I joined the church of Margaret Cho in 2002, when I picked up a copy of I’m the One That I Want, her book based on the smash off-Broadway show of the same name, fell in mad Gen X love, and inhaled whatever Cho material I could find on the still-infant Internet.
Luckily, she is among the most iconic and prolific multi-hyphenates alive — a best-selling author, actor, standup, and activist, with a slew of accolades including five Grammy nominations, an Emmy nomination for her turn as Kim Jong-Il on 30 Rock, and spots on Vogue’s Top 9 Female Comedians of all time, and Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time.
Cho began performing in clubs near her San Francisco home at 14, winning a local comedy contest at 16, and a sweet slot opening for Jerry Seinfeld. Smash tours I’m the One That I Want and 2001’s Notorious C.H.O. became feature films, and she continues to act in series television and films, including 2022’s Fire Island on Hulu, and summer, 2023’s Prom Pact on Disney+, plus many guest-starring roles on shows like Hacks, Law and Order: SVU, and Netflix is a Joke comedy specials.
I got a chance to meet Cho when she made an appearance at a conference party in NYC in 2012, and she was so warm and nice in that weird scene that I came out to her, in some mumbled approximation of “Thank you so much for being open about who you are, because it’s really helped me a lot …mumble mumble… I’m queer too, BYE!”
Even then, I didn’t know many out women in my age range. Her representation and willingness to tackle identity and human rights to simply exist meant a lot, no matter how poorly I mumbled it, and how little I understood then where I was headed.
And who in the hell else is going to understand public blurting of important private information like Margaret?
This fall, Cho is back with Live and Livid, her first full-scale tour since the pandemic.
“It’s really exciting to be able to go back and tour, to do theaters and to really get into it,” she says. “I think this year has really been about touring, especially for these amazing people like Beyonce, and of course Taylor Swift and Madonna. And I wanted to add my voice to that.”
Cho notes that she and Madonna are both recognizing 40 years of performing in 2023, and while it’s definitely a party, the message matters most.
“I’m celebrating 40 years of doing my art,” she says. “It’s a show that celebrates that, but also is very heavy on trying to find a way to make sense of our lack of rights, the assault on gay rights, trans rights, and drag. To find a way to combat that, and also to survive it.”
We Zoomed with Margaret in her Los Angeles backyard to talk about touring again, what makes her livid, and the freedom she’s found in menopause.
I remember that. Yeah, that was like 10 years ago.
I’m good — taking a break from doing yard work.
I’m so disgusted by the fact that we don’t have rights over our own bodies, and it goes all different ways — whether that’s abortion rights, rights to transition, rights to have gender-affirming care, rights to the healthcare that we need. And it becomes something like they’re trying to put these religious values on people who don’t participate in that religion, who don’t believe in that religion. It’s a really scary thing. There’s so many things, though — even the nature of Trump, the idea that we’re actually looking at a valid threat of him being president again, which is to me so awful and outrageous, but a possibility.
It’s really terrifying. So, villainization of drag queens, drag is really important. Drag is a really important part of my life and always has been. There’s a calculated attack from the right towards drag queens and towards trans people, towards any part of our community that somehow doesn’t conform to their ideas of what society should look like. It’s so upsetting. And then also Asian hate, these hate crimes against Asian people, which started around the pandemic, because of the pandemic, and still continue. There’s a million things to be mad about, but it’s also trying to find a way to be funny too, because ultimately I am an entertainer and I want to make sure that part of it is the lasting part. I want to make sure that there’s a space where it is really just about laughing, so that we can survive it.
It’s looking at the hypocrisy of something. Like you look at these Christians who are very mad about drag, but you see Jesus Christ himself is wearing a full-length gown and duster from Chicos. That is a dress. It’s not just a dress, it’s a gown. And everybody is wearing one — all of the apostles are wearing the same kind of gown. They’re all wearing dresses. I think it’s so bizarre and hypocritical, and to look at how perverse and hyper-inappropriate Christianity is, we’re looking at the torture of a naked man in the middle of all of it. It’s like, I didn’t consent to this. It’s very non-consensual to inflict this story on me about gore and torture and in the name of this, then you actually are trying to get rid of people like myself and everybody like me.
[I think] ‘Look at you, look at yourself for one second, break it down and look at what you do.’ It’s like a weird horror gore religion, like cannibalism. It’s so weird to me. I grew up in the church, so I know firsthand how bizarre it is, and I always had a problem with it. Now that I have a choice to be away from it, I know what you do back there. It’s not cool. We had agreed to disagree, until you started trying to take away my rights.
