A GoPride Interview

Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho interview with ChicagoPride.com

Sun. June 4, 2006  by PJ Gray

Margaret Cho
Bam Bam, Bellies and Bigotry with Margaret Cho

What hasn't been said about actress/comedienne/activist Margaret Cho that she hasn't already said about herself? Not much. Yet even to her ardent fans, she’s still full of surprises. After spending practically her entire adulthood in front of an audience speaking her mind, Cho continues to grow as an artist with a new film and a new book hitting the shelves... and, of course, there's the dance. To add to her fun (and ours), she will perform at the opening ceremony of this year's Gay Games in Chicago with an additional show at the historic Chicago Theater. Let's hope she will always have something to say—about everything.

PJ: You are performing at the opening ceremony of the Gay Games in July. What do the Games represent to you?

MC: It's really exciting and I think it's an opportunity to represent the team you're actually on—meaning playing for the "real" team.

PJ: If you chose to participate, what event would you wish to compete?

MC: Synchronized swimming. [laughs] I can't really do it, but it's something I would like to do. I think it's a great cross between a sport and dance, and that's what I find appealing.

PJ: To say that you are politically outspoken is an understatement. Was there a particular issue or incident early in your career that first led you to feeling comfortable enough to speak politically?

MC: I don't know if it was so much a "career thing", but I do remember when I was very young—and it was a very big deal—was when Harvey Milk was assassinated. It caused such a huge surge of grief and anger through the community. I witnessed that and consider it part of my own political awakening. At that point in time, it was a lightening rod period when it was very important to become political and many people dedicated their lives to politics. It was probably what led most to my own political development.

PJ: Free speech and equal rights are clearly issues that you are passionate about. So often the most powerful censorship is subversive. Can you think of an example of censorship that the public should be addressing but won't?

MC: When it comes to the queer community, the censorship that exists is not so much outright censorship but more of invisibility and a kind of non-inclusion. That in itself is the worst kind of censorship because there we don't even allow the argument to exist—and then it becomes such a hard thing to identify and sense and bring forth the notion of invisibility. It is a very difficult one to maneuver because it's identifiable everywhere and nowhere because it's invisible.

PJ: Do you think the mainstreaming of our culture has had an affect on that?

MC: Well, it's getting a little better because of the mainstreaming of the culture, but then again, people get left behind like lesbians who often get left behind there. Queer people of color get left behind there. So, it's a constant that needs to be dealt with... What's great about sports is that the advantages normally afforded to people who are not of a racial minority don’t exist as much because here you're talking about sheer affectability. And so, people are judged on a different scale and it makes it a little easier and lightens that idea of invisibility because, in a sense, we can't be judged by the color of our skin or gender as immediately. It's almost as close to objective as we can get when we talk about athletics.

PJ: You once spoke to UCLA students about interracial dynamics. What was the most surprising viewpoint from the students during that experience?

MC: The most surprising thing was many of them did not think that there is a lot of racism within the queer community which is not true. I believe racism still exists and that "queer consciousness" allows them to not feel like they don't need to worry about racial consciousness because they're already dealing with prejudice against their own. It's a weird hierarchy in terms of prejudice and whose minority is most deserving. It's that kind of attitude that was sort of weird and surprising.

PJ: You wrote and starred in the new film Bam Bam and Celeste. What inspired you to make the film?

MC: Well, I need to make my own projects. If I want to work I have to do my own thing because there is nothing out there for me unless I generate it. So, I have to be willing to do that.

PJ: What was the best and worst part of making the film?

MC: The best part was just the construction of its world and plugging yourself into it. That's an amazing thing. With the writing, you just make up this whole place and identity and characters in your head, and watching them come to life is just outrageous. It's an incredible thing. The worst thing is finding the money. It's a very difficult undertaking to make a feature film like that and to share the responsibility of it. I hate to do that. Being a solo artist for so many years spoiled me, so I am not a good person to collaborate with on any level. I'm quite difficult in that way. So, that was not fun... and not fun for anyone around me.

PJ: The film's cast includes Alan Cumming and Kathy Najimy. What were they like to work with?

MC: They were awesome, so much fun…so funny and so wonderful through the whole process. The actors were a joy to work with and I had a great time with them.

PJ: You began your stand-up career at such a young age. Had you not been successful at it, can you imagine what you would be doing to earn a living?

MC: Oh, I have no idea. [laughs] Maybe something in the sex industry. [laughs]

PJ: Sure, of course. I can see that. I’ve been to your website and I’ve seen the pictures...

MC: Definitely.

PJ: Speaking of your website, I have to ask about the cross-stitch likeness of you sold on your site. How many celebs can claim to offer that to fans?

MC: I know. I was pretty blown away by that, too.

PJ: I would believe leathers goods before cross-stitch.

MC: I know, I know. It's so "crafty."

PJ: Are you a "crafty" person?

MC: I am a little bit. Being a dancer, I've made costumes for a few of the people I dance with, and that's something I enjoy immensely.

PJ: I don't think many of your fans know that you're a dancer. How long have you been dancing and what kind of dance do you prefer?

MC: Oh, for the last couple of years. I like belly dancing. That is my favorite.

PJ: Really?

MC: Yes, there was a festival near my house and I happened to be walking by and just fell in love with it. There are so many beautiful women... it brought me into a world of women that I hadn’t been in before because of comedy. The comedy world is so male-driven. So, this was a place where I can just finally hang out with women and I really need that.

PJ: Maybe belly dancing is what you'd be doing if you had not found comedy?

MC: [laughs] That's possible, yes.

For tickets to see Margaret Cho and more than 60 other entertainers and legends at the Gay Games Opening & Closing Ceremonies, visit http://tickets.gaygameschicago.org

Interviewed by PJ Gray