"Nothing is too personal to reveal. And nothing is embarrassing. And nothing is really too painful or shameful. Because we're human beings, we all have had experiences that range from pain and heartache and sadness and embarrassment. And I think to be able to share that is a beautiful thing and really great for art, really great for comedy and really great for entertainment."
– Margaret Cho
Guy MacPherson: I feel like I know you, Margaret.
Margaret Cho: Oh, you know, you probably do.
GM: I've read everything there is in the world about you.
MC: Oh, my goodness.
GM: And I don't know what to ask. It's all been asked. Your life is an open book.
MC: It is, sort of. But then there are lots of things people don't know.
GM: Oh tell me something!
MC: Well, how do they know I'm not lying? (laughs)
GM: I wondered that, actually.
MC: Yeah, because I mean, I could say anything. So... what do people not know about me? I don't know. They should come to the show and see. Because even though you know a lot, the experience of being there and watching me and being with me I think is different.
GM: They'll really get to know you then?
MC: Well, they enjoy it more. You know, like we're old friends. You love your friends and you're never bored.
GM: Is there something new every show? How scripted is it?
MC: It's pretty scripted. But this is a pretty new show than anything I've done before.
GM: Do you tire of it?
MC: I don't think so. I think I've had some breaks lately, which has made it a lot easier for me.
GM: What? The movie? Book? What are the breaks?
MC: I've had a little bit of time between shows.
GM: Ah! I see.
MC: About a week between shows. So every show is like an event, you know? So that's been really manageable. I've really enjoyed that. That's been OK.
GM: So you can regroup and get your mind off it.
GM: You are pretty open in the show about your life and all the ups and downs.
MC: Well, you know, I think it's really important. I think that for me, human experience is so universal that in itself nothing is personal. I mean nothing is too personal to reveal. And nothing is embarrassing. And nothing is really too painful or shameful. Because we're human beings, we all have had experiences that range from pain and heartache and sadness and embarrassment. And I think to be able to share that is a beautiful thing and really great for art, really great for comedy and really great for entertainment. A great way for me to really reach to the depths of my [garbled] and really stretch and grow.
GM: So it's kind of like your therapy.
MC: In a way. It's just love.
GM: It's just love.
GM: What does that mean?
MC: It's love. Like, I love the audience. I love them and I want to share my love with them.
GM: As a group you love them.
MC: As a group.
GM: Individually when they come back stage . . .
MC: No, even when they come backstage, as well.
GM: That's good to know. . . So you say you don't feel embarrassed about anything? Is that just in general? You must get embarrassed over certain things.
GM: In person as well as on stage?
MC: I've kind of lost that over time.
GM: When you realized everybody feels . . .
MC: Everybody feels that. It's just comforting. I've just gotten to a place in my life where I'm happy all the time. I just want to love everybody.
GM: That's noble of you. So is this why you think that we can relate? Because you're talking about having a sitcom, having it fail, dating celebrities – stuff a lot of people can't really relate to. But you think that the underlying theme...
MC: Is that everybody can relate. Everybody relates. Everybody understands what disappointment is and what failure is and what sadness is and things not living up to your expectations. And everybody knows the ideas of trying to fit in where you just don't. You just can't and you want to really badly. I think that people really understand that, too.
GM: Uh-huh. So in your case it was with a network television show and with other people it's with something else.
GM: A form of success or rejection.
MC: Yeah, rejection. People wanting to change your self, because you will be rejected. The problem isn't you, the problem is that you're giving these people the power to control how you feel about yourself, which is the major issue in the show.
GM: In this instance you're talking about the TV executives?
MC: Yes. Like they had real problems with me physically and they wanted me to lose weight, which was really an unreasonable thing because I'm thin and I didn't have weight to lose. And yet I still felt like I needed to change myself to please them, so I worked out really hard and didn't eat anything and I wound up in the hospital.
GM: How much did you weigh?
MC: Oh, God, I don't think I weighed anything! I weighed very little, and then much less.
GM: Aha! There's something you won't tell us!
MC: Well, I don't even know. I probably weighed about 120 pounds and then I dieted to about 110 or 105, which is really unreasonable because I'm 5-6.
GM: And this was probably because you were new, you were young and you thought this is the way it's done, right? You didn't know enough to say I'm not going to do that.
MC: Yeah. And again, I felt like I had to please them. I had to somehow hang on to this job, hang on to this . . . whatever. It was a really painful thing.
GM: Do you ever see these executives now or have contact with them?
MC: No. I didn't have contact with them then.
GM: Oh, it was all through memos?
MC: It was all through memos and producers. And it was just a really negative experience.
GM: Are you angry towards them?
