Margaret Cho

ASSMASTER OF CEREMONIES
Comedian Margaret Cho talks to Scott Dagostino about coming back to Toronto with some colourful friends

[originally published in fab issue 321 – May 30, 2007]

Frustrated by the gay rights debates in the US, singer Cyndi Lauper decided to gather together a touring lineup musical acts in support of queer organizations. The True Colors tour features Erasure, Debbie Harry, the Dresden Dolls, among others, and the choice for host of this queerapolooza could only be Margaret Cho, the iconic comedian who famously wondered, “Am I gay? Am I straight? Then I realized…I’m just slutty. Where’s my parade?” Cho talked to fab about her new gig.

Hi Margaret, I would’ve thought you’d want a rest before you go on this mammoth thing.

No, I’m in…I don’t know how to pronounce it…Uncasville, Connecticut. I’m just doing a few shows by myself first…then an RSVP cruise to London and then, when I get back, I’m going to L.A. to shoot The Cliks’ video. They’re a Toronto band. They’re great! Then, we’re all going to Las Vegas to start rehearsals for True Colors.

You’re doing a lot of videos these days. I saw you in the new clip from Liam “Kelly” Sullivan.

He’s my protégé. After he made the “Shoes” video, I saw it and was so amazed, I put it on my website and that kind of launched it. Everybody started linking it and then Entertainment Weekly picked up on it and it just became this huge phenomenon. I think he’s such a talented person and he’s become a good friend too. I’m really excited for him.

That’s like every gay boy’s dream—to be adopted by Margaret Cho.

I know! It’s funny, that’s cute.

So how did you get adopted by True Colors? You didn’t really know Cyndi Lauper first, right?

I’d never met her but she had been a fan of mine and I of course had been a fan of hers for a very long time. I love her, she is so great. She just asked me and I was like, ‘Of course, I would love to do this.’ It just seemed like a really great thing. I finally just met her a couple weeks ago and I think she is amazing. I’m really excited to go on this tour, because I love all the people performing and I get to see the show every night. It’s really cool.

But which band is your favourite?

I don’t know yet but right now it’s Cyndi and the Dresden Dolls, who I love. I’ve actually worked with them before. I’m sharing their tour bus so that’ll be really fun.

As the host, are you there mostly as emcee or will you be able to do a lot of stand-up?

I’ll be doing a lot. I’m doing all the breaks between set changes and there’s a lot! I’m in the middle of it all and the only person there for the whole thing.

I imagine being able to hang out with Debbie Harry will be pretty cool.

I know! I’ve met her before and she’s awesome! She’s so beautiful…I’ve been a fan of hers forever. Also, I love Andy Bell from Erasure—he is so much fun.

If you were going to make a pass at one of them, which would it be?

Probably Rufus Wainwright! I love him! I don’t think he would like it very much but…

But touring together? Something about Rufus tells me he’d be hogging the bathroom.

Maybe, but I don’t think he would mind if you came in and peed or something. He’s really easygoing.

It’s a shame he’s not playing the Toronto dates, busy with his own tour.

Yeah, he’s joining us on a few dates, just like Rosie O’Donnell.

Speaking of Rosie, you’re going on The View next month [June 18]. Are you replacing her?

No, no, no, I’m just a guest but I love that show and I think I should be replacing her. I think I’m perfect—I would love to do it!

Even if it meant fighting with Elizabeth Hasselbeck every day, like she does with Rosie?

I think it’s just because Rosie’s leaving and she doesn’t want to say goodbye! I think they’re both going to miss each other and they don’t want to say goodbye.

I think those two have become symbols of the politics at large—each side so entrenched.

I think things are very much in a state of flux right now. Who knows what’s going to happen? It’s all so crazy but I do think things are getting better, especially for gays and lesbians. I think we’ll see a little more effort being done politically to help us but it’s hard, it’s so confusing. At least everybody hates Bush now, which is a great victory. And Jerry Falwell is dead!

I was just about to ask you what your reaction was.

Well I’m pretty sure it was drugs…you know, the whole PNP [“party and play”] thing.

You think he was a PNP power-bottom?

