I personally don’t always think about watching a stand-up’s comedy special with my morning coffee but that’s what I did when I was preparing to talk with Margaret Cho and watched “Margaret Cho: Psycho” with my morning cup of joe.
In fact, I told the comic/actress, who I’ve talked to many times over the years, how spit my coffee all over my desk during one particular part where Cho speaks of a gay man doing a particular sexual act to a woman.
"Thank you," Cho said sweetly into the phone after I tell her this. Unlike some comedians I've talked to in the past, where you can feel them trying hard to be 'on' during the interview, Cho is just herself and that's a pretty laid back, confident, nice woman. However, that doesn't mean she still isn't game to talk about every topic under the sun.
In the special, Cho addresses Asian stereotypes but how does she do it without taking the wrong approach that could come off as more offensive? "I think it depends on your intention and where you're coming from with the joke and why you're telling it and, also, what is the source, too? I understand the intention that's behind all comedy is pretty noble and just to make people laugh, so I think that that's good but that can also be used in a very negative way and in a very difficult way, so you have to figure that out."
Cho’s special also hits skirts some heartfelt moments when she talks about the deaths this past year of comedy legends Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, both of whom meant a great deal to the comedian. “I think you do, at times, sort of work through it in the way that it is like a therapy thing. You just talk about it but then you get to the point where it’s really just about sharing that wonderful experience of having these great icons in your life and really enjoying that process of sharing that with people,” she said. “I think the meaning of it shifts as I’ve been going along and doing the show. It’s more a celebration of their lives at this point than it was more like mourning and grieving as it was sort of before.”
Cho has said that Rivers was something of a mentor for her. Does she feel the same way about being a mentor to a younger generation of comics? "I'd like to do that," she replied, "but that's really the point of comedy in our art. Interpersonal relationships within comedy are quite definitely an art form that encourages mentor and apprenticeship relationships because that's what you want, that's ideal. I always have a lot of younger comics around and I always try to get them face time and get them onto my shows and make sure that people get to see them so that they're growing and evolving through time."
With her own infamous experience in the “All American Girl” sitcom on ABC in 1994 that was neither a critical or audience success, it makes sense that Cho is helping some of the current Asian-American series on television. In fact, ABC, the same network that aired her earlier series, now has a successful Asian-centric comedy in “Fresh Off The Boat” as well as the upcoming “Dr. Ken.”
In terms of “Fresh Off The Boat,” she explained, “Mostly I’ve been there to offer counsel to Eddie Huang who wrote ‘Fresh Off The Boat.’ It was great to be there because he knew that I understood the experience in creating and developing TV, especially with regard to Asian Americans, so he wanted my input.”
Cho added, “I’m now talking a little bit to Ken Jeong, who is about to go into his first season as “Dr. Ken” on ABC.” In fact, after this interview happened it was announced that Cho would appear on “Dr. Ken” as the sister of Jeong’s character during the show’s first season.
"I'm proud of ABC because now they have two Asian American family television shows and that's incredible," she said. "It's nice to see that shift in my kind of my lifetime and to enjoy that our there because of something that I did."
She also said times have definitely changed over the past twenty-plus years. "I think when we were premiering in 1994 there was such an amount of importance placed on this idea of authenticity or that we had to sort of hold up a standard to Asian American identity because our identity was so outlaw to begin with," she explained. "We were so different that we had to somehow make ourselves more, I don't know, middle of the road in order to be acceptable which is the wrong attitude. I think people just have to approach comedy as comedy and not so much factor in identify into the telling of it, and also the watching of it. I think it's a different world now."
“Margaret Cho: Psycho” airs tonight at 9pm on Showtime. To see Margaret’s just-released video “Fat P***y,” visit her website.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.