Margaret Cho interview

Edited for clarity. Audio here (MP3).

Pam Spaulding.:  We are meeting with Margaret Cho.  August 10, 2006.  Carolina Theater.  North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for Pam's House Blend.  

Margaret Cho:  I can, you'll hear it, I think.
P.S.: Yeah, I'm pretty sure I will.
M.C.: How are you?
P.S.:  I am fine.
M.C.: Do you live here?
P.S.:  Yes.  I live in Durham.
M.C.:  Oh, okay.
P.S.:  And, I was born in Durham…
M.C.:  It's much smaller than I thought, it was going to be, for some reason.  I'm sure I've been here before to the school or something, but it's been a long time.
P.S.:  Oh, that was one of the questions that I had is, you know, what is your experience in red-state America?  We consider ourselves to be in a sort-of a blue bubble here but….
M.C.:  Yeah, it's very liberal, you know, like I was just at the little, you know where that the Blue Corn Café is, that street [Ninth Street, in Old West Durham]….
P.S.:  Mm-hm, we just ate there!
M.C.:  Yeah.  It's a beautiful little street and then the all the stores and everything the bookstores it has a lot of liberal stuff which is unusual when you think is supposed to be a red state and everything, but it really doesn't seem like it.  And I think things have changed so much, and even today with all the stuff with like the crackdown on airport security, I think people are just sick of it.  You, know, it's not like before when people, oh we're glad to do this because of security, you'd rather be safe than sorry. It's like people don't care, they're mad.  (Pam laughs) (unintelligible) …you know, I think that's the rest of the country is like that too.  So even if you go to a place that's conservative, supposedly conservative, things are changing.
P.S.:  SO what did you figure, what have you experienced as being like really conservative or you felt that conservative energy?
M.C.:  Over the last few years…I've just seen it, it's not really feeling, so much its just because I travel in such a blue political bubble, a blue-blue collar bubble too, and the way that I go around and the people that I meet they're all kind-of of the same mind, so it's a different thing.  I have seen things like bumper stickers, like, I was in, like, New Mexico, like, a couple of years ago, seen bumper stickers that said "Viva Bush", which is like insane considering what he's trying to do with immigration and everything, well, this was like before that, was really, that was really, like sick to me…that that was out there.  That kind of  conservatism, that like how, immigrants want to be conservative because it makes them feel like they can fit in better.
P.S. Mm-hm.
M.C.:  I know that that's kind-of politically a lot of what people, like, in my family would have done, you know, was you become conservative immediately because it helps them assimilate to and feel more American.
P.S. Mm-hm.
M.C.:  That's kind-of fading away.  I meant I think that conservatives are getting, are a lot less able to get a foothold in this country I think that they're its changing pretty rapidly which is really good.  
P.S.: No, I mean that I think that everybody's watched those W-stickers sort of fade away.
M.C.:  Yeah, and people are just kind of like they're so angry that you know because he's really so poorly in ways that Americans will really care about, things like gas prices which are so bad.  And you know it's like it's almost as if people don't really care about the bloodshed in the Middle East.  But when it starts to affect their pocketbook, when it starts to affect them, in terms of, cash when they can see it that's when it's really bad.  That's when they turn against you really quickly and that's what's happened, which is what we were always saying was gonna happen.  But it's actually starting to really hit, so it's good.  
P.S.:  What did you think initially when you heard about the news today, the terrorist attack [in the U.K.]; what was your first gut reaction?  
M.C.:  Well, this is just because Bush is so incredibly unpopular and he can't seem to…he seems to go through these cycles, it'll go to-to immigration, then it'll go to gay marriage, and then it'll go to the war on terror.  So it kind of hits these things over and over again.  And then the war on terror now, he needed a big win somewhere, I think with all the stuff with Israel heating up, with the whole Middle East, really, kind of going out of control he really needed good hit somewhere by appearing to protect the country.  Like we nabbed this terrorist plot right before it was gonna happen, and it didn't happen, and you know, I'm just so jaded now, like I just don't believe it and I think that it's just really inconvenient.  I also am just personally upset, I want to go home, I mean, I have been on the road a long time and I get to go home.  I've been away for two weeks now, so I know that we have this huge, long thing, the way to get home tomorrow and II'm furious because I know also that it's just propaganda.  It's not a real threat.  It's just, oh, another way to keep Americans, ill at ease, so that he can manipulate us…and it's just a big pain.