MC: No. Because everybody was trying to keep their job. There's nobody that's really at fault. The system's at fault. I was at fault for trying to be a part of the system. So there was no one person that did anything wrong. It's just the whole thing is wrong.
GM: And I understand that your show preceded Drew Carey's show.
GM: Irony there.
MC: There are different standards that we have for men and women. The narrow vision that we have for women in terms of what they can do in the media, it's really awful.
GM: What types of things don't you tell us? Either specifically or just in general. Or do you just open up about everything?
MC: I think I pretty much open up about everything. I mean, I don't really talk about what's happening in my personal life at the moment because it's happening and I don't really know what to make of it yet.
GM: There's no perspective on it.
MC: I don't have any perspective on it. I don't really have any control over it. I don't really know what it means. So maybe I wouldn't talk about that, necessarily. Maybe I won't talk about people in my life that don't want me to talk about them because it's a shared truth that I don't lay claim to. I break that rule a lot. That happens. . . Um, I don't know. I don't know what I don't say. I think I say everything. I say a lot.
GM: Do you think there's a danger in your tale in that throughout all the drug abuse, sex and depravity that you lived, that people could hear that and go, 'Well, she got over it. Don't deny me my fun!'
MC: Yeah, but the thing about it for me was it wasn't any fun. And in the show that's very clear about how not fun it was. And it's just my life. And I'm not trying to make it into a cautionary tale. I'm not trying to keep people from doing anything that I did. I'm just explaining what happened. And whatever people get out of that is their choice. But I do find that the show is helpful in the sense that it is about finding self-reliance and finding self-love in the midst of this society which is so against that. So that's what I do. But I can't control what people take from it. You know, the fact that I lived is a real fluke because I should be dead many times over in the way that I liked to live, liked to have fun - even though it wasn't fun.
GM: Would you do anything differently?
MC: I don't think so.
GM: No? So you'd do it all again?
MC: Maybe I wouldn't take the GHB! (laughs)
GM: The what?
MC: The GHB.
GM: What is that?
MC: It's this horrible drug. I wouldn't take some of the drugs that I took.
GM: OK. That was a bad experience, was it?
MC: That was a bad example. Yeah, I wouldn't have taken so many drugs. But really, I'm glad the way things have turned out and am very pleased with my life and the way things are.
GM: I've seen your standup. At the Bumbershoot festival.
MC: Oh yeah.
GM: You were clean then, were you?
MC: Yes, I was.
GM: Because you said that people wouldn't even know when you went on stage.
MC: Nobody could tell. But at that point I was pretty good, I was, I would say, better.
GM: So I've seen your standup on TV as well as live. How different is the show that's coming to Vancouver?
MC: It's really pretty different. It's really pretty grounded and rooted. It's just a whole story and it's really new for me. I think the people that are familiar with my work will recognize some of the same characters. I do my mother in the show a lot. But it [the show] has a whole different perspective to it. I feel a lot more adult as a performer. It feels very complete.
GM: Your mother has still never seen the show?
MC: She did come, actually. She came last year.
MC: So she loved it. She was very excited. And I talk about it in the show.
GM: And your father?
MC: He came, too. It was really great for them. They'd never come to see me and they were really scared to. And to open that part of my life up to them really brought us a lot closer, so I'm really grateful and glad that they were there.
GM: But they must have had some issues.
MC: No, they loved it.
GM: Oh, really.
MC: They really love my work.
GM: So they knew at the time how far you had fallen.
MC: I had to let them know about that pretty much when it was happening. So they were really involved in it. So they weren't surprised by anything in the show. But I'm sure it was hard for them to live through that, anyway, not be sure how I'd come out of it. I think it was probably one of the most difficult things they had to deal with. Yet they were great throughout it. So we're a lot closer now.
GM: And because you've come out of it, I'm sure that's a big relief. Now they can look back and you can talk about it and it's fine. . . So they owned a bookstore. Do they still have it?
GM: Did you grow up reading a lot?
MC: I did.
GM: Do you still?
MC: I do.
GM: What kind of books?
MC: I like a lot of really different things. I read a lot of spiritual books. I read a lot about Buddhism because I'm really involved in it. I love a lot of travel literature, which is kind of weird. Books by Paul Theroux I love. I read everything. I have a lot of friends who are writers and I'm constantly up on their stuff. You know, reading is part of my life and that's why I'm so happy to write a book because that's what I really love.
GM: Every comedian's coming out with a book. Is yours different?
MC: I think that mine is probably more harrowing (laughs). Mine is more scary.
GM: That's good in a comedian's book. . . Or will it not be a "funny," per se, book?
MC: Well, it is a funny book. I think it would have to be. But it really goes into detail about my life and what was happening and during my television show and after. The years of having incredible depression and ultimately coming out of it.
