Currently on tour with her new stand-up show There Is No I In Team, But There Is a Cho In Psycho, comedian/actress Margaret Cho (Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva”) is not only making audiences laugh with her onstage performances, she’s offering support to victims of sexual abuse, an issue Cho can speak on from experience. “I am a rape victim and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse,” she shared with followers on Twitter last month and urges others to do the same by using the hashtag #tellyourstory.
Although she wasn’t too interested in talking about the accusations of sexual improprieties against comedian Bill Cosby that have taken up the headlines in recent weeks, Cho, 45, spoke to me via phone about victim shaming and what she feels gives comedy value.
What can we expect from you with this new show?
Well, we’re going through a very difficult time in society right now in that there is a lot of violence against women and issues that I feel are really important topics to address. So, my show is all about that.
You’ve always been vocal about social issues and have even shared your own story about abuse. Is it difficult to talk about something so personal?
You know, it’s not something that ever feels personal to me because I talk about being a victim of childhood sexual abuse all the time. It’s something I’ve always lived with. I’m encouraged to talk about it even more because it seems the tide is shifting where the people who are talking about their own experiences are not being blamed for it. We’re starting to see a real change in the attitudes people have towards those who have been victimized. That is definitely a positive thing.
I know a lot of comedians pull inspiration from their own pain, but how do you find humor in something like sexual abuse?
Oh, that’s the genius of it! There is humor in healing. There is a way to get through it. It’s really important to acknowledge that we’re powerful to rise above all of it.
Why do you think accusations of sexual abuse against someone like comedian Bill Cosby have been largely ignored until recently?
It’s not really apparent to me why that is.
Do you think it’s fair for him to stand trial in the court of public opinion?
I think it’s more important that we as victims talk about what happened to us and find healing within ourselves and outside of the abusers and those doing the victimizing. That’s more of my area. To me, it’s about who these [victims] are and what they’re going through. Assigning guilt isn’t what I’m talking about. That’s another issue.
Is there anything special you have to do to get ready to do a tour through a conservative state like Texas? I know you’ve been picketed here before.
I spend a lot of time in different parts of Texas. I’ve recorded an album there. There is a very conservative side, but there is also a really pioneering progressive side. My shows are always different and unique in that I cater them to wherever I am.
You’ll be here in San Antonio on your birthday, December 5. Is there anything you want?
You know, I’m usually working on my birthday and I really don’t celebrate it. I don’t make a big deal out of it. (Laughs) When you’ve had a lot of them, they sort of don’t mean that much anymore, unfortunately. I’m not really that big on cake.
Your show “Drop Dead Diva” ended this past June after six seasons on the air. Have you had any withdrawals over the last few months?
Yeah, for sure. It’s a show that I love. We were all a family. I was close to all the people who were in it. It was a big part of my life and my development. We totally miss each other.
A few years ago you played the roles of Kim Jong-un and King Jong-il during a couple of episodes of “30 Rock.” How relieved were you in October when photos of Jong-un were released after he had not been seen in public for months?
(Laughs) You know, it’s so weird because images [in North Korea] are so tightly controlled. We have no idea what some of their voices even sound like. We have no idea what is going on with that family. It’s really interesting.
Actors James Franco and Seth Rogen got some flak from North Korean officials for making an upcoming comedy about the assassination of Jong-un (“The Interview,” which hits theaters Christmas Day). Did you ever hear any criticism for your portrayal of the Jongs since North Korea isn’t known for their sense of humor?
Well, I’m so Korean anyway, so I think I have the right to play them. My family is half North Korean, so it makes sense.
Do you think it’s a problem that there are no longer any female comedians in late night TV since Chelsea Handler left her show “Chelsea Lately” this past August? I know you were a guest of hers a handful of times over the last few years.
There really needs to be more female voices everywhere, not just in late night and comedy. I love Chelsea. I think she is great. I definitely think we need some presence in late night now that she’s not there.
You were supposed to be on a TV show called “Cabot College” that Tina Fey was executive producing for Fox, but the show was killed this past summer when former Fox chairman Kevin Reilly stepped down from his position. How disappointing what that, especially since the show was considered a frontrunner to get picked up earlier this year?
Oh, I was very disappointed because I love Tina. I think she’s a genius. She’s a good friend and a role model. I really admire her and enjoy working with her. Every time we’ve done it, we’ve done so well. So, yes, I’m really disappointed, but I know things like that happen. I’m sure there will be another opportunity some time.
How do you feel about Comedy Central announcing last month that they will no longer bleep out the word “pussy” on air because of comedian Amy Schumer’s campaign? She said there was a double standard since the network doesn’t bleep out the word “dick.”
It’s great! Amy Schumer has revolutionized comedy. She is a true visionary. She is an amazing comedian. I’m really fond of her both professionally and personally. I think she’s an incredible person.
What was your experience like working with Weird Al Yankovic on his new music video for his song “Tacky?” I’m assuming he is someone you look up to since you both do parody songwriting.
I love him. I’ve been a big fan for years and years. He’s a good friend and it was a real dream to shoot that with him. It was incredible. All my friends are in that video, too, which made it super fun. We all messed up a lot and had to do it several times. It was hard because it was all one shot. To get it right was a challenge, but those guys are all such pros, so it was great.
Do you ever feel like you have to apologize for anything you say onstage?
I don’t think about those things. I mean, possibly. I’m sure there are things I’ve said that have been offensive, but that is the nature of comedy. You want to ride that line of being inappropriate. That’s the value of it. That’s the artistry.