Margaret Moran Cho (born December 5, 1968) is an American comedian, fashion designer, actress, author, and singer-songwriter. Cho is best known for her stand-up routines, through which she critiques social and political problems, especially those pertaining to race and sexuality. She has also directed and appeared in music videos and has her own clothing line. She has frequently supported LGBT rights and has won awards for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of women, Asians, and the LGBT community.
As an actress she has played parts such as Charlene Lee in It's My Party and that of John Travolta's FBI colleague in the action movie Face/Off. She was part of the TV series Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime Television, playing the role of Teri Lee, a paralegal assistant.
Cho was born into a Korean family in San Francisco, California. She grew up in a racially diverse neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s, which she described as a community of "old hippies, ex-druggies, burn-outs from the '60s, drag queens, Chinese people, and Koreans. To say it was a melting pot â" that's the least of it. It was a really confusing, enlightening, wonderful time."
Cho's parents, Young-Hie and Seung-Hoon Cho, ran Paperback Traffic, a bookstore on Polk Street at California Street in San Francisco. Her father writes joke books and a newspaper column in Seoul, South Korea. Cho was kicked out of her high school for poor grades.
After Cho expressed an interest in performance, she auditioned and was accepted into the San Francisco School of the Arts, an area arts high school. While at the school, she became involved with the school's improvisational comedy group alongside actors Sam Rockwell and Aisha Tyler.
After doing several shows in a club adjacent to her parents' bookstore, Cho launched a stand-up career and spent several years developing her material in clubs. Cho's career began to build after appearances on television and university campuses. In 1992, she appeared on the unsuccessful Golden Girls spin-off The Golden Palace in a small role. In 1994, Cho won the American Comedy Award for Best Female Comedian. In 2010, on The View, she discussed her nervousness about doing The Golden Palace and thanked the late Rue McClanahan for her help with rehearsing. She also secured a coveted spot as opening act for Jerry Seinfeld and was featured on a Bob Hope special around this time and was also a frequent visitor to The Arsenio Hall Show.
All American Girl
That same year, ABC developed and aired a sitcom based on Cho's stand-up routine. The show, All-American Girl, was initially feted as the first show prominently featuring an East Asian family, although the short lived sitcom Mr. T and Tina preceded it by nearly two decades.
Cho has expressed subsequent regret for much of what transpired during the production of the show.
- After network executives, especially executive producer Gail Berman, criticized her appearance and the roundness of her face, Cho starved herself for several weeks. Her rapid weight loss, done to modify her appearance by the time the pilot episode was filmed, caused serious kidney failure.
- The show suffered criticism from within the U.S. East Asian community over its perception of stereotyping. Producers told Cho at different times during production both that she was "too Asian" and that she was "not Asian enough". At one point during the course of the show, producers hired a coach to teach Cho how to "be more Asian".
- Much of the humor was broad, and at times stereotypical portrayals of her close Korean relatives and gay book-shop customers were employed.
The show was canceled after suffering from poor ratings and the effect of major content changes over the course of its single season (19 episodes).
After the show's 1995 cancellation, Cho became addicted to drugs including alcohol. As detailed in her 2002 autobiography, I'm the One That I Want, in 1995 her substance abuse was evident during a performance in Monroe, Louisiana, where she was booed off the stage by 800 college students after going on the stage drunk.
New Year's Rockin' Eve
Cho hosted the New Year's Rockin' Eve 95 show with Steve Harvey.
Cho and her family and friends appeared in an episode of NBC's series Celebrity Family Feud, which premiered on June 24, 2008. Later that summer, Cho appeared in her own semi-scripted reality sitcom for VH1. The Cho Show premiered on August 21, 2008 and lasted one season. She next appeared as a supporting actress on the series Drop Dead Diva, which debuted in July 2009.
In April 2011, Cho guest starred on the comedy 30 Rock in the episode "Everything Sunny All the Time Always". She played North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. The role had her speak Korean as well as English. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. She later returned as his son, Kim Jong-Un. In 2010, Cho appeared as a contestant on the 11th season of Dancing with the Stars.
