Margaret Cho turns painful personal experiences into comedy. Her ability to do so demonstrates a skill set she has honed during 20-plus years on the road, she said.
“Taking something that is very tragic and difficult and creating humor from it – that is the art form,” Cho said by phone from her home in Los Angeles. “There are different things in my shows nowadays that are very dark (but) that get to funny, and I am very proud of that.”
Cho will perform twice May 16 at Cache Creek Casino Resort. Her stand-up act will address the deaths last year of fellow comics Robin Williams and Joan Rivers. She also, within a larger context of talking about violence against women, will discuss violence perpetrated against her.
“As a rape victim myself … I do speak from this experience and know how terrible it is,” Cho said.
Cho, 46, did not elaborate about the specifics. Instead, she spoke generally about growing up in the late 1970s and ’80s in an American culture that inappropriately sexualized teenagers.
“I had so many instances of childhood sexual abuse,” she said. “I was growing up during the era of movies like ‘Little Darlings’ and Natasha Kinski in ‘Tess.’ … I suffered a lot from that era, and think a lot of women my age have those experiences.”
More than $23,000Generated to fight homelessness
She incorporates such material into her act because of her own history, she said, and because she has been inspired by the women who stepped forward to accuse Bill Cosby of abuse after comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby “a rapist” on stage in October, renewing years-old assault allegations.
“It was something that was generated within comedy,” she said of the new Cosby allegations. “So I am really inspired that comedians can take up that challenge and talk about something that is relevant and important.”
Cho said she doesn’t know Cosby. She always has belonged to the Richard Pryor camp of edgier material. And to the Pryor camp in general. Cosby and Pryor “didn’t get along,” Cho said, and she was friends with Pryor, who died in 2005.
Rivers and Williams also were her friends, Cho said. Rivers, who died in September from complications from throat surgery, “was warm and gracious and loving toward me and all comics, actually, especially women in comedy,” Cho said.
Cho grew up, and began her comedy career, in San Francisco, where Williams, Cho said, was “like a father” to the close-knit comedy community.
After Williams committed suicide at his Marin County home in August, Cho channeled part of her grief into an ad-hoc campaign against homelessness on San Francisco’s streets. Cho turned up at different spots in San Francisco late last year, busking alongside other performers and musicians.
She announced her various street performances on social media with the hashtag #BeRobin, urging fans to come down to donate clothes and money. In addition to what she collected in person, she launched a GoFundMe campaign that generated more than $23,000.
She was paying tribute, Cho said, to Williams’ tireless advocacy for the homeless stretching back to his Comic Relief days, and to his pre-fame past as a street performer.
“People were so generous,” Cho said. “It was this big group effort, and it sort of set up a chain reaction (of giving) in San Francisco. … Google donated $2 million (to San Francisco homeless groups).”
It’s been more than 20 years since Cho tried to shoehorn her often-ribald stage persona into the mainstream ABC sitcom “All-American Girl,” the first network show to feature an a primarily Asian American cast. She detailed her unhappy experiences making the show in the 2000 standup film “I’m the One That I Want” and elsewhere. But she still takes pride in her forerunner status.
She loves “Fresh Off the Boat,” a current, more daring ABC sitcom about an Asian American family. Chef and author Eddie Huang, on whose experiences the show is based, sought her input in the show’s development stage, Cho said.
“It was very fulfilling for me because it was a chance to sort of rectify my mistakes from 21 years ago, and to sort of see something through,” Cho said. “It was really the dream realized. (And) they had a clip with me on the other night: the ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ family watching ‘All-American Girl.’”
Cho has not entered the mainstream since. But she tickles its edges. She appeared on the Lifetime series “Drop Dead Diva” throughout its five-year run, and co-hosted the talk show “All About Sex” earlier this year on TLC.
Cho made waves in January, when she appeared with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes. Cho, who previously portrayed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il on Fey’s sitcom “30 Rock,” played a military minion of Kim Jong-un’s on the Globes broadcast, when the Sony-hack scandal still was fresh.
Cho caught criticism for what some called a cartoonish Asian stereotype.
“I would think that as a Korean, I would have permission to talk about my family,” Cho said, alluding to the backlash. She has been doing a version of the North Korean military character for years, she said, and sees it as another outlet through which she can work through pain.
“Korea was just one country, and then it became a divided country (in 1945), and we lost half of our family,” she said. “It is a dark history. It brings a lot of joy to use comedy (about North Korea), because it is something that has caused a lot of suffering.”
- What: Live comedy, “The psyCHO” tour
- When: 7:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday, May 16
- Where: Cache Creek Casino Resort, 14455 Highway 16, Brooks
- Cost: $35-$49
- Information: www.cachecreek.com, (888) 772-2243