It seems that just about everything that Margaret Cho does gets people talking. Her creative output—whether it delves into racial stereotypes, gay/lesbian humor or social justice—has always been provocative and thought-provoking. And funny as hell. Lest we forget that the SoCal-based Cho has been slaying audiences and entertaining the masses since her early stand-up catapulted her into the mainstream during the early ’90s, including starring in her own television show (American Girl), opening for Jerry Seinfeld and roles in big budget films like John Woo’s Face/Off. But this queen of all media has also written books, made appearances on tastemaker shows (Sex and the City), toured the country and currently spends six months out of the year in a supporting role for the Lifetime cable show Drop Dead Diva. In this exclusive interview with CULTURE, Cho talks about her current “Cho Dependent” tour, her new album that features indie and veteran luminaries like Tegan and Sara and Ani DiFranco and what it’s like to hang out with Cheech & Chong and Cypress Hill—and not get high?!?!?! But let her explain things…
So what’s up with your song “Calling In Stoned” that you did with Tommy Chong?
It’s a joke song. That was the whole intention, to try and elevate the form of comedy music and make songs that were joke songs, but actually really good, beautifully produced musical gems. That was the whole idea and Tommy Chong helped me out, which was a great, great, great gift. And he’s really an icon for me and I think anybody out here is who believes in free speech and freedom of expression and freedom to do things like smoke pot and sell [water pipes].
Yeah, Tommy’s awesome.
Yes, he’s an important icon and symbol of what can happen. In many ways, he was a political prisoner. I love Tommy. He was great in the song and I’m happy to have him on the record.
Cheech & Chong’s Greatest Hit got plenty of listens during my freshman year of college.
I love all their records and their movies and they’re still rocking it. They’re doing comedy and they’re out on tour. I love it. I love those guys. It was funny because I smoke pot, but I quit off and on. Like right now, I’m off. But I was also off when I worked with them; I worked with Cheech & Chong and Cypress Hill and I had quit smoking pot and I felt sort of stupid. They were, like, “What’s wrong with you? Are you sick? Are you alright?” “I’m fine,” I’d say. It was so weird.
It’s like hanging out with Ted Kennedy—
And not drinking! It’s a really weird thing.
We call them cannabis vacations.
It’s really good for me to take a vacation because it doesn’t make me high after a while, and I’m, like, “Why am I doing it?” It’s like I’m wasting it; there’s so much in my bloodstream it gets clogged up. I don’t know what the medical reality of it [is], anyways. I had to take time off because I can’t appreciate it if I don’t.
Your new album Cho Dependent features some pretty impressive collaborators, like Tegan and Sara. Were you impressed you pulled it off?
I was impressed. Of all those people, I had known most of them for a long time, like Grant-Lee Phillips and Jon Brion and Ani DiFranco, and they were people that I had known for years, and so when I decided to do an album it was natural to go to them and ask them to do it with me. Some of the people thought it was their project and they wanted to do it. Like Tegan and Sara—who are great—and Andrew Bird—who is amazing—or Ben Lee. These people just dug on the idea of what I was doing. Everyone had a different reason for why they did it. I’m just so impressed with everyone and I love everyone. I still can’t believe it. It’s just great and fortunate to have such amazing talents working with me.
Speaking of amazing talents, you performed at this past Bonnaroo, right?
I also did it last year. It was really great and so I was excited to return. I’ve also done [comedy] at South by Southwest and often there’s a comedy element to those shows, those big festivals. They usually have a comedy stage so it’s not much different than performing at any other festival. It’s great and I really love it because I get to see bands that I love and I get to hang out.
Is it very different than performing at a standard comedy venue?
It’s a different kind of setting, but the feeling is the same. There are people there who are definitely there to see the shows so it’s kind of the same. It’s also a great jumping-off point for hanging out. We get to see bands and hang out with them.
Did any of the bands that played at Bonnaroo get your juices going?
I love The Dead Weather. I love that band and I love Jack White and they’re so great and I’d love to work with them.
So, are you enjoying the second season of Drop Dead Diva?
