedy Club, 5700 Seminole Way, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $30. Visit ftl.improv.com or call 954-981-5653.


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David Minsky is U.S. Navy veteran and Tulane graduate who has experience reporting on stories from California, South Florida, and the Deep South. He also won some journalism awards. Email or tweet David with story tips and ideas.
Contact: David Minsky