It was the unanticipated introduction during a prearranged call to a San Fernando Valley phone number that set the awkward mood of this interview – kind of like meeting your girlfriend’s parents, who you know, loathe you. YouTube clips of this dynamic bisexual Korean American with tattoos perched on her left arm and blossoming from her right, spitting vulgarity laden satire like it was her second language – after English – coupled with the effortlessness of her acts, painted an expectation of a boisterous and enthusiastic persona to follow up my brief introduction upon the ring tone’s cessation.
“Yeah”? A monotone female voice responded. The lack of luster was startling.
There was an air of exasperation that felt unwelcoming at first, granted unbeknownst to me, the interview would be cut off after a mere fifteen minutes. Add to that, my phone number was likely just one among several others that she was trying to pick off, there were no jokes cracked and her answers were slow but cautious.
It could have just been a bad day for her and what should a student writer expect? She wasn’t sitting in on a one-man leather couch opposite of George Lopez or on tape with an editor of Out Magazine. There was little reason to wear her on-stage facade, for she wasn’t sitting in anyone else’s home nor was the guy at the other end of the phone distinguished. Yet, while it could have been a combination of those factors, it was more so evident that her Korean upbringing was a significant attribute in her identity.
It’s evident that her creativity and comedic survival is, in part, rooted in throwing tomatoes at her Asian identity and challenging the Korean (Asian) stereotypes – she attempted a run on showing 1994 America the life of an Asian growing up as American with “All-American Girl,” while her standup mocks her conservative Korean mother and the Asian American identity with exaggerated tones and contorted facial expressions that feels organic, and performance-wise is audacious. But there was something else behind the boisterous voice box.
Her audience has not caught onto it, but her Korean-ness was evident. “I… I’m pretty shy at first,” Cho revealed. “I mean what I do as a performer, is very, um, it’s still who I am, but, uh, I guess that uh, I’m not that forceful, in life? Like I’m not that aggressive.” She chose her words carefully, pausing and interjecting disfluencies. But surprisingly she ended her statement with an inflection. She momentarily let down her guard and revealed her insecurity.
“So in general you get to develop a persona where your own personality doesn’t go that far, but then your imagination can go that far.. so I think that’s probably, uh, what I am as a person,” Cho said. The disassociation between comedian Margaret Cho and Margaret Cho was evident. It appeared as though her repressed personality would internalize and translate frustrations into creativity and comedic gold. “In life I think I’m pretty quiet so I’m trying to think of what I can bring and what I can make or what I can write or something.”
Most people recognize her for her standup comedy. She has been tackling the transition into other mediums of performance, from acting to music and she is currently touring for her comedy album, Cho Dependant with tracks entitled, “Eat Shit and Die,” “Your Dick,” and “Asian Adjacent,” but the shift to music was a natural progression that blossomed out of her guitar-in-tote stand up bits.
Cho is understandably not in tune with the world of Korean pop, or any pop. “I don’t know much about Korean pop although I know it’s very popular. I don’t know much about pop music in general,” she said, and the country genre that embodies her album reflect just that, but surprisingly, this California native’s crooning fits the bill for what one would expect from a country singer. What does not fit, is the genre.
Her answer was simple. “I think I like the sound of it… the technical aspect of it is easier to play,” Cho said. But her response gets you wondering, why delve into music at all? There is an answer for that. You separate the melody from the lyrics. “It’s still standup comedy. It’s the same thing. It’s not really crossing over. In a sense, it doesn’t have the same emotional weight because it’s still a comedy thing,” Cho said. So how should you listen to Margaret Cho’s country-esque performances? Keep the lyrics and melody independent and pretend you’re watching standup. Appreciate the melody as a medium to showcase her vocal talent and appreciate the lyrics for the genre of writing that Cho, influenced by her Korean roots, channels – comedy.
Catch Margaret Cho at Overture Capital Theatre Oct. 14 performing standup and songs from her album, Cho Dependant.