GM: Are you writing it yourself? Or is this as-told-to?
MC: No, I'm writing it myself.
GM: And is it going to offer a lot more than the show does?
MC: It will cover the same themes, but it's just a different form of storytelling. And it's just a
different type of working for me. So I'm really excited about that.
GM: Is it finished?
MC: It's almost finished.
GM: And when are you expecting it to be released?
MC: Sometime next year. So there's quite a long time.
GM: One of the things I was most amazed at was – and it's silly – you were on a Bob Hope special!
GM: I mean, the guy's 99, or whatever he is now. And you're not that old.
MC: I was on the Bob Hope special like eight years ago.
GM: He was still doing specials then?
MC: Yeah. Isn't that incredible?
GM: That is incredible. You must be like the last person...
MC: (laughs) I think he did one the year after me, and then that was it.
GM: How was he?
MC: He was, um, old. He was really old. I went to his house and everything. It was really strange.
GM: In Palm Springs?
MC: Um, no. In Toluca Lake, which is right outside of Hollywood.
GM: He had a big party?
MC: He had a little soiree there by the pool. And we sat and looked at his roses. He was just really old.
GM: As you said.
MC: I don't think I even spoke to him.
MC: I don't think I did. I don't think we talked at all.
GM: But that's something just to go to his house. That guy's a legend.
MC: He just sort of stared.
GM: That happens with age.
MC: He just looked very contemplative.
GM: So who were your comedy idols growing up?
MC: I loved Richard Pryor. And I loved Sandra Bernhardt. I loved Bill Hicks. I've always been a big
comedy fan. And I always knew that I would do it. I always knew that I'd be a comedian. I always knew that I'd be great. So I've always looked at comedians more as peers than role models.
GM: Do you look at the old-time comics with respect or do you look at them and go, They're hokey.
MC: I guess it just depends on who it is. Some people I don't have very much respect for. Some people I really love their work. There are some people that I just loved, like Lenny Bruce, who's great. Enduring. Really amazing. Amazing, amazing. And then there are people I don't really-- I never got it then, I still don't get it.
GM: I see a trend with people that you like, with Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce. The on-the-edge, political, working "blue", as they say.
MC: Honest. Dangerous.
GM: Not so much formula.
MC: They just all worked within the truth. That was all they did, was work within truth and revealing truth. And that was their sole purpose.
GM: Truth according to them.
MC: Yeah. I love them. People now? I think I love Chris Rock - he's probably my favourite. He's the only one who's really doing anything . . . besides me. He's great.
GM: Are you going to continue doing comedy after this tour is over?
MC: Yeah. I want to write a new show and I want to keep going and be out there and work. I love it.
GM: You're kind of a role model for Asian-American/North American TV actors. And before
you, there was, what, Arnold?
MC: Oh, Pat Marita.
GM: And Mrs. Livingston. Who else was there?
MC: I don't think... Oh, there was Jack Su from Barney Miller, who was great. He was really funny. No, there aren't many. Now there's Lisa Ling and Lucy Liu, those two people. Um, there's not a lot.
GM: Is this something you'd like to get back into?
MC: I would love to. And I would be great at it. And I really think that my experience really could be valuable when I return.
GM: Would that be acting or more like a talk show?
MC: Probably a talk show, I would imagine. But we'll see.
GM: Have you been to Vancouver? I know you were scheduled to come here a couple years ago and for some reason it was cancelled.
MC: Yeah, I was there many, many years ago. I played Yuk Yuks. I'm looking forward to coming back.
GM: Have you been through Canada much?
MC: Not really, no.
GM: Do you think the references we'll be able to relate to?
MC: I think so.
GM: Well, I look forward to seeing the show.
MC: You sound just – can I say? – It's crazy, because you sound just like my ex-boyfriend (laughs).
GM: The one that you decided you hated?
MC: No, no, no, no, no. It's somebody I still love very much. But it's really uncanny.
MC: I think that you're him and that you're playing a joke on me.
GM: Well, I've got a surprise for you, Margaret! . . . No, I'm not him. What's his name?
GM: Is he American?
MC: Yes, he is. But you don't really have a Canadian accent, I don't think.
GM: Well, you know, we don't have accents.
MC: We do.
GM: You do. But that's interesting.
MC: That's funny.
GM: I hate my voice, so he must have a really ugly voice.
MC: No, he doesn't. He has a lovely voice and so do you. You sound just like him. It's so weird. So I'm going to tell him.
GM: Tell him there's a guy up here. . . What does he look like? Maybe I look just like him, too.
MC: Oh, he's very handsome.
GM: Oh, yeah! That's me.
MC: I thought so