An epic tale of opportunity, self-torture and the Faustian nature of modern network television, the story behind Margaret Cho’s short-lived ABC sitcom All-American Girl could have been an extra-juicy installment of the E! True Hollywood Story, or a cautionary tale for stars-to-be. Instead, Cho turned her ride in the mainstream whirlwind into I’m the One That I Want, a one-woman show/film/book that provided a fierce lesson about what it means to be an outsiderin her case, an Asian Americanin contemporary America.
A little over a year-and-a-half later, Cho is back with Notorious C.H.O., a bawdy odyssey of self-discovery and another mercilessly funny look at American outsider culture. Whether volunteering (in a unique and unprintable way) at Ground Zero in New York, or sharing priceless anecdotes about her mother, Cho provides an uninhibited stand-up comedy experiencewhile conducting a pointed crusade against racism, sexism and homophobia. The film opens Friday at Green Hills. We spoke by phone to a slightly laryngitic Margaret Cho, who shared her thoughts on the burning issues of the day: bigotry, insects and online porn.
After Sept. 11, movies addressed the subject only in terms of whether to erase or keep the World Trade Center’s image. Your film seems like the first to directly address the attack and its aftermath.
Well, thank you. I know it’s not the most respectful way of addressing it, but at the same time I felt it was something that I had to do, something that I had to talk about when I was traveling. At that time it was impossible not to respond to it, and so I tried to find a way to get at it that was as appropriate as possible.
In the film, you describe how a lot of gay culture and women’s magazines are built on selling self-hatred. Do you see people like Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell trying to destabilize that culture of self-hatred?
Yes, I think that there’s always a need for something that can help make people feel good about themselvessomething that can make people feel accepted as they are. So much of contemporary advertising creates this emptiness. But if you didn’t have this howling need for whatever product, so many industries would collapse, just because of people feeling good about who they are, if they didn’t have to pay attention to fashion and makeup and gyms or whatever. It would all be toppled.
That would also affect institutionalized sexism and racism.
What I notice about racism now is often subtle. We don’t see a lot of Asian Americans out there in the media. I say Asian Americans because there are a great many movie stars who are Asian and who are very cool and known, but there is very little representation for Asian Americansto the point that we feel like we are foreign as well. I think that an American audience more readily accepts foreign films as being more palatable than Asian American art just because [foreign films] are perceived as being more legitimate. Something like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is great, but I don’t consider that to be something that I would claim as something I’m proud of, or something that I could say, “that represents me” and “that’s my world.” I know nothing about martial arts, and I’m not from that school of thought that can claim that as representative. Although I think that in terms of the way technology has spread, that the world has gotten smaller, thanks to the Internet and things like that. Pop culture has gotten a lot more global, and that’s a great thing about the way that people live nowadays.
When you find a bug in your home, do you kill it or do you try to find a way to put it outside?
I scream and call 911. Or I let my boyfriend take care of it. But he’ll usually put it outsidehe’s not a killer. I just can’t deal with it. I want to get one of those spider vacuum cleaners that take care of bugs without your having to get near them.
It’s a wonderfully civilized invention when you stop and think about it.
And that’s what I want for Christmas.
First it was Joey Stefano, then it was Jeff Stryker. Who’s your favorite porn star now?
Actually, I like amateur porn at the moment. The things that people put up on the Internet. I love the Internet for porn because it’s so accessible and private, and if you have a fast connection, you can have anything you want. (pause) But if I were to pick, I like Peter North.
Would you ever do TV again?
Sure. It would have to be the right thingI get offered things all the time, but I love doing my own work, and I don’t want to sacrifice that for anything else.
Have you got another book coming out?
Well, I’ve started writing it, but I don’t know when it will be out. It’s sort of a secondary priority at the momentthere’s a lot going on. But I will be putting out a sort of anthology of other writings for magazines, some advice column-type things, material from question-and-answer sessions at college lectures, that sort of thing.
Would it be called Cho-pourri? Sorry.
That’s actually the first time I’ve heard that one.
You’ve worked with directors like John Woo and Randal Kleiser, but are there any directors you’d drop everything to work with?
Well, I really like David Fincher, and I like Todd Haynes a lot, andoh, who’s the director of Y Tu Mamá También?
I love him. I’m so in love with that movie. I’d love to do a movie with Wong Kar-Wai, who did Chungking Express. And Christopher Guest; he’s amazing.
By doing a show and a subsequent film each year, it’s like you’re conducting an ongoing conversation with America. More entertainers should do that.
Well thank you. It feels good to me. I love working and I love what I do very much, and I think that people really respond to it, and I’m glad that I can do that, that I can make a living doing what I do.
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