I'm the One That I Want
Cho's career and personal life were challenging after the cancellation of the show, but Cho eventually sobered, refocused her energy and developed new material. In 1999, she wrote about her struggles with the show in her first one-woman show, I'm the One That I Want. Cho then released her book of the same name, and the show was filmed and released as a concert film in 2000. Her material dealt with her difficulties breaking into show business because of her ethnicity and weight and her resulting struggle with and triumph over body image issues and drug and alcohol addiction.
I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight
In 2005, Cho released her second book, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, a compilation of essays and prose about global politics, human rights, and other topical issues. Cho launched a national book tour in support of the collection. An audio reading of the book was also released. A DVD of a live taping of the Assassin tour was released in conjunction with the book.
In late 2004, Cho began work on her first self-written film in which she starred. Bam Bam and Celeste, a low-budget comedy about a "fag hag" and her gay best friend, co-starred Cho's friend and co-touring act Bruce Daniels. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005. On Valentine's Day of 2004, Cho spoke at the Marriage Equality Rally at the California State Capitol. Her speech can be seen in the documentary Freedom to Marry.
In the 1997 film "Face/Off" starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta, Margaret Cho plays "Wanda", an FBI agent.
Shows and tours
Cho appeared in an episode of the HBO comedy Sex and the City's fourth season. The episode, titled "The Real Me", first aired on June 3, 2001, and also guest-starred Heidi Klum.
In 2002, the show Notorious C.H.O. (the title derived from slain rapper The Notorious B.I.G.) dealt with the comedian having been raised in 1970s San Francisco and her bisexuality. The next year, Cho made another stand-up film, Revolution, which was released in 2004.
In 2005, Cho started promoting and touring with her new show, Assassin. The show became her fourth live concert film and premiered on the gay and lesbian premium cable network Here! TV in September 2005. In this DVD, she notably includes herself when talking about gays, saying "we" and "our community". Posters for Assassin featured Cho in paratrooper gear and holding a microphone in the style of an automatic rifle, a reference to the infamous 1974 photo of heiress Patty Hearst.
Cho launched "The Sensuous Woman" burlesque-style variety show tour in Los Angeles on August 10, 2007, with tour dates scheduled through November 3, as of October 10. Past and scheduled tour stops after Los Angeles are Chicago, Illinois and New York City. On August 10, 2007 the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed the show, Cho's work, key events in her personal life and characterized the show as, "In fact, as bawdy and bad-behaving as the cast gets, the whole show feels more like a crazy family reunion than a performance."
The premiere performance of Cho's "Beautiful" tour was on February 28, 2008, in Sydney, Australia as part of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. Cho was also the Chief of Parade for the festival's annual parade along Oxford Street on March 1. During her stay in Sydney, Cho was filmed shopping for parade outfits in a drag store with Kathy Griffin and Cyndi Lauper for Griffin's Bravo series My Life on the D-List. The episode featuring Cho aired on June 26, 2008.
Her "Mother" tour embarked fall 2013 and is heading to Europe in 2014. The title of the tour refers not to Cho's impressions of her own mother, but to Cho herself. It is her nickname for the figure she has played to her many gay friends over the years.
In September 2008, Cho released her single, "I Cho Am a Woman", on iTunes. The song, produced by Desmond Child, was featured on her VH1 series.
Throughout 2010, she worked on a full-length album, going through the titles "Guitarded" and "Banjovi" before finally settling on Cho Dependent. The album was released on August 24, 2010. It was supported by music videos for "I'm Sorry", "Eat Shit and Die", and "My Lil' Wayne"; Liam Kyle Sullivan directed the first two. The album was nominated for a 2010 Grammy award for Best Comedy Album. In 2011 Showtime released a stand-up comedy special entitled Margaret Cho: Cho Dependent which featured musical performances from the album.
In May 2010, Cho directed and appeared in the music video for "I Wanna Be a Bear," a song by "Pixie Herculon" (a pseudonym of Jill Sobule).
