By Tim Parks
The Shakespearean adage of “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” is certainly applicable to comedian Margaret Cho, who has utilized her time on stage to raise awareness. So many intimate details of her life are known, thanks to her stand up act, that fans may be surprised to learn this tidbit about her.
“I have long advocated that there should be dog prostitutes,” Cho said before delving into the rather sweet reasons behind that statement. “I love dogs; of all of the things that I love, they are my greatest love. I’m away from home now and I miss them so much, there’s three of them. Sometimes I’ll take all of the different pillows that you get in a hotel room, and I’ll arrange them on top of my body when I’m sleeping because it feels like they’re my dogs’ bodies.”
This brings us back to the subject of dogs as prostitutes…and Cho isn’t talking about decking out Fido in a halter top, short shorts and high heels and commanding them to sit and stay on the corner until they make some coin, as she expounded further.
“You can get in a hotel, check in, and you could get one like your dog or very different,” Cho explained about this niche market. “And you could have them for the night, and you could pet them, hold them and walk them.” We both agreed that “Pimp My Pet” was a good name for the business.
Aside from “canine companionship,” Cho spoke with me about the many literal stages of her life in the public eye – the aforementioned stand up one, her recent stint as part of “The True Colors Tour,” her upcoming movie Bam Bam and Celeste and her appearance in the off-Broadway burlesque variety show, “The Sensuous Woman.”
These projects are some of the different facets of how Cho uses her time on stage as a political platform of sorts; and stating her views in a public forum is second nature by now for the funny lady with a message. Her early days of stand-up were more shtick than sticking it to “The Man,” and the catalyst for her incorporating more than just comedy into her act holds this connotation for Cho.
“I think as you get older your world view expands naturally,” she recanted. “So, a big part of it is that. I realize that there are ways I can actually change things, there’s the realization that this is a public platform that can be very useful in helping people.
“Over the years talking to so many different people who have seen my work, and been able to come out of the closet or been able to share that with people really inspire me to want to go further,” Cho said. “Yet, at the same time I want to remain a comedian and I don’t think I would ever want to go into politics.”
This inclusion of her left leaning material has brought Cho under fire from conservative detractors, who have labeled her as controversial, rather than try to understand a different point of view.
Cho addressed these critics and their mindset thusly.
“I think it’s just lazy thinking,” she stated without reservation. “And it’s also fear of what they don’t understand and an unwillingness to be compassionate about different types of people. I can’t even imagine what would be controversial about saying it’s not only ok to be gay, it’s great to be gay.”
It is a sentiment like that and being able to hold her own as a strong woman against hypocrisy, which is one of the big draws of gay audiences towards Cho. Another key component of her gay street credibility is being such a proponent of championing LGBT issues, such as the recent Human Rights Campaign “True Colors Tour,” of which Cho was the Mistress of Ceremonies.
“I think just hanging out with Cyndi (Lauper), she’s a wonderful person and so funny and warm,” Cho said of her favorite aspect of that experience. “She was teaching me how to sing, so I felt like I was on ‘American Idol,’ I totally felt like Sanjaya.” When asked how many hairstyles she adopted during that time, Cho said, “Quite a few.”
And seeing as Cho has been considered a gay man trapped in a woman’s body, the question was put to her what her screen name would be in a gay online chat room.
“ChoMo68,” she quipped.
And speaking of a woman’s body, Cho will be taking part in “The Sensuous Woman,” a melding of burlesque, stand up, sketch comedy and belly dancing in a variety show format, all of it combining as a celebration of the body.
“I wanted to create these shows, like ‘Sonny & Cher’ and ‘Donny & Marie,’ where they have these variety shows and they’d have special guests on, but they were based around showcasing all of those different kinds of talent,” Cho summarized. “And that to me was so appealing and I wanted to create a show like that. So that’s what ‘The Sensuous Woman’ is, and it’s also to promote body image; so this show has women getting naked and men getting naked –but, they are all over 40, which is HOT!”
For Cho, this show holds extra resonance, as she has been very vocal regarding her bout with eating disorders and a lifelong struggle with her own body image. A body image she attributes to “a lack of real images of real women’s bodies…we don’t see them in movies, on TV, in magazines. Instead, we are force-fed a steady diet of unattainable ideals, a tyranny of slenderness and youth, goals we can’t even aspire to, they are so far out of reach.”
“The Sensuous Woman” will begin a 4-week limited engagement, which begins at The Zipper Factory in New York City on October 6th. And if a certain Colombian “Hips Don’t Lie” songtress happens to be in attendance, Cho just may challenge Shakira to a belly dancing contest!
“Well I would win because, while Shakira is a great belly dancer, I’m a little bit better,” she said with a laugh.
Another body of work that Cho is also proud of is the August 14th DVD release of Bam Bam and Celeste, a comedy about a couple of road trippin’ pals on their way to The Big Apple. The movie played the festival circuit and had Cho donning a few extra hats during its inception, as she plays dual roles in the film and penned the screenplay, too.
“It was fun and it was hard,” Cho explained, “because when you play dual roles you have to be there for both of the versions, there’s a double who is going to do your role and it switches out, so it’s very difficult. I enjoyed doing the film, its fun to write a story and have it actually come to life like that, it’s pretty magical. I did have a lovely time doing it, but it was a lot of hard work.”
And, as her track record clearly shows, Cho is no stranger to getting her hands dirty to fight the good fight for everybody with a fierce determination, a healthy sense of humor and most importantly, she remains fabulous in the line of fire.
This interview was first published in August 2008.