P.S.:  Well, at this point it's toothpaste terrorism, I mean, we're having to get rid of all of our liquid….
M.C.:  I know!
P.S.:…in our traveling items just to, uh, please the master…
M.C.: It's…
P.S.:…and make us feel safe.
M.C.: It's like this arbitrary thing, like the terrorists want us to have really frizzy hair and they want us (all laughing), you know, dry skin, and I mean its really like I resent it, now I'll have to go through all my, all my luggage and go, okay, what is a gel? And' what is a lotion? What is a gel to lotion?  Like, what is, what is a crème compared to lotion?  Like, know, you know I'm really like wondering, hmm, can foundation go through? I don't know it's just ludicrous.
P.S.:  No, it's outrageous.  But this is the world we live in now.
M.C.: MM-hmm.
P.S.:  Isn't it?  It's just, it's nuts.
M.C.:  Yeah. Yeah.
P.S.:  Oh, wanted to ask you about your new project, the Sensuous Woman.
M.C.: Oh, yes.
P.S.: …and a lot of people are contributing to that.
M.C.:  It's a lot of fun.
[Knock on the dressing room door.]
M.C.: It's a lot of, um, great stuff and I really love it, it's amazing.
Guy:  Hi, I forgot to grab a couple of bottles of water for your stage.
M.C.:  Oh, good.
Guy:  Thank you!
M.C.:   It's a burlesque and belly-dance and it's a lot of different things, and it's comedy, it's some music and it's like a charity show.  It's so powerful for me when I was watching burlesque because I've had so many like weird body issues my whole life and, I've never had good body role models.  Like in looking at women's bodies I always felt like my body was somehow not of this planet or something that I never could identify my body like in a magazine or whatever. So burlesque was really-- and bellydance --  they were both really important in helping me see that women with real bodies actually existed out there and that they able to dance and express ourselves and be sexual. But that's not really the point of being, it's not really exactly being sexual.  It's more [about] just seeing bodies. I think, it's so important, and so needed.

…We were in New York and now we are going to San Francisco, we'll probably go on a more extensive tour next year.  I do a lot of stuff in the show, I do a gender-bending kind of thing where I am like a man; I play, like a Samuri. It's kind of given me a lot energy to do something different, and, so I'm really thrilled about it.   
P.S.:  Oh, well, looks like a really fun thing; wish it were coming over this way though.
M.C.:  It will eventually!
P.S.:  Yeah, well, that'll be great.
P.S.:  I also have a whole bunch of questions from my readers, I actually asked them to submit questions.
P.S.: But one of the questions is what blogs do you read, I mean, you have your own blog, but which ones are you drawn to on a regular basis when you have time to do that?
M.C.:  Oh, gosh, I'm like kind of all over the place.  Like, I don't even know the names of blogs, but if I'm looking for some information on something I'll just like search for things, then I'll blog.
[PA system: Attention backstage we are fifteen minutes to show, fifteen minutes].
P.S.:  You'd better eat up.
M.C.:  I don't even know what they are
P.S.:  What is your opinion of independent citizen journalism?
M.C.:  Oh, I think it's great.  I think that it really influences politics; it's where people are getting information that isn't so tainted by what we think the government wants us to think, you know what you get, like, really people who actually think about politics, who really care about the world, who really are interested in changing things and that's really important.  And of course you have the right-wing bloggers, but I think that maybe because I pay so much more attention to left wing bloggers that they seem to be more legitimate,  the right-wingers just seem crazy.
P.S.:  You would be right.
M.C.:  Whatever, they're not like all the same but like, you know, like Atrios.  They seem really cool.  So I don't know!
P.S.:   I have a reader whose handle is Miss Wild Thing, and she would really like to know what would you want to say to HRC after they dis-invited you [to the DNC convention] in 2004 and she says specifically "No edits for the straight audience; Let's hear it."