In July 2014, Cho appeared in the "Weird Al" Yankovic music video "Tacky."
Nature of material and political advocacy
Cho is also well known for discussing her relationship with her mother, particularly in imitating her mother's heavily accented speech. Her depictions of "Mommy" have become a popular part of her routine. Cho's comedy routines are often explicit. She has covered substance abuse, eating disorders, her bisexuality and obsession with gay men, and Asian-American stereotypes, among other subjects, in her stand up.
A substantial segment of her material and advocacy addresses LGBT issues. In addition to her shows, Cho also developed an additional outlet for her advocacy with the advent of Margaretcho.com and her daily weblog. When San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom directed that San Francisco's city hall issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco in 2004 (until reversed by the state supreme court), Cho started Love is Love is Love, a website promoting the legalization of gay marriage in the United States.
Cho's material often features commentary on politics and contemporary American culture. She has also been outspoken about her dislike of former President George W. Bush. She began to draw intense fire from conservatives over her fiercely anti-Bush commentary; a live performance in Houston, Texas was threatened with picketing. Although protesters never showed up, she held a counter protest outside the club until security told her she had to go inside.
In 2004, Cho was performing at a corporate event in a hotel when after ten minutes her microphone was cut off and a band was instructed to begin playing. Cho claims this was because the manager of the hotel was offended by anti-Bush administration comments. Cho's payment, which was issued by way of check directly to a non-profit organization, a defense fund for the West Memphis Three, initially bounced but was eventually honored.
In July 2004, during the Democratic National Convention, Cho was disinvited to speak at a Human Rights Campaign/National Stonewall Democrats fundraiser out of fear that her comments might cause controversy. In November 2005, she campaigned to pardon Stanley Tookie Williams, an early Crips gang leader, for his death sentence for four murders. On December 13, 2005, after exhausting all forms of appeal, Williams was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison, California.
She emceed the multi-artist True Colors Tour, which traveled through 15 cities in the United States and Canada. The tour, sponsored by the Logo channel, began on June 8, 2007. Headlined by Cyndi Lauper, the tour also included Debbie Harry, Erasure, The Gossip, Rufus Wainwright, The Dresden Dolls, The MisShapes, Rosie O'Donnell, Indigo Girls, The Cliks and other special guests. Profits from the tour helped to benefit the Human Rights Campaign as well as PFLAG and The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
On January 25, 2008, Cho officially gave her support to Barack Obama for the nomination on the Democratic ticket for the 2008 U.S. presidential election. After Republican Presidential candidate John McCain announced his running-mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, Cho said of Palin, "I think [Palin] is the worst thing to happen to America since 9/11."
After same-sex marriage became legal in California in May 2008, Cho was deputized by the City of San Francisco to perform marriages there.
In 2003, Cho founded a clothing line with friend and fashion designer Ava Stander called High Class Cho. The company eventually went defunct.
In 2004, Cho took up bellydancing and in 2006 started her own line of bellydancing belts and accessories called Hip Wear (sold through her website). She also had extensive tattooing done to cover the majority of her back. She co-wrote and starred in a sitcom pilot based around the "Mommy" character of her stand-up, but it was not picked up. She began releasing comedic rap animated videos on her website under the moniker "M.C. M.C." (MC Margaret Cho) including the tracks "Finger" and "Roofies."
In November 2006, Cho joined the board of Good Vibrations. She co-wrote a rap song with fellow comedian Diana Yanez entitled "My Puss", which they recorded as the duo as "Maureen and Angela". She then appeared in and directed the music video for the song. In December 2006, Cho appeared on the Sci-Fi Channel's miniseries The Lost Room as Suzie Kang.
In 2007, Cho appeared in The Dresden Dolls' video of their song "Shores of California", which was MCed by Amanda Palmer and in The Cliks' video for "Eyes in the Back of My Head", in which she played Lucas Silveira's lover. She also voiced a character, Condie Ling, on the Logo animated series Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World. Her episodes began airing in 2007.
