Margaret Cho, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. There’s your 1994 show “All-American Girl.” Your stand-up comedy concerts like “I’m The One That I Want” and “Notorious C.H.O.” Your shows “The Cho Show,” and most recently, “Drop Dead Diva.” I could go on, but I don’t want to embarrass you with your own awesomeness.
Whether you caught her in the ’90s or in the aughties, Cho is inescapable — and undeniably funny. This summer, she’s releasing her first album of “comedy music,” Cho Dependent, on which she got to perform with the likes of Fiona Apple and Ani DiFranco. Lucky bitch!
Cho was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about stand-up comedy, writing songs about homicidal ex boyfriends and camel toe.
What has the stand-up comedy world been like for women, in your experience?
I think the comedy community is not supportive to women in comedy. It’s just not a supportive environment. It’s interesting; a lot of women who are successful in comedy are lesbians. Or they have a fluid kind of gender identity, like I do. I am very fluid in that capacity. [Cho has had relationships with both men and women. She is currently married to a man.] But you can’t really be a successful female comic if you give a s**t what guys think at all. So a lot of heterosexual women end up dropping out because they just care too much about what guys think. I think that’s why there’s always lesbians who take over because they don’t care. It’s just an element to their personalities that helps them get by. That’s the closet explanation I can see. The women comedians that are out there generally are gay. The community itself is not supportive to women and so you don’t have it on the inside and you don’t have any kind of building or a connection; it’s just hard.
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Do younger comics ever ask you to mentor them, since you’ve achieved a level of mainstream success?
No, not really. My role in comedy is transitory because I’m always in different places. I’m kind of building more of a community here in Atlanta because I’m here a lot, and I’m doing some comedy here, but it’s mostly dudes here. There’s a lot of people doing comedy, but there’s two women that I’ve seen. That’s not a lot in a huge community in a major city.
Who are your favorite female comedians?
I really love Laura Kightlinger, who I think is probably the greatest of anybody who is anybody, male or female, involved in comedy. She is just a genius. I love Tig Notaro. She is a genius. She’s really, really incredible. I also like Sarah Silverman. There’s people out there who are pretty phenomenal. But Laura is really amazing, just so astute and so brilliant.
Do you think there are some topics women can make funny in a way that men can’t?
I think that’s everything. I generally prefer female comics anyway. I think that women are just better at it in general because we have to be better at it to survive and to be taken seriously. You have to be so good to get noticed as a female comic, so the quality of the art, what they’re doing, is just better.
Tell me about Cho Dependent, the album of songs that you recorded.
My album is a comedy album, a bunch of collaborations with different musicians that I’m fond of. It’s people like Ani DiFranco, Tegan and Sarah, Andrew Bird, Jon Brion, Grant Lee Phillips and Fiona Apple. So it’s comedy songs. I think most musicians want to be comedians and most comedians want to be musicians, so it’s a good exchange.
I hear there’s one song about a guy [John James Paulsen, or J.J. Paulsen] who worked on your old show, “All-American Girl,” whom you were pining for, and you recently found out he murdered his wife.
I was really in love with one of the writers and he didn’t like me back. It was really heartbreaking and I never wanted to Google him or anything. I think that’s a very common thing — if you like somebody, you Google them. It’s like, a thing; we never had that before but now it’s the thing to do. I never wanted to find him, because I just didn’t want to know he was having this happy life without me. So I waited, like, 17 years. I still, like, loved him. I finally Googled him and then his name came up on Wikipedia and it had his name, said he was a producer and screenwriter who’d worked on “All-American Girl” with me, and in 2007 he had been convicted of the murder of his wife. He bludgeoned her to death and left her body in the attic for a month until it had partially mummified.
Oh my God.
I was very upset about it. I didn’t know what to do, so I wrote a song about it with Andrew Bird. It was the right thing, I think. We wanted to do a country song, not goofy — he’s not a goofy person. It was perfect; it was serious, but it was also absurd. It’s a real murder ballad. It’s a legitimate country tradition to write those kinds of songs, but it’s a real murder. So the song is called “I’m Sorry” and it’s from the murderer’s perspective, which I totally think is valid. To me, it’s a really important song because it helped me through what I was feeling. I still loved him. It wasn’t like it was a small thing. It was a big deal.
So the song is from the murderer’s point-of-view, saying he’s sorry for killing her?
Yeah. Which he never actually admits! In domestic violence in general, the people don’t often admit guilt. You’d really have to hear the song, but it’s really about the inability for people like that to apologize. Even if all the stuff after the case, after he’d been convicted, he still maintained a kind of innocence. … The song is my way of getting through that idea. That’s kind of the part of the humor of the album. It’s not necessarily the way we’ve approached comedy music before.
It’s like a catharsis for you.
Yeah. He was not able to say it was an accident because how’s it an accident that you leave somebody in the f**king attic for months until you’re mummified? He told [his wife's family] that she was in rehab, because she was a bad alcoholic. They both were. So he told her family that they were in rehab so they didn’t come looking for her for, like, a month.
This whole story is so dark.
Yeah! And I know that he did that. Like, I can see him doing that. He’s a dark person. Maybe that’s why I loved him because there’s a kind of fatalistic urgency for me, too. I know that sometimes when people are crazy they become really compelling and maybe that’s why he was interesting to me. So, the humor of the album goes from very dark humor to very light — so it’s different types of joking around.
You also did a song called “Camel Toe” with Ani DiFranco on the album.
We wanted to write a song that was light and funny and sweet and [DiFranco's] latest album is all love songs. She’s in a beautiful place where she’s writing a lot of love songs that are different for her. A lot of what she’s known for is confessional songwriting. So I wanted to come to her with something playful and do something similar to Serge Gainsbourg, who is this pop singer from the ’60s. He did this amazing song called “Comic Strip” and I love that song. So we did our own version of [it in] a song about superheroes. But the superhero, their power is that they have camel toe. It’s really a cute song and she plays all the instruments on it and sings on it and I sing on it.
Oh, you perform music?
I play guitar and I play banjo and I play dulcimer. And a lot of people that I wrote with helped me tremendously. They also became music teachers as well as songwriting partners, so I learned all about the songwriting process and recording. It was a really amazing experience.
Any projects you want to plug?
My album is a huge, big deal for me. That’ll be out August 24 and then I’ll be on tour until December with it. On June 11, the tickets go on sale and if people go to MargaretCho.com they can get a free download of a song I wrote.
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