Margaret Cho on Race, Politics, Feminism, and Why Trump is a DICKtator
Photography: Dusti Cunningham
By Justin Grant Swanson
Famed for her boldness and taboo-breaking humor, Margaret Cho not only makes people laugh until they can’t breathe, but simultaneously liberates her audience by finding the light and humor in often very personal and serious experiences of her own. Much of that same pathos is felt throughout her work in film, television, books, music, and theatre. From her song (I Want To) Kill My Rapist, to her role on E!’s Fashion Police, to her widely recognized charitable work, Cho continues to give back to the community by promoting tolerance and social awareness.
Trim got to talking with the lovely lady herself about the crazy times we live in, and what we can expect from her 5 upcoming shows at the Stress Factory.
Trim Magazine: So, in your song and music video “DICKtator” you rap “If you give a fuck, don’t vote Donald Trump.” Trump’s campaign and his followers are most noted in the media for the level of hatred and violence that is being espoused at rallies and in his speeches. Is this what inspired you to make the song? What do you think about Trump’s current success with a sizeable chunk of voters?
Margaret Cho: It's terrifying. I wanted the song to alert people to the danger - but it's all happening now. I don't want any more bloodshed at these 'rallies'. They've just become a war zone. People are angry but I'm not sure what the scapegoating of people of color and immigrants will help solve. It's all very scary.
Trim Magazine: What issues do you want to see addressed in the 2016 presidential election?
Margaret Cho: Racism. This is the biggest issue we face. Also reproductive rights. It's like we are going backwards.
Trim Magazine: Who will you be voting for in the upcoming election?
Margaret Cho: Bernie. If Hillary gets the nomination I'll vote for her. Anyone but Trump or the GOP candidates.
Trim Magazine: From Michigan's heinous treatment of Flint residents, to Beyonce’s Superbowl Performance (where she embraced being black) fueling the discussion of police brutality and racial profiling; race seems like it’s going to continue being a big topic of discussion in 2016. You joked in an interview with Stephen Colbert “what’s really annoying is that nobody really cared about race until white people got involved, and now all we do is talk about race… white fragility is so annoying.” What do you think about the broader discussion happening right now in regards to race?
Margaret Cho: It's a constant conversation- we are learning how to tackle racism and invisibility every day. It's about learning and growing. We haven't been here yet - this place of talking about it. I'm thrilled at the possibility of true equality.
Trim Magazine: A lot of people are upset with the whitewashing that happened at this year’s Oscars, and the broader issue of whitewashing which continues to happen in film and television. What can people do to bring about positive change?
Margaret Cho: We need to make our own shows, be vocal on social media, come into our own.
Trim Magazine: At the Oscars, Chris Rock made many jokes about race (as was necessary), but one joke about the stereotype of Asians being good at math (which included Asian children dressed as accountants with Jewish surnames) has come under fire from the media for going too far. Was Chris Rock’s joke “funny”? What do you think about the increasing scrutiny for political correctness that celebrities and artists are coming under today? How do you approach this cultural shift as a comedian?
Margaret Cho: I didn't see it because I was boycotting as much as I could. I covered the show for Fashion Police and only saw the opening monologue and the red carpet. It seems as if it was conflicting - as there was a very strong push for diversity yet then a cheap Asian joke, but I was actually trying to remain true to my own boycott so I don't really know!
Trim Magazine: While political correctness may seem like a new thing, it has actually been the case that female comedians have long been fighting notions of what’s appropriate for them to joke about for years. In the beginning of your career, you addressed sexuality, gender, race, much in the same you address it now. However, it seems in a relatively short time that what was once considered “alternative” comedy is now becoming mainstream. How has the relationship between being a woman and a comedian changed since you first began your career, and do you see this as a reflection of the greater movement in identity politics that is happening today?
Margaret Cho: Yes - and intersectional feminism is what's best for me now. It's what I'm trying for always.
Trim Magazine: The issue of sexual abuse was also addressed at the Oscars, in particular by Joe Biden, Lady Gaga, and 3o survivors of sexual abuse. In addition, Kesha’s ongoing legal battle has sparked a social media movement #FreeKesha. Meanwhile you continue to address your own sexual abuse experiences, most recently with your song and music video “(I Want To) Kill My Rapist,” which will be featured on your album “American Myth,” coming out April 29th. As a survivor yourself, how did sexual abuse affect you? What message do you want people to ultimately take away from the song and video “(I Want To) Kill My Rapist?” How do you see the issue of sexual abuse being addressed in the media and our culture today, and what do you think needs to change?
Margaret Cho: Just the discussion of it without judgement and shame is best. The way my abuse affected me was that it kept me silent and unable to stop it continuing in my life. I needed to confront it head on and now that I have, healing could begin.
Trim Magazine: You are now a special co-host on E!’s Fashion Police for the 2016 season. And like usual, your commentary is hilarious! How has your time been so far on the show? What did you think when Kathy Griffin left Fashion Police because she “did not want to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance towards difference”? (Sparked by Giuliana Rancic’s commentary on Zendaya’s hair). How do you address this issue when making your own jokes on the show, and in general?
Margaret Cho: I love the show. I just make jokes I think are funny. They don't hurt anyone nor do they contribute to anything but making me and others laugh. It's about finding the funny instead of being mean. I'm fat, I'm old, I'm a woman of color, I'm a progressive, I'm queer - these are my identities - so it's fun to have critique coming from the ultimate outsider. I have a blast.
Trim Magazine: It seems that 2016 is already looking to be a year addressing many issues in the media and in society; race, gender, sexual abuse, gay rights. In part, it seems that audiences are becoming more socially aware, and the internet is providing a platform for a broader range of voices to be heard. What do you think about the increasing importance of the internet and social media in life today, and how do you see it shaping the future for comedians and artists in general?
Margaret Cho: We are everything.
Trim Magazine: After Robin Williams’ death in 2014, you started the #BeRobin campaign in which you helped raise money, food, and awareness for the homeless in San Francisco. And now a documentary on the event will be coming out soon. What was that experience like? How can others help out?
Margaret Cho: Direct connection with those in need is the best charitable action. This was fulfilling and helped me get over my friend's tragic death.
Trim Magazine: You’ve said that Joan Rivers and Robin Williams were big inspirations for you in your comedy. Are there any other comedians or artists that continue to inspire your work?
Margaret Cho: Bill Hicks, Ken Jeong, Bjork, John Woo, Yayoi Kusama, Park Yong Woo.
Trim Magazine: You recently appeared on an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, and smoked a joint along with Bill Maher and other people at the table. Firstly, was the weed good? Secondly, what do you think about the criminalization of marijuana in this country, and the many people that get arrested because of it?
Margaret Cho: Yes it was very good weed! The incarceration of people who use and sell marijuana is a racist crime unto itself.
Trim Magazine: Speaking of weed, you've partnered with Amazon to star in a new dramedy series called "Highland" that you've also created. What inspired you to create the series, and what can we look forward to seeing in the show?
Margaret Cho: It's about a Korean American family caught up in the current pot boom in California. It's a new kind of Asian family - far from the model minority as you could get. It's going to be a comedy drama and I'm really excited about it!
Trim Magazine: What new up-and-coming comedians should we be on the lookout for?
Margaret Cho: Jenny Yang, Atsuko Okatsuka, Selene Luna.
Trim Magazine: What jokes can we look forward to hearing at your upcoming shows at the Stress Factory?
Margaret Cho: Lots of current events, up to the minute coverage - we are living in crazy times!