It’s still important to have hope. Generation X has a really nihilistic point of view, and that nothing’s going to change. Grunge and all of our artistic movements were centered around that disassociating, because we don’t think anything’s going to change, and therefore we’re not going to care. That’s not the best way to cope. I think hope is the best option. When I look at Gen Z, I see a lot of hope and activism, so I tend to look to them. They’re going to have to deal with a planet that has been so messed up by generations past. I learned from them, and I have a lot of hope from them. Ultimately, we have to embrace hope, which is a big component of laughter. Laughter is a reaction to the realization that you have hope.
Menopause is a great example of how the way society frames something can really change your opinion about it. Physically going through menopause as I have, I realize how great it is. I’m actually really enjoying my midlife, and menopause was a huge part of that, to really embrace this idea of, “Oh, finally my body is mine now.” I don’t have to think about the biological clock that somehow rules my emotions and my actions for most of the month. And having that removed is such a free thing now. I can actually know and check in what my real goals are, what my real ambitions are, what my real satisfactory experiences are. And sex is really great. Sex is really great because the hormonal component that made me feel crazy about relationships is gone.
So now I’m with people, partners, or not, by choice and the power of that choice, I’d never realized how much choice was driven by hormones or driven by an entity that I had no control over, like pms or whatever. And now not to have that, I’m actually so grateful. So I really love menopause and I think that people have this idea about menopause being somehow the end, or it’s over. But no, it’s just beginning. It’s another puberty where you really come into a space of becoming yourself and it’s never framed that way. And it should be. It’s the best thing.
I think my life would’ve been very different if I had children. I ultimately decided not to because I just don’t want to love anybody that much, and that’s a hard choice. I see that happen with my friends and family and their kids and I’m like, ‘that doesn’t look like fun.’ I didn’t prioritize it. I didn’t prioritize being that open with my heart.
I think people look at that as being really selfish, and I don’t really care. I think that’s great. I think, “why not be selfish? Why not enjoy that?” But yeah, I think of it as a really important, also feminist, idea. We’re not just here for breeding. There’s no reason we have to think that’s the only reason to be alive. I think that’s why people put so much of a negative spin on menopause, because it’s the end of reproductive viability. But it’s the beginning of life, not underneath that quite authoritarian regime of monthly cycles where you have a period, and you have to deal with all of the emotions that come with it. To be free of it is phenomenal. I have been pretty lucky; I had really no symptoms of anything negative throughout my menopause. No real hot flashes, no depression, no irritability, nothing like that. No insomnia. I didn’t have that effect.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool.
“I don’t look at my work as ever being that great, but that I got to inspire people who do tremendous work? That is great.”
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think I am responsible for bringing in especially Asian American queer comedians, like Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang, and certainly a lot of the women like Ali Wong, Atsuko Okatsuka, Anna Akanna, Jenny Yang, Sherry Cola, and Sabrina Wu. There’s so many voices that I can directly say, “Oh, they do this because I did this.”
I’m really grateful. The best thing I could have done is to leave a legacy of “I can do this.” If I did it, you can do it, and that’s the real achievement. I don’t look at my work as ever being that great, but that I got to inspire people who do tremendous work? That is great.
Photos by Nick Spanos, Sergio Garcia, and Albert Sanchez.
LAURIE WHITE is a writer, editor, and online community builder, who is currently the Managing Editor of Jumble & Flow, and The Midst. She has written and edited a restaurant industry trade magazine, several major websites, and many, many blog posts and online features. Previously a community college counselor and professor, she has a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Dayton and another in multimedia journalism from the University of Maryland. She lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. with Hoover the Puggle, who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. Find her on Insta @lauriemedia & @hooverthepuggle.
ON THE BLOG
In My Prime: interviews with women thriving in midlife
Pregnancy test and pregnancy over 40
Pelvic health: Everything women need to know
Adventures in Perimenopause, essays by women in perimenopause and menopause
What is perimenopause? An empowering guide to everything you need to know
Jumble & Flow art prints, home decor,
and apparel on Society 6
36 gift ideas for every Zodiac sign and horoscope-loving friends
Women's Health Glossary of Terms
6 of the best self-care techniques you’ll never find on Instagram
Ageism in the workplace
What are the best blenders according to ratings and experts?
What is middle age, and what age is officially old?
We're building The Midst
Because over the hill is so over and done with