M.C.:  I think that it was very typical of what Democrats really have a problem doing --  being very  outspoken about what they believe in and being very cavalier, and having kind of a, machismo  through their actions.  You, know, they don't seem to want to offend anybody; they're ruled by their own fear of being impolite and  it's something, Republicans would never think to do.  They would never think to pull their punches.  Like, Ann Coulter doesn't even care if she's being factual.  She footnotes bullshit.  She totally lies, distorts her facts.  We would never come out and say things like that about the other side just because it would be, not, well, that's an unfounded rumor, it's just a rumor its not, you know, I don't have my facts straight.  There's just this weird reasoning behind the Democratic party to begin with, [about being] ethical and like polite, and we're playing by the rules and that's how we lose elections, and that's how we don't gain support of the American public.  They want to see strength, unabashed power, and that is more important than truly being right.  You know, it's more about having the best sound bite and having the best image and the best  flair.  It's about being a rock star and I think Democrats just have a hard time doing that and so that was typical of the HRC when  they wouldn't let me go to this event because it was like they didn't want to offend anybody…
P.S.:  Yeah, I mean we just look weak.  
M.C.:  Yeah
P.S.:  Weak and I think like John Kerry's response to the swift boaters set a perfect example of that.
M.C.:  Yeah.
P.S.:  He took the high road. Well, look what that got him.
M.C.:  You have to, you can't take the high road, you, it's like are you, maybe you would want to, maybe that's a personal choice that he would make  but the political choice should not be taking the high road because there was no way to play that game .   
P.S.:  That's not how you rule.
K.K.:  In the name of closing,  or not closing doors, you're closing doors on people, you know, you're slamming doors in people's faces.  
M.C.:  It doesn't make any sense, but its just like, uh, maybe, it's too much education, er something, or too much politeness, or, uh, i-i-it's not doing us any good.
P.S. :  None at all.  Okay, moving on to Josh Waterman, Minnesota.  And his partner says "Do you have another concert DVD coming out?  My partner and I love her DVD's."
M.C.:  I will eventually.  Um, right now I've been working on writing a screenshow and I'm like halfway through, it's like half new and half material that I've done in other shows so…
(Loud beep sound.)
M.C.:  I'm going to keep moving it through, it takes a little while.
(Loud beep again.)
Yeah.  Ooo weird sound.  
K.K.:  It is really strange.
P.S.:  It's not like, eh…okay.  Oh, and I'm not sure where this question comes from but "Do you hate Kathy Griffin?"
M.C.:  I love Kathy Griffin.
P.S.:  I wonder why this person asked this.  And another thing, what are you doing with other female comedians to network and gain more exposure for you all overall?
M.C.:  Well, I'm planning to  work with other female comedians on my Sensuous Woman show.
P.S.:  Hm-hmm.
M.C.:  I think  that  it's really important to mentor comedians. I have a couple of women that I work with on a regular basis and help them getting stage time and helping them kind-of build confidence, and, I think that's really important because our culture, especially in Los Angeles and Hollywood, we don't have a good mentoring system where, older actresses are helping younger actresses.  It's not really something that happens, and so to me, it's something that's very important, to reach out to younger women and to help them out.  I think that  Sensuous Woman will help me connect with women more.
P.S.:   When you are thinking and discussing  acting, how is acting different from performing in terms of your psyching yourself up or is the stop and start of acting irritating?   
M.C.:  It's different.  It's really different.  There's no way to compare it.  To me live performance is, like, playing around, you know, it's a lot of fun.  And with acting, it's serious work, it's hard work, and it takes a very long time and you are working with a lot of different factors, you're not just dealing with your own performance…I haven't really figure out the whole, like, acting thing yet and I never really consider myself an actor anyway,  but hopefully I'll get more in the hang of that, figure out what that is about.
P.S.:  Do you want to?  Do you really have the desire to?
M.C.: Yeah, maybe, I mean I have the desire to do lots of different things, so it's certainly an interesting prospect if there is something that comes up that I think is cool.
P.S.:  How is your mom?
M.C.:  Oh, she's doing good.
P.S.:  Well what was the most productive, meeting or interaction you've had with a politician?  
M.C.:  Oh, with a politician?  I can't say; I'm not really sure.  
