Margaret Cho is not a shy comic.
The 48-year-old comedian started performing comedy professionally at 16 and has been making people laugh with her truth ever since. In February she was named one of the 50 Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time by “Rolling Stone” magazine and she fiercely advocates for causes close to her heart.
When Cho began her career in comedy there weren’t Asian American comics for her to look up to, she said recently by phone. Instead she saw Joan Rivers as an inspiration and made her way into the world of comedy not knowing what would lie ahead.
Now the tour de force comedian is taking things like politics, abuse and addiction to task with her newest tour “Fresh Off the Bloat” which comes to Madison on Sunday.
How does this tour differ from your previous ones?
It’s all new material. What I think I was very excited about was it’s a crazy time (right now). It’s a time where comedy is really important. We really are desperate and everything is so crazy and I think comedy is the one thing we can always turn to.
I think this will be like saying everything will be OK.
Your show description uses the tagline “it’s all about the politics of disgust and what is disgusting about politics”—what does that mean?
He’s really the most base kind of reactive, very childish person who is really now suddenly in charge of everything. It’s disgusting.
His siding with white supremacists and he’s tiptoeing around Nazis not wanting to address or offend them, but how blatantly offensive he is toward women and Mexicans or any immigrant. He blasts all of these different minorities and then somehow he defends white supremacists, that’s a crazy thing.
That’s disgusting. That’s easily defined as disgusting and getting into that is really important.
Has your comedy always been driven by the political or is that a recent change?
I’ve always been political. That’s something that has happened. And now everything is so crazy that it’s beyond politics.
It’s become our daily lives and it’s been about what Trump does everyday. It’s moment by moment and it’s very crazy.
A lot of your tour is headed overseas, do those audiences respond differently than U.S. audiences?
Yep (it’s headed overseas). I think you get to work on the world politics there too. There’s a great interest in everything. There is a lot to say.
The world is a lot smaller in a lot of ways because of the internet, social media and how the news is. Everyone knows everybody else. There is much more immediacy than before—it’s a different time.
I think (audience reaction) is the same. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff over my career in Europe and Asia and Australia. I find it’s really the same wherever we go. We’re in a new world where it all makes sense. Everyone is on the same page.
Everything is very universal and comedy is a form that travels well.
How has your comedy changed throughout your career?
I think I’m a lot more understanding of what’s going on. The world has also changed in terms of diversity in entertainment.
When I started there were no other Asian American comedians that I could look to. So now there is a lot more diversity in comedy especially which I’m really excited about and grateful for.
The landscape of racial diversity is changing.
So are you a comedian that young Asian American or female comedians can look up to?
I hope so. I just happen to be there which is the best thing.
I don’t know my contribution other than being in the right place at the right time. I didn’t realize I would change things. I didn’t realize people would follow in my footsteps, I didn’t think about that.
Back then it was an impossible thing to imagine—it’s so great.
I know you began your career young at 16, but if you hadn’t become a comic where do you think life would’ve taken you?
I don’t know!
I do love food, I’m a big foodie. I like cooking and that’s really great.
I like to take care of animals a lot too, so maybe that’s something. Other than comedy I never had any other plan. It was exactly it. There was nothing else on the offer for me.
Did your father writing joke books influence your decision to do comedy?
...He’s a funny guy, but I didn’t want to write. I’ve written books and written a lot, but that wasn’t my passion.
Stand up was really important and seeing Joan Rivers up there was really influential. I don’t know what I would do outside of comedy.
OK, I need to know—what’s the story behind the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington tattoos on your knees?
It’s so stupid. I don’t have any (reason). My tattoos have no significance. I have so many.
None of them mean anything—I like them aesthetically. I find them pleasing. My friends are tattoo artists and when you have a bunch of them you get crazy stupid ones from them.