It’s going well. I love that show. To me, it’s an easy job because I don’t have to carry it. I kind of have a supporting role on it. I’m proud of it. It leaves me really pretty free to do music and comedy stuff. I’m proud I have the opportunity to do that.
Funny, Snoop Dogg and Mike Epps recently did a tour similar to yours, one that combined comedy and music.
To me, [combining music and comedy] is very expansive. You get to do a bunch of different stuff. And it kind of motivates you to think larger, on a larger scale. But I didn’t know [Snoop and Epps] were doing it. Great idea.
Definitely. Snoop is always branching out and trying new things.
That makes sense. A lot of his music has a very strong comedic element to it. So, it makes sense.
So, what’s up with your song “My Puss,” which I saw on YouTube the other day. It’s a spoof of Mickey Avalon’s “My Dick,” right?
You’re right. I’m a big Mickey Avalon fan, so I wanted to cover that song in a way that made sense for me. So, that’s something that I did and that’s one of the songs that’s on the album. Actually, it’s one of the first songs I ever did.
I read somewhere on your bio that you say comics want to be rock stars and rock stars want to be comics. Who were your musical idols growing up?
I loved the Go-Go’s! They were such a big deal. That was the first concert that I went to. I loved Blondie—these are all people that I’m now friends with. Cyndi Lauper, she was a huge influence. I love them. They’re great. It’s really cool to have been able to grow up with such strong female role models in the ’80s. They were such great musicians. That was a really great time for women in music, so they were my idols. Siouxsie and the Banshees, Berlin—they were such a big deal. These were all the people I really loved.
Since you have to sing for your music, have you ever had any formal training?
No. My mother is a singer so I have it in my genes, I guess. It’s not something that’s easy. I definitely have to work at it. I have had some coaching—a little—but not as an adult, as a younger person. I never really discovered my singing voice until much later. But I can do it, which is cool. I’m really proud of the vocals on the record. It’s hard, it’s hard to make an album. I’m proud that I actually sang it all.
How about your comedic heroes?
I love Richard Pryor. I love Cheech & Chong. They were big influences. Joan Rivers is amazing. She’s still rocking it at 75. It’s really cool. I love Wanda Sykes and I love Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. I’m a big fan of comedy, so I go to see a lot of it. When I was at Bonnaroo, I was at Conan [O’Brien’s] set twice—which was phenomenal. He does a lot of music in his act too, which is great. And he’s a great guitar player and great singer.
I know you’re green-friendly, but tell CULTURE readers what your take on cannabis is? What are your views or philosophy?
I think that it’s less harmful than alcohol. I think people should use marijuana instead of alcohol. I think it’s better for you, health-wise. It’s the least harmful drug around. I think alcohol is far more destructive. There’s just this stigma around [cannabis]; that there’s something wrong with it or it’s a gateway. But, truly alcohol is worst of all. I don’t know, people who use pot, to me, are often peaceful, creative and insightful. Usually my friends and almost all of the people that I hang out with use it. I don’t understand why there’s such a stigma around it. I really love living in California because of the fact that it’s basically decriminalized. In a lot of ways that’s changing, and that’s very distressing.
So, you support the responsible use of cannabis?
I think it should be for recreational use, for medical use, and I think it’s great for everyone. I don’t see anything wrong with it and I don’t see anything harmful to it.
What are the cons of living in Atlanta for six months when you film Drop Dead Diva?
There are no dispensaries. None of that here. So, that’s a pain.
So when are you going to start medicating?
I don’t know. Hopefully, it won’t be long. We’ll see…
For more of what Margaret Cho is up to (including a Sept. 23 show at The Grove of Anaheim), go to www.margaretcho.com.
LADIES OF LAUGHTER
Yes, Margaret Cho is all about pushing the envelope, but she’s not the only female comic to get edgy in her stand-up. Here are three more funny girls who are far from safe:
Chelsea Handler—Definitely another girl behaving badly.
Lisa Lampanelli—Ethnic and LGBT types, you’ve been warned.
Roseanne Barr—Murder was the case . . . for the national anthem.