P.S.:  Are there any you would like to meet?  Ones that you think are up and coming, that you would really want to throw your support behind, coming up in the…
M.C.:  I don't know that.
P.S.:  2008 election?
M.C.:  I have no idea, you know, I have no idea whose gonna be good.  I mean I-I don't know, who do you think?
P.S.:  Well, I know who I don't want.  I don't want Hillary Clinton.
M.C.:  Mm-hmm.
P.S.:  Um, I have serious problems with her, a-a-again in the same sense of the DLC, kind of not committing to anything
M.C.:  Yeah, because…
P.S.:  Put your finger, with the wind…
M.C.:  It's like a weird democratic/liberal, like "I don't want to really commit to being really outspoken", and it's how do you, how can you really stand for anything then?
P.S.:  But what do we do as progressives if her war chest is so large that she could steamroll everybody else?     What are we left with?
M.C.:    I don't know.  That's the thing; it's the big question.
 P.S.:  It seems like they should be starting right away if they are going to go down…
M.C.:  I know.
P.S.:  It's a long way away.  I'm sure John Edwards'll run again.  I'm sure that, oh who else is going to throw their hat in - please, oh, not John Kerry again (laughs).
M.C.:  Who knows.
P.S.:  But, you know, hey, anyone could win if Bill Frist decides to run, Mitt Romney decides to run on the other side.  
M.C.:  Yeah.
P.S.:  Give us like, uh, something fun to run against or they'll give you all new material to use for the rest of the next two years, if we make it that far.
M.C. Yeah
P.S.:  Is there anything that really scares you about your career, like, things that you really fear in terms of, um, things you haven't accomplished yet that you want to, that are really challenging?
M.C.:  Not - not really.  But I fear that the world that I live in is too racist and too sexist and too homophobic to actually accommodate that… I look at the comedians in my generation and I think "I don't know what it is, but it's like there isn't like a strong female voice, a strong woman of color's voice.  It's very, very, male, a very monochromatic male kind-of experience.  And then the one voice of color that we do have, seems to be not that clear;  it's just so weird.  Like, the whole Dave Chappelle thing.  I thought well he's the voice of a generation.  And then suddenly he's gone.   So, it's very strange; I don't know what the defining voice is going to be 'cause it's certainly not  apparent. I don't feel like Adam Sandler speaks for me or that  Ben Stiller speaks for me.  So I don't know who is there you have these all these funny males, but then you don't have the female counterpart.  
P.S.:  So where does Ellen fit in now?  
M.C.:     Ellen is very interesting, 'cause Ellen is like…Ellen is great, I mean I think Ellen is a great and a brave and an important person.  But she's not political.  At all. And she doesn't have to be.  But she should be…but she shouldn't be, I mean she shouldn't be 'cause she's not, that's not her personality.  It's not natural to her.  I think she is uncomfortable in that position, but then who else could there be.  But, she's so popular because she is true to herself, and if she's not being political.  
P.S.:  Yeah, what if she took that chance and just dove off one day and tried?  Would it mean the end of her career as she knows it because that's not who she is?  
M.C.:  Yeah, it's not, it's not what people like about her, what makes people laugh when she is talking and her, um, political insight.  It's really just because she's very natural  and very funny, and kind of like this very safe personality. And, in a sense that's even more political because it shows that somebody can be out and be on top and totally popular and totally a non-threatening presence and that-that can be as mainstream as anybody who's like is considered like mainstream.
P.S.:  Mm-hmm
M.C.:  You know, so maybe it's even more revolutionary, that she's not political.  But, it's a hard thing when you, you know, you trying to like figure out what would help along things
P.S.:  No, it's hard to say because she is non-threatening, yet she is still threatening to such a large portion of the population for just e-
P.S. and M.C.:  existing.  
P.S.  Being on, you know, TV.
M.C.:   Yeah, so maybe that's the threat enough, but then I don't know, I don't know.
P.S.:  Maybe America just isn't a safe space for a very "out there" female voice.  
M.C.:  Yeah.
P.S.:  Or portions of America, I should say.  
M.C.:  They're starting. [Music is starting up for the opening act]
P.S.:  I want to thank you so much for your time!

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