I think he was a big PNP power-bottom. He and Ted Haggard did a little too much crystal meth and…see what happens? It’s weird how many people were so overjoyed. How funny that is. But I think things are looking up.

Don’t you find it weird though that “our” presidential candidates Hilary and Obama won’t go near gay rights in their campaigns?

I know. In a sense, I think it’s kind of respectful in the way they’re not using things like marriage equality in a political way again. It was such a bad thing before. But in a way, they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too—trying to win without having any sort of connection to the gay community—and I don’t think they can. It’s so weird.

I ask about the politics because I read your blog post on the Virginia Tech shootings and it was so eloquent about a lot of people’s complete inability to empathize with anyone involved. Obviously, it troubled you how they focused on the killer’s ethnicity.

It just shows me again that, as a member of a minority group, your stay in America is really conditional on your good behavior. It’s not just an ethnic minority thing, it’s all minorities. One thing goes wrong, then everyone is associated with it. It happened with Arab-Americans after 9/11 and it’s a very intense thing to deal with—that kind of weird profiling that goes on with all minorities.

Ann Coulter did a column on Jerry Falwell arguing that he didn’t hate gay people, just gay activists.

That’s crazy! They’re the ones voicing the opinions of gay people! That’s so crazy but then she’s bizarre. I think she’s a lesbian. I’ve seen her socially and I have never seen her with a man.

I can’t picture the two of you at the same parties.

She’s weirdly kind of a fag-hag for the [conservative] Log Cabin gays. They do love her. She is, in her way, strangely fabulous. In a sick way. Kind of a trophy fag-hag. But I’ve never seen her with a man in any kind of romantic context ever, ever, ever. I think she’s a lesbian. She’s got that tennis-player lesbian look to her.

Ah, we could mock Ann Coulter all day…

I know!

…but getting back to your Virginia Tech piece, I was reminded of that great joke you made about wanting to help the rescue workers on 9/11. Is there any subject too dark or off-limits to comedy?

I don’t know. I think there’s a way to talk about things that are so sensitive but for some reason, I’m able to do it. I think I just approach a lot of it with compassion and with sincerity and that helps. There is a way to talk about things that are taboo but I don’t want to be too casual about some things.

Have there been times in your stand-up career when you wished you hadn’t said something?

No, not really. I don’t know…I haven’t yet. There are some things that are controversial but nothing yet…we’ll see.

It’s your outspokenness that people love, but there are lots of other outspoken comics who aren’t as popular. When you talk to most gay men, it’s like we need to update your joke—the only things gay men agree on are ass and Margaret Cho.

Oh! That is nice!

Why do you think that is?

I don’t know. I’m just glad. I think it’s wonderful.

Obviously, growing up in San Francisco must’ve helped.

That’s part of it. Also, it’s just being very much a part of the gay community in every way. My whole world is queer. It’s where I live and all my friends are gay. They just are. It’s neat when a straight person comes along and you’re looking at them like, “Hmm, what’s this? Let’s examine this person—it’s so strange, so hetero!”

Like a unicorn?

They’re so special, you know? You want to put them in a glass case or something. Maybe the mainstream is so foreign and weird, they seem interesting too.

So there’s hope for them?

A little. You know what’s cute? Metrosexuality. It’s adorable! It means that things are looking up.

I love seeing the emo kids with the eyeliner and boys kissing. It’s like bisexual chic is back.

Oh yeah, the eyeliner and the nail polish. I think Liam Sullivan is good evidence of that because he’s actually straight. He’s like a straight boy drag queen—isn’t that adorable?

Wow. See, I just assumed he was gay.

It just opens it all up—to me, that’s the most queer thing you can be. There’s a lot of straight boys in the gay community now who just prefer to hang out with queers because they’re more fun. I think that’s really exciting.

What about in your own Korean-American community? Any progress?

I think it’s hard, it’s really different. It’s such a conservative community in general. They just don’t even acknowledge homosexuality, even though it exists so much there, but they just don’t want to. It’s crazy, but I don’t think it’s easy for gays anywhere. Look at Sanjaya [from American Idol]! He’s had a hard time. It’s just heartbreaking to see all the huge feelings people had about him. And I don’t even know if he’s gay—he just has that slight girlishness about him and that kind of femininity is really alarming to a lot of Asian people. But I love him!

