Margaret Cho: More Honesty in Her Comedy Than Anywhere Else

by Annelise Kopp, Guest Blogger

“Always in the midst of comedy,” Margaret Cho believes that the art hinges on writing and delivery, saying “there’s not really one without the other.” She also values the different formats that comedy is taking: “there’s a lot of great stuff happening online.” In late January 2013, Margaret played back-to-back shows at Asheville NC’s Orange Peel. When asked what it took to ensure the freshness of these performances, Margaret assuredly said that “performing is really exciting.” Waiting for Margaret’s opening act to come on stage, I received a text from a friend who described her matinee performance as “amazing.” The subsequent show displayed no indication that she had done this twice in a row. This speaks strongly to the point Margaret made in her interview that each show is different, that the venue and audience bring a new energy to each show.

Those January 23 shows both opened with Selene Luna; Margaret describes her as a potential member of her ideal “comedy supergroup.” With Selene’s very first jokes an authentic, dynamic and personal relationship was formed with the crowd; that setting acted as a perfect primer for Margaret’s entrance to the stage.

More than just a rehearsed character, Margaret is an activist, a performer and a writer; she says that that all components of the work that she does feeds into each other. She says that “music is probably the hardest because it has to fit into the rhythm and time,” while describing blogging as “very organic and easy to do.” Yet rather than acting as disparate parts, all facets of Margaret’s work complement each other. If you’ve yet to visit her blog, you can look forward to a commentary that is equal parts earnest and comical (although, admittedly, one of her posts nearly brought me to tears). In spite of managing these different components of her persona and career, Margaret’s angle on comedy is refreshingly fleshed-out and whole. Her advocacy stems from the same candor as her blogs and her comedy.

Margaret Cho has been a strong advocate for the release of three 8-year-old boys wrongly accused of murder. The case of the “West Memphis 3” was encapsulated in time by the film Paradise Lost. That 1996 film (and its 2000 sequel) illuminated the narrative constructed in the accusation of these boys – one which relied mainly on the gothic decorum of the young boys. Damien Echols, one of the three Arkansas boys, exchanged letters with Cho during his 20 year sentence awaiting the death penalty. In her interview, Margaret described writing letters to Damien, trying to explain things like the internet and Twitter. “I remember a time I was trying to explain the internet to him, and he couldn’t comprehend all that was happening in terms of technology because he had been in prison for so long…and now to have things like twitter…it’s pretty profound.” Regretfully, I didn’t ask for a transcription of the email describing Twitter, but expect that Margaret’s definition would be worthy of global adoption.

Margaret, who grew up in a bookstore and expressed an interest in too many genres to name (she’s currently reading Opium Fiend), encouraged Damien Echols to write a book during his time in prison. With the help of Margaret, Damien released his book Life After Death, which was used in his defense (he even tweeted to thank her for all of her support). Now, all three boys have been released, and Margaret says she’s kept in touch. “I think it’s really important to listen to his story…they’re a great example of how our justice system does not really work to correct its errors.” Her advocacy does not seem to derive from a different script than anything else she does, either. While she described the processes of writing music, comedy, and blogs to be distinct, she says that truthfulness is always paramount.

One of Margaret’s favorite bands is Broken Social Scene, which she says she has been lobbying to get into for some time. “It’s such a very very large band, so I figure they might not notice if I kind of play something…hopefully I will be allowed in one day…” She even says that leader Kevin Drew has said she could be in the group. Margaret, we’re waiting with bated breath.

Rather than a mere performance, the Mother tour was an engaging dialogue. Margaret quickly establishes a relationship with her audience that transcends the divide between the stage and the floor. Rather than feeling that you are spectating a show, you enter into a world where Margaret Cho is your oldest (and funniest) friend. She delivers jokes sharing intimate details of her life as if there is scarcely a person that would understand better than you, her audience. While some comedians have exploited these explicit details for shock value, one comes to expect an honesty from Margaret, one that refocuses the comedy on her comedy and delivery. When Margaret told me that “I think I have way more honesty in my comedy than anywhere else in my life,” it was hard to believe. But once I saw her onstage, I was a believer. “If you can get to a deep truth sort of revealing things about yourself,” she says, “I think that the audience can understand that and recognize that.”

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