F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that there are no second acts in American life. He never met Margaret Cho, who’s currently on her third and counting. The San Francisco-born Korean-American comedian’s rise to the top of the stand-up profession culminated in the 1994 debut of “All-American Girl,” her starring TV vehicle and the first Asian-American sitcom in history. Reviled in almost all quarters, the show was canceled after a single season. Cho chronicled that debacle — and her subsequent descent into self-abuse — in “I’m the One That I Want,” an acclaimed one-woman show she performed off-Broadway and later spun off into a film and book of the same name.
This fall, Cho will be back on weekly TV, providing the Andy Rooney-esque commentary to a PBS series titled “Life 360.” But just now, she’s hitting the road with “The Notorious C.H.O.,” a series of stand-up performances that weld her sardonic observations to the iconography of female-oriented rap.
Metro Times: What is it about the hip-hop-mama genre that appeals to you?
Margaret Cho: I think it’s the power in sexuality. It’s about female machismo and about the feminine strength that resembles brute force. Although I’m not going to rap in the show and the show isn’t about hip hop per se, I think that the themes are really similar. It’s about owning one’s own body, owning one’s own female power.
Metro Times: Which lady rapper most exemplifies that?
Cho: (Laughing) That would be Li’l Kim.
Metro Times: So how do you respond to Chris Rock’s comment that, if Li’l Kim wants to be taken seriously as a feminist, she needs to “put her titty away?”
Cho: I think she’s incredibly powerful in her own right, titty or no titty. It’s out or it’s not. It’s, like, her choice.
Metro Times: What qualities do you share with someone like her?
Cho: I’m gifted with the ability to just disclose anything. I don’t really have any — what is it — shame? The last show that I did was really about alcohol and drugs and that kind of addiction. And this show is about sex and food.
Metro Times: Food?
Cho: It’s one of my primary addictions. I’ve been dealing with it for my entire life, and it’s something that I’ve really come to terms with in the last year or so. To have dealt with my food issues automatically sent me into a crazy downward spiral of sex addiction, which led me to this adventure throughout the sexual underground of Los Angeles — going to sex clubs, going to all these crazy events within the fetish community, becoming a fixture in that community. And then suddenly leaving, because it was just so appalling.
Metro Times: In what way?
Cho: I found it incredibly boring and unspeakably lonely. I was looking for something and I couldn’t find it.
Metro Times: Which was?
Cho: I was looking for a shortcut into intimacy.
Metro Times: Well, “I’m the One That I Want” seemed pretty intimate. I’m surprised you have anything left to reveal.
Cho: It’s more like, life keeps going. I still live life in a very extreme way, and, fortunately, things have happened that are just too entertaining to keep to myself. It’s interesting how much I’ve changed even since the book was finished.
Metro Times: How so?
Cho: I feel like I’m a little bit more confident about what I’m doing. I think that just comes with age.
Metro Times: How far can you go with self-improvement and still retain the underdog’s outlook a comedian needs?
Cho: Fortunately, I’m a slow enough learner. I have a learning disability when it comes to self-improvement. I think everybody does. It’s part of the human condition.
Metro Times: Do you follow another familiar path in that your ideas for the improvement of others are crystal clear?
Metro Times: Who would you like to improve right now?
Cho: I’d probably like to improve a lot of my friends. I think that a lot of my friends need help. Everybody in my life needs help. They all need to take some t’ai chi classes or take yoga or meditate. They need to do all the things that I need to do but neglect.
Metro Times: How much self-exposure is too much? Have you ever left a piece of material out of one of your routines because you were worried no one else would relate to it?
Cho: No, that’s never happened. I think everybody relates. And if they don’t relate, they’re shocked. And if they’re not shocked, they’re laughing. So it all works out.
Metro Times: What happens the day you wake up and realize you’re no longer considered shocking?
Cho: I have this incredible appetite for life. And because I am so voracious, whatever happens [to me] is still going to be shocking, somewhat. Because I just always need more.
Metro Times: As somebody who discusses her addictions at length, what do you feel when you hear about someone like A.J. McLean (the Backstreet Boy who checked himself into rehab for alcoholism)? Empathy?
Cho: Or that kind of idea like, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Metro Times: Meaning the rehab portion, correct? Not his entire career?
Cho: (Laughing) No.
Metro Times: You’ve taken a lot of responsibility for the failure of “All-American Girl” on your own shoulders. But did you have the power to change the way it turned out?
Cho: I wasn’t really conscious of that power, but I bet I would have had it if I had gone into it believing that I had it. I was just not aware. And [my career] actually turned out really great, so it doesn’t really matter. It turned out wonderfully.
Metro Times: I remember being disappointed that the show wasn’t more “Asian.” But is that opinion itself part of the problem?
Cho: No. To me, it was just boring. That’s the worst crime. I don’t think any race is that boring. (Laughs)
Metro Times: One of these days, some cable-TV executive is going to schedule a multi-night reappraisal of the series. Will you agree to be interviewed?
Cho: Oh, I’d love to. That would be great.
Metro Times: What will you say?
Cho: I don’t know. I would love to see it again. I haven’t seen it for years. What’s it going to be on, Chink at Nite? Is that a new network?
Metro Times: It is now, because you said it in my presence without a lawyer. How can I get rights to “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father?”
Cho: You could show “Kung Fu,” “Courtship of Eddie’s Father” and “The Green Hornet.” That would be hot. I would love that.
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