Born to Korean parents who ran a bookstore in San Francisco, California, Margaret Cho has grown up to become a Notorious, Beautiful, Cho Dependent Assassin. She is rightly championed as a comic and a person who chooses to live her life openly, not trying to play down or obscure any of the elements of her ethnicity, sexuality, or political beliefs. She has been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards and honored by the ACLU, NOW, and GLAAD for her work in comedy, music, and television, and currently stars in Lifetime’s comedy/drama series Drop Dead Diva (which began airing its third season in June 2011). Margaret sat down with Buzzine’s Nicole Rayburn at The Vanguard in Hollywood, California shortly before appearing on The Green Room with Paul Provenza alongside Richard Lewis, Jeffrey Ross, and Kumail Nanjiani…
Nicole Rayburn: Do you already know all the people that you will be appearing alongside on this episode of The Green Room?
Margaret Cho: I know Richard (Lewis)…I’ve know Paul a long time….
NR: So this isn’t necessarily the simple reunion that it is for some of the guests… For you, this is almost like a conversation to get to know the other comics…
MC: Yes, I guess so… I’ve been around for a long time, and I know quite a few comedians, but it’s also grown and it’s spread out a lot, so I haven’t met everyone.
NR: What do you think being sat down with a whole bunch of comedians will be like here tonight?
MC: I don’t know, because I’ve never really been that much of a riffer, and in the world of comics, I’m kind of like everybody’s mom. I just let them be funny, and let them do their thing. So to me, that’s what comedians do – it’s an intense kind of riffing thing, which is great, but I’ve never been one to do that, so I’m looking forward to seeing what this is like. I know that it’s a little different.
NR: We’ve been told by many other comics here today about their experiences talking to their parents about wanting to do stand-up, their parents telling you to get a “real job” and stuff like that. Your parents have been a part of your show since the start, so did that make it doubly hard to talk to them about comedy? Were they supportive from the start?
MC: No, they were not, but my parents are really traditional Korean and very conservative and really freaked out by the thought of me going into this profession, and they just didn’t want me to do it. I also went into it very young – I started when I was 14, so it was something they were very worried about and very concerned about. It wasn’t until I was well into a television career when they felt that this was a positive thing and a real job. They didn’t see it as that at all, so it was a hard thing for them to accept.
NR: As an audience member, I didn’t really think about it, but it seems that and unless they actually did it and kind of paved the way, parents never see comedy as a real job?
MC: Even if your dad does it, they’re not necessarily going to want you to be in it. It’s a hard life.
NR: But you got into comedy when you were only 14, so what made you want to go down that hard road so young?
MC: I just wanted to grow up. I had a really tough childhood, and I just didn’t have a lot of fun as a kid, and I wanted to just be an adult as quickly as I could. And stand-up comedy seemed to be a way to accelerate that. I was really unhappy, and I just wanted to get out of school and get out of being a kid, which is what I did. So that was how I started.
NR: That’s really surprising because I don’t know many people that would say being in the comedy ring is being an adult. They’re like, “I go to work in my casual clothes and I drink a beer…” I’m not ripping on the lifestyle, but you hear comics talk about it and say, “I don’t go to an office…” Grown-up is not the phrase that first springs to mind…
MC: I know, but in a sense, for me, it was a way to autonomy. It was a way to be around other kids; it was a way to be around older people, and it was just the right thing for me.
NR: Out of all the Green Room shows that Paul has going over these three days, there are not nearly as many women as men sitting on the panel. That is reflective of the comedy business as a whole - Why do you think fewer women are up there – is it a harder road for a woman?
MC: It’s a really tough business for women. We’re not really supported from the beginning. I think there is not a lot of women in comedy; there are not a lot of female comics, and so we don’t have the same internal support system that the men have, which is unfortunate. So it’s hard. I think it is a combination of things. For me, I think the biggest thing is not having a large community of women to support you, and then beyond that, it is what people expect from women, and then the stereotype that women are not funny, or this idea that women can’t be good comedians. It’s a very tough thing. But the women that are really good are great, but it’s a tough business for women, I think.
The second season of ‘The Green Room with Paul Provenza’ premieres new episodes on Showtime every Thursday night at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT beginning July 14, 2011.