Margaret Cho is a game changer. She brought Asian Americans to the forefront of TV. She has had Grammy and Emmy nominations. She has won countless awards for her work in the LGBT community. She has been of voice for those who can’t on and off stage.
Cho was raised in San Francisco by her Korean family. She attended grammar school near Haight Street in the 1970s. This city was filled with hippies, burnouts, and drag queens. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay American politician. Her father wrote joke books, but Cho never credits him as an influence. She explains, “I guess we’re in the same line of work. But we don’t understand each other that way. I don’t understand why the things he says are funny and the same for him.” The comedian’s upbringing was a hard one. She was bullied in school which led to multiple transfers. She was sexually assaulted by family friends.
When she was 14, she began to write jokes. By 16, she began to perform. Cho worked hard. She won the chance to open for Jerry Seinfeld. This encouraged her to move to Los Angeles to pursue comedy even more seriously. In two years, she performed over 300 shows. She became a frequent guest on The Arsenio Hall Show, and Bob Hope put her on a prime time TV spot.
In 1994, Cho was given a TV show, All American Girl. The premise of the show came from her stand-up, a liberal Korean woman living with her conservative family. It was the first show to predominately feature an East Asian family. Unfortunately, it lasted for only one season due to low ratings which was likely a result from disagreeing show executives. The show remains a milestone for diversity. As for Cho, it was a painful, showbiz learning moment.
The comic returned to the stage. In 1999, she created the critically acclaimed, off Broadway show, I’m the One I Want. Two years later, she followed up with the Notorious CHO. The latter was made shortly after 9/11. In it, Cho talked about how she sees the world differently, “My instinct when I receive an envelope filled with white powder is to snort it.” This was a fresh national tragedy, and Cho found a way to get people to laugh. She kills on stage. Her act typically consists of impressions of her mother, stories of drag friends, and other many other impressions and adult situations.
Recently, Cho has taken to music. On her album, Cho Dependent, she worked with some of the best in the business such as Andrew Bird, Fiona Apple, Ben Lee, and Tegan & Sara. While she was working with some serious, heavy hitters, the music has remained comical. This album garnered her second Grammy nomination. This past year, she released another album, American Myth. On it, she has a requiem for the late Anna Nicole Smith, singing the tale of when she kissed the Playboy model. Cho really does not back down.
Margaret Cho’s vocal prowess in the fight for equality has really set comedy to a new height. She speaks for women, minorities, sex workers, and queers. She is speaking anyone who has ever felt different or threatened. Margaret Cho is a game changer.