Margaret Cho is currently pulling double duty. Not only did the queer Korean-American comedienne begin her latest stand-up tour, “Fresh Off the Bloat,” earlier this month, but she’s also hard at work on the television series Highland for TNT. The show — of which Cho is both an executive producer and star — is a comedic drama, inspired by her personal battle with substance abuse, that had a pilot ordered back in May.
But despite splitting her time between the two projects — and not getting much sleep because of her hectic schedule — it seems Cho is never more comfortable than when she’s onstage inciting laughter from large crowds of her fans.
“It’s so exciting. I always love it. I always love touring,” Cho tells us over the phone. She’s currently in between stand-up gigs and working on Highland from her Los Angeles home. “I always love getting out there, whatever it is, whenever it is. It’s just super exciting to get to it.”
And “get to it” she has, having already brought this latest tour to cities including Seattle and Nashville. It’s been a few years since Cho’s last stand-up tour, “psyCHO” (also a filmed comedy event for Showtime), and you could say quite a lot has happened in the meantime. Donald Trump is now president, after all.
Cho has previously gone on record as saying this new “Fresh Off the Bloat” tour is her “sickest show to date,” and the phrase itself comes from something her grandmother once said to her: “You look like bloated as if you’ve been found dead in a lake after several days of searching.”
The show is about Cho being fresh off drugs and booze, and coming back to life after thoughts of suicide. In her own words, she’s “finally fished out of the River Styx.”
But as those of us who consider ourselves Cho-fanatics can attest, her stand-up shows are renowned for combining the belly laughs of her personal anecdotes (Who doesn’t love those stories involving her parents? Or the hilarity of her being offered Chinese chicken salad on planes?) and thought-provoking, wild-eyed discussion of current events and activist politics.
This upcoming tour promises to follow a similar format, combining heartfelt reminiscences with serious topics.
“Well, whether it’s whitewashing, or Donald Trump, or how to figure out how to be sane through this crazy time, there’s a lot,” Cho tells us. “This is an insane, insane time. I think it’s weird when you’re like, ‘Oh, you know, George W. Bush wasn’t that bad of a president.’ It’s a crazy thing to think — and not a good thing to think! There’s a lot about all of that in the show.”
She could go on and on about the disaster that is the Trump presidency (“People are really disgusted, and so am I. I’m really disgusted,” she says) but instead we bring the conversation around to something a bit lighter: gay men, who not only make up a huge segment of her fanbase but who over the years have taught her a lot, and who helped create the woman speaking to me now.
Our conversation moves to the plethora of things gay men have taught her over the years.
“Well, how to give blowjobs. That’s major,” she says. “Also how to present myself — not just to men but to anybody I would have a sexual interest in. How to dress, how to dance and how to love myself. There’s so much there. I’m so indebted to my community and where I come from, and I love it.”
A chunk of her latest show touches on the gay bookstore that her parents once owned in San Francisco’s Polk District in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and the fact that everyone her parents knew was decimated by the plague. “I talk a lot about the AIDS crisis, which I hadn’t figured out how to talk about before,” she says. “But I’m really thrilled that I figured out a way to make sense of it.”
As tragic as those years were, they, too, taught Cho something rather valuable — about resiliency.
“[I learned] that it’s possible to stare a plague down,” Cho says. “That it’s possible to look death in the face and survive, and that’s something that is very valuable, and a valuable lesson for my entire life. So I talk about that in the show, too.”
If nothing else, Margaret Cho is a survivor, and a beloved member of the resistance.
Where would the LGBTQ community be without her?
“Fresh Off the Bloat” is touring the United States and Europe through December. Head to margaretcho.com for more info.
All images of Margaret Cho by Albert Sanchez