Do you think straight people are more comfortable with homosexuality than they are with that kind of gender fluidity?

Right! That kind of gender-queer thing is really hard for people to deal with, but also so fascinating. It’s what’s so great about The Cliks—[transgendered lead singer] Lucas is such a hot boy and that’s so exciting. To me, that’s the newest, most exciting queer: the tranny boy. They’re the queers of the moment. When I tour on my own, I’m with Ian Harvey, who’s an FTM comedian—he’s so great. I’m fascinated by the transgendered community because they’re the ones who are the most oppressed within an already-oppressed community. They’re having a real renaissance at the moment—statistically, culturally, visibly—and they’re coming out in droves. It’s very exciting.

So how can you use all that in comedy?

It’s fun to see and play with and talk about gender. I have a special love for butch women—I’m in awe of them and love to be with them—which makes me think I’m really straight! The women I know are so butch, there’s nothing feminine about them.

I met a butch dyke once who made an incredibly hot man—it was very confusing.

I know! But masculinity is not the domain of biology at all. Masculinity is a choice. It can be very stimulating and interesting and fun.

So do you yourself identify as bisexual?

I just think of myself more as a gender-queer, you know? I guess I would technically be bisexual but it seems inappropriate because I look at “bisexual” as being equally attracted to both sexes and I’m really all about masculinity. I couldn’t be with a femme. To me, that’s not exciting but to be with a masculine woman, that is totally hot. Unfortunately, a lot of masculine women are way more masculine than masculine men! They have bigger dicks…and just a lot more going for them in the masculinity department.

A friend of mine lived next door to a lesbian bar [Pope Joan] and said there were fistfights after last call all the time!

It’s a lot of testosterone! And some of them are shooting T if they’re transitioning, and it’s even worse! It’s like being with an 18-year-old boy, with all the hormones and the acne and the crazy emotions. It’s so intense but it’s fun.

My only exposure to that has been the character Max on The L Word—weren’t you offered a part on that show?

They’ve asked and I’ve said yes. It’s only a matter of when and how. I’d love to, I’m a big fan.

With that and The View and other TV, if ABC came crawling back and asked you to do another sitcom, would you?

I don’t know. Everything is so different now and all the things I like aren’t very mainstream…I don’t think it would work. It’s certainly possible and would be interesting to play with.

The movie you wrote, Bam Bam and Celeste, premiered at the Toronto film fest in 2005. How’s the distribution coming?

It’s gonna be out in August, with screenings in different cities, then out on DVD, so I’m happy about that. It’s been a long struggle…I wrote it myself, I produced it, I starred in it.

What was it like to have so much control on a project?

Well, you do and you don’t. Things get moved around and changed…Ultimately, though, it was a great experience. It’s amazing to write something and then there’s a whole recreation of it, this whole world that’s built for it. It’s amazing to see and I just fell in love with all the actors in it—Bruce Daniels, Alan Cumming, Jane Lynch—they’re awesome so I’m excited to have it see the light!

Hopefully it’ll make it up to Toronto again. You yourself haven’t been back in a few years, right?

I don’t get to go to Toronto as much as I’d like. It’s always fun. I’d like to shoot some footage of The Cliks running around their homebase. They’re babes!

So okay, I have to ask: we talked a bit about your lovelife—and you famously dated Quentin Tarantino years ago—but Chris Isaak?

Yeah! Really long time ago! Really young.

I’m jealous!

He’s cute. There’s not much to say. He’s cute, a lovely, lovely man. I haven’t seen him in a long time but I saw Quentin, actually, just last week and I hadn’t seen him for years. It’s weird how people really don’t change at all. Lovers never really change. When you see lovers—and I’ve had many—you still recognize those qualities that made you fall in love with them. It’s a beautiful thing.

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About Scott Dagostino

An arts & culture journalist who's the bastard love child of Van Morrison and Jessica Mitford
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