Recently on an episode of The Hour with host George Stroumboulopoulos, Cho mentioned that she loved Broken Social Scene and wishes to be a part of the band (offering to play the rainstick or the triangle). On air, Stroumboulopoulos called Kevin Drew from his cell phone and Cho made her request to join the band via his voicemail.
In April 2009, Cho was photographed by photographer Austin Young and appeared in a Bettie Pageâ"inspired "Heaven Bound" art show.
In September 2010, she competed in the eleventh season of Dancing with the Stars partnered by Louis van Amstel. She was the third star to be eliminated on week three of the show, landing her in 10th place.
The online human rights awareness project America 2049 had Margaret portray one of the main characters, whose videos were played as part of the main storyline. The Facebook-interfaced game uses a fictional, fractioned future in order to highlight today's social inequities.
In 2011 Cho sang the Bob Mould song "Your Favourite Thing" at the tribute concert 'See A Little Light' with Grant-Lee Phillips.
Since January 2013, Cho has been the co-host of the weekly podcast Monsters of Talk, along with Jim Short.
In 2014, she participated in Do I Sound Gay?, a documentary film by David Thorpe about stereotypes of gay men's speech patterns.
Cho married Al Ridenour, an artist involved in the production of Cacophony Society and the Art of Bleeding, in 2003. Cho was featured in an Art of Bleeding performance in March 2006. She described her marriage as "very conventional and conservative, I think. I mean we're such weird people that people just can't imagine that we would have a conventional marriage. But, yeah, we are very conventional." They were divorced in 2014.
As of 2009, Cho lives in Peachtree City, Georgia, as Drop Dead Diva is filmed in the Atlanta area.
She is openly bisexual, and has stated that she's had "a lot of experience in the area of polyamory and alternative sexuality in general."
- In 1994, Skankin' Pickle released their album Sing Along With Skankin' Pickle featuring a song entitled "It's Margaret Cho".
- In 1999, I'm the One That I Want won New York magazine's Performance of the Year award and was named one of the Great Performances of the year by Entertainment Weekly.
- In 2000, her "E! Celebrity Profile" won a Gracie Allen Award from the American Women in Radio and Television organization acknowledging its "superior quality and effective portrayal of the changing roles and concerns of women."
- In 2000, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) awarded her with a Golden Gate Award and described her as an entertainer who, "as a pioneer, has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
- In 2001, she was given a Lambda Liberty Award by Lambda Legal for "pressing us to see how false constructions of race, sexuality, and gender operate similarly to obscure and demean identity."
- In 2003, she received a Justice in Action award from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
- In 2003, she was given an Intrepid Award by the National Organization for Women.
- In 2004, she was awarded with the First Amendment Award from the American Civil Liberties Union.
- In 2007, she won for Outstanding Comedy Performance in AZN's Asian Excellence Awards.
- April 30, 2008 was declared "Margaret Cho Day" in San Francisco.
- "I'm the One That I Want" (2000)
- "Notorious C.H.O." (2002)
- "Revolution" (2003)
- "State of Emergency" (2004)
- "Assassin" (2005)
- "True Colors" (2007)
- "Beautiful" (2008)
- "True Colors" (2008)
- "Cho Dependent" (2010)
- "Mother!" (2012)
- "The PsyCHO Tour" (2015)
- I'm the One That I Want (2000)
- I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight (2005)
- Drunk with Power (1997)
- Live in Houston (1998)
- I'm the One That I Want (2000)
- Notorious C.H.O.: Live at Carnegie Hall (2001)
- Revolution (2003)
- Assassin (2005)
- Beautiful (2009)
- Cho Dependent (2010)
- Mother! (release 2013/2014)
- Cho Dependent (2010)
- Official website
- Margaret Cho at the Internet Movie Database
- Margaret Cho's's channel on YouTube
- Alternet.org video
- Margaret Cho Video produced by Makers: Women Who Make America
- Margaret Cho Wilbur Theatre in Boston, MA review and photos by Jen Vesp