Grammy-nominee Margaret Cho is constantly evolving professionally and personally. Best known as a comedian, Cho is famous for stand-up routines that feature graphic, acerbic commentary on social and political issues. Outspoken in her advocacy for LGBT equality, Cho is herself an out bisexual married to artist Al Ridenour.
With “Cho Dependent,” an album released in 2011, the prolific Cho also became a full-fledged singer-songwriter.
In addition to her stand-up work and music, Cho is a writer, actor and burlesque performer. She’s a regular on the Lifetime TV series “Drop Dead Diva,” which was renewed for its fifth season in March. In July, she launched the Web series “In Transition” on YouTube. The series, which follows three women recently released from prison, is classic Cho material.
Cho brings her latest comedy tour, which is titled “Mother,” to Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater on Oct. 20.
I spoke with her recently about the tour and other current issues in her life and career.
The tagline for “Mother” is “Nothing is sacred. Least of all this.”
Margaret Cho: I think that motherhood is considered a sacred thing. But a mother has to have sex in order to be a mother. You have to have sex quite a lot of times, actually, in order to get it to work. That’s sort of my thing. Being maternal doesn’t necessarily mean being holy, being sacred. Even though I’m not a mother myself, there are a lot of people who relate to me as a maternal figure because of my age. I think that makes me a mother of the world by default, which is great. The show is also about my mother, which (has been) a popular thing in my work over the years.
How do you think your mother feels about being a part of your act?
I think she loves it! I think she loves the feeling of being included and feeling like she’s being seen and heard – that her words and presence have a lot of value to me. I’ve been making fun of my mom since I was a really young kid.
What’s the worst advice your mother ever gave you?
To pluck above my eyebrow line. She does that. That was bad advice.
There are different kinds of motherhood. As a dog-person, do you feel like your dogs fulfill the mother/child relationship for you?
Oh, yes! It is a very enriching thing, a very powerful thing. I think animals and people are meant to cohabitate. I don’t think it competes with the mother-and-child dynamic, but it’s certainly something that satisfies a very important need. Children are obviously much more important. With an animal, your interspecies differences are always going to be there. It’s just different.
Do you have plans to record or film the “Mother” tour?
Yes, that will happen later in the year when I finish out the tour. It should be out around Christmas or so.
I recently interviewed “Drop Dead Diva” creator Josh Berman, and we talked about what it means to him that the show was saved from cancellation. As a cast member, what does it mean to you?
It’s really great. I think the show is great. I’m so excited. I’ve never seen that happen before. To have something that was canceled and then renewed, it was a new phenomenon. I didn’t realize that could happen.
I was glad to hear that your new album incorporates music with comedy in a way similar to “Cho Dependent.” What can you tell me about it?
It’s finished. Right now I’m putting everything together. I won’t release it until I finish my tour, because I want to come back and make videos. It goes into really weird territory. I was imagining what musicians from North Korea would sound like. I thought they would sound like country musicians. I think North Korea probably sounds like Nashville in the ’50s (laughs).
Not Death Metal?
No. It’s very country and very simple. Also, I’ve written songs for Yoko Ono, which Sean Lennon cried when he heard them.
That’s interesting because in recent years Yoko has topped the dance music charts.
She’s a phenomenal artist. I wrote her a dance song that addresses the tragedy that exists around her personal life and history in music. Sean was really moved. I don’t know if they’re going to do it, but it would be an honor. I want to start a full Asian band with Cibo Matto and Sean Lennon. A big Asian supergroup (laughs).
As a frequent talk-show guest, as well as a guest co-host on “The View,” do you have any interest in hosting your own talk show – maybe taking on the late night boys club of Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel and Leno?
(Laughs.) I would love to. There’s nothing I would like to do more. I think it would be so fun to have a really wild place that would be like Chelsea Lately meets Graham Norton with the rock ’n’ roll. I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time.
In these post-DOMA days, with your ability to officiate weddings, has anyone asked you to perform a marriage during one of your concert dates?
Yes. I’m going to be doing them off and on. I have deputization in California to perform weddings, and I also have that Universal Life Church Monastery card, so I have the ability to marry people all over the world. I’m doing some ceremonies. But it’s always going be different in every state. For example, I don’t know what it’s going mean in Georgia, where we film “Drop Dead Diva.” But it’s a great thing. I’m going to be performing lots of weddings. I have done them (during) concert dates before, but nobody’s asked for this tour yet.
I want to thank you for your routines on outing closeted celebrities and Hollywood homophobia and hypocrisy.
For me, I’m super honest about my life. I think people would be happier just being themselves. That’s my truth as coming from an older person. If people are truthful in the way I am then things go easier. But Hollywood is a weird place. It’s a weird situation where people want to be perceived in a certain way. Also, I’m just trying to be funny. The whole point of making that joke was so that I could talk about the police sketch artist doing a drawing of John Travolta’s asshole. I just wanted to make this really crass ridiculous joke about Helen Mirren coming across the police sketch artist’s portrait of John Travolta’s asshole (laughs). What people forget about comedy is that it’s just there to be ridiculous.
Do you have concerns about your safety?
No, but it would be fierce if I did. Wouldn’t that just be fierce? If I just had to have security. Having bodyguards and having to be protected, that is so fierce.
If you had metal detectors at your shows, what would happen to all the people with piercings and cock rings?
I know! It’s so sad to separate a drag queen from her purse when she has to go through the X-ray machine.