Out comedian, actor and activist Margaret Cho has always been up-close and personal with what she talks about live on stage, mining her struggles and experiences for the hilarious stories she shares. But for her latest tour, the comedy veteran is going even deeper.
Titled “Fresh off the Bloat,” Cho delves into the topics of being fresh off drugs and drinking, as well as suicide, addiction, abuse and activism.
“It’s a play on words,” Cho said about the tour’s name. “I love a pun. It’s a play on the name of the series ‘Fresh off the Boat.’ But it’s also it about the bloated nature of politics and everything that is happening. It’s so crazy right now. There are so many things in the show that are about dead, bloated stuff.”
The tenor of the country gives her plenty of material to put together what Cho promises to be her sickest show to date.
And as anybody who’s seen her live before can tell you, that’s really saying something.
“As Americans, we’ve never sunk so low. It’s sickening and it’s really crazy. I’m not sure what the outcome will be but we’ve got to have some sense of hope or some sense of feeling like we’re going to survive this.”
So we had to ask if Cho, unlike some us, still has faith is this entity known as America.
“We are still a great place,” she said. “I really want to never try to give up on us. You never want to give up on America. You want to try and see this through.”
We’ll take her word for it but it’s hard right now.
Politicians can say anything they want with little or no consequence, but when comedians, athletes and musicians say something, the pitchforks and torches immediately come out.
Cho agreed that these are uncertain times for outspoken artists and performers.
“People are really scared,” she said. “I think people get offended so fast, which is crazy because we have such an offensive president. With Kathy Griffin doing that decapitated-head thing, which I though was very TBT French Revolution of her … She’s so great. I think she’s really special and really funny and really right. There’s a lot of crazy stuff that we have to address and deal with. We can’t be so quick to be offended.”
Speaking of Griffin — who faced intense backlash from politicians, news organizations and venues alike over a controversial photo of her holding what looked like the severed head of Donald Trump — Cho said she didn’t think Griffin’s move was out of bounds.
“I don’t think they understand and I also don’t think it’s offensive,” she said about the controversy. “I think what’s more offensive is this crazy talk of a wall that they’re going to build. [Trump’s] making all these crazy statements, whether it’s about trans people or the military or about women or grabbing pussies; that’s far more offensive than a Photoshop thing. It’s really sickening and it’s a crazy double standard that we allow so much awful stuff from Donald Trump but you want to limit the language of other people. People have a right to their opinions and to protest the way they want to.”
Cho has often talked frankly, and rather fondly, about drugs and alcohol in her comedy in the past. So we had to ask if performing sober is going to have an effect on her style and sense of humor.
“It makes you sharper,” Cho said about performing sober. “It makes you adept at writing. The technicality of it, you just feel better. There’s no comparison. It’s so much better now. I can’t even believe I was not doing it like this the first time. It’s really about finding a sense of peace, and then you’re much better at what you do.”
Cho said there was no rock-bottom moment at which she decided drugs and alcohol were a problem. In fact, quitting wasn’t exactly her idea at all.
“They were a problem the whole time. I had no intention of becoming sober and I never wanted it. I had to be forced into an institution by a bunch of friends. It was not my choice, but I’m glad that it happened.”
Cho’s new comedy show also touches on the subject of suicide, a topic with particular mainstream relevance after the recent deaths of alternative rockers like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington.
“People don’t understand how prevalent and how destructive depression is, and how easily that turns into suicidal impulses and how much we need to learn about mental health,” Cho said. “There isn’t one way to suffer from suicidal depression. It’s very complicated and we need to learn how to face it and deal with it before we lose anybody else. When you have people who are incredibly successful and have everything in the world, and yet they choose to kill themselves it’s like, what is wrong with society that we can’t figure out what to say about it and how to prevent it? I think it’s really sad.”
Like on her previous comedy tours, Cho is taking her jokes to other countries. Even though the cultures are different, people’s common experiences are the same, she noted.
“You feel so exotic,” she said about performing overseas. “I love it. You feel like Josephine Baker or Ella Fitzgerald. It’s not like I have to go outside of America because I’m not understood here. I am understood here; it’s more like comedy and the world has become a lot smaller because of the Internet and how we consume entertainment. So it’s a very different time. The frame of reference we have about everything is the same.”
Cho has incorporated her musical projects into some of her recent tours but said you probably won’t see her singing or playing guitar on this go-round.
“There’s so much comedy material on this tour that there’s not much of a chance to [play music],” she said. “But I always love to make music. This time it’s a little bit crazy, but I will come back with that later.”
One thing is for sure: If Cho does run afoul of anybody’s sensibilities with her jokes on this new tour, there won’t be any backpedaling or apologizing.
“I think you have to just go down swinging, even if you’re wrong,” she said. “You have to back up your beliefs by continuing to fight always, especially if you’re wrong. That’s the best.”
Margaret Cho performs as part of the First Person Arts Festival 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at The Fillmore Philadelphia, 29 E. Allen St. For more information or tickets, call 215-625-3681 or visit www.margaretcho.com.