Margaret Cho on Fresh Off The Bloat: "It's great when it gets dark — that to me is really powerful"
If there's one thing we'll remember the most from Margaret Cho's first appearance in Singapore in 2016, it's her ability to make us laugh at what's uncomfortable. On The Psycho Tour's pit stop here, the San Francisco native sang about killing her rapist and regaled us with stories of her fat p*ssy, both gems in her show that touched on issues you'd expect to walk on eggshells around. In the 48-year-old's new show, Fresh Off The Bloat, Cho will stamp on those eggshells.
The Korean-American's sardonic take on life doesn't come from a place that breeds rainbows and butterflies. The actor (30 Rock, Drop Dead Diva), writer and singer-songwriter shared that Fresh Off The Bloat comes after her year in rehab. A playful jab on the ABC show (which happens to be the first American television sitcom starring an Asian-American family since Cho's All American Girl in 1994), the title also makes fun Cho's bloating — something her "savage" Korean mother had pointed out.
Presented by LA Comedy Live, Cho's new show will touch on drugs, alcohol, politics and even matters such as taking her own life. We speak to a sober Cho over the phone from her place in Los Angeles.
You were in Singapore two years ago on your first trip to Asia. I have to ask: What was the best thing you ate when you were here?
Chicken rice, it's so good! I actually learnt how to make it because I'm so into it and it's quite a process. But it's so worth it and I'm looking forward to eating it when I get back. Chicken rice is amazing and it's not something you can get in a restaurant here.
You've said that Koreans are the most savage of all the Asians. Just how savage can you guys be?
I mean, look at the Olympics, the biggest enemies in the world — North Korea and South Korea — reunited so that they can try to beat the rest of the world. It's a big statement. I think Koreans are savage. There's a lot about it in my show. I love it, I am one and I'm proud of that, it's cool.
You've been quite vocal with your personal issues and will talk about your time in rehab — being fresh off drugs and drinking. What's the main thing that you want audiences in Singapore to take away from your show?
You could be at the top of your profession and still feel like you want to die — that's a horrible place to be. It's really about redemption. It's really special to be able to do that and to talk really freely about that kind of stuff. It's really important I'm really grateful that I'm able to continue to work and live, and I'm so proud that I'm still able to do it. I think it's fun to talk about. It's great when it gets dark — that to me is really powerful.
Have you always been comfortable talking about such things? Was it something you've developed over time?
I think I developed it, I don't think it's that easy. I think that there's great material that may come out of it, but it's not the easiest thing.
Being an Asian American comedian yourself, could you recommend any other Asian Americans in comedy who you think is interesting to watch?
There really are so few of us and we keep each other going. Ali Wong. She's amazing. She's a good friend and somebody that I get a lot of inspiration from. I love Bobby Lee, Aparna Nancherla and Hari Kondabolu. All those comedians are very inspiring.
Speaking of Hari Kondabolu, he was recently talking to Trevor Noah about the misrepresentation of Indians in The Simpsons' Apu. There's a lot of discussion about the line between comedy and racism. How do you separate what's culturally insensitive and what's funny?
I think it really depends on the perspective in telling the joke. Where does this come from? That's usually where I always look to: Perspective. That sort of gives me the sense of like, is this offensive? Is this alright? Is this good for me? Is this something that I can say?
What do you make of political correctness? Do you stand by it or are you not too fussed by it?
I think it depends. I do think that it does serve a purpose in a lot of ways, but I also think that you can have a sense of feeling stifled by it too. It silences you. It can also be difficult.
We want more stories and narratives that are not one-sided or prejudiced — what do you think needs to be done? Who's responsible for effecting change?
Everything needs to change. I think that there needs to be from the stories, writers and producers and people producing content that is everywhere.
What else are you working on this year?
I'm writing a play about my mum — it's a huge show that I'm putting together. It's in the very early stages right now, but basically it's a play about her life. She never understands anything until it's done and then she's like "Oh I can see now". She's ridiculous. It's really amazing how prolific she actually is.
Margaret Cho's Fresh off the Bloat Tour takes place on 15 May at Kallang Theatre. Book tickets.