Margaret Cho is a woman. She’s also an American of Korean descent, a comedian, an activist for LGBTQ, minority, and women’s rights, a political advocate, an actress, a singer-songwriter, an author, a tattoo enthusiast and more. It’s her gender that gets her the most attention, however -- Cho’s career has been rife with criticism because she never quite fulfills the role that is expected of her as a woman. For example, she is now 43 years old and still not certain that motherhood is in her destiny. But isn’t motherhood the endgame for any woman? Isn’t Cho at the ripe age for parenting?
Not according to Cho. Her new comedy tour, appropriately titled “Mother,” is her most controversial show to date. Cho will perform two shows in New Hampshire on the “Mother” tour, one on Thursday, Sept. 27, at The Music Hall in Portsmouth and one on Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord. It’s been a long time since Cho has been to the state, and she said she’s excited to return. She also said that audiences can expect a great time.
“[The show] is just filthy and raunchy and that’s what I was trying to do,” she said. “The more that I write, the longer I do comedy, the more concise the jokes become. They’re just dirty, off-color, really mathematically perfect. The formula of comedy is that you have to have the shortest statements that say the most in those words.”
Much of “Mother” is based on Cho’s impersonation of her own mother, one of the most popular elements of her ever-changing act. Cho said she’s taking this character, as well as some other acts that she hasn’t done in a while, and expanding on them for the new tour. She said she’ll be focusing quite a bit on the body and how it changes — “If you’re a woman, you’re meant to be a mother,” she said. “Everyone thinks of you that way even when you aren’t.”
The timing of the tour is especially relevant to the current political discourse surrounding women’s bodies and reproductive rights. Will she discuss some of these issues at any point during the show? “I think that’s inevitable … to me, it’s a very barbaric thing that we have to argue about our own rights as women,” she said. “That seems really weird.”
Cho has always been outspoken about race, sexuality and politics, including openly supporting President Obama’s campaign in 2008. She’s also supporting him this year: “I’m proud to be able to do that again. It’s a really important thing and it’s an interesting election just because of the strangeness of all these candidates, especially leading up to this point.”
Cho’s controversial performances have garnered full-scale protests in the past. She said she doesn’t ever expect protests to occur, but when they do, they aren’t all that disruptive. She also said if a protest happens at any point on the “Mother” tour, “I would welcome it. It’s a differing opinion. The thing about what I do is that it comes from a compassionate place and it’s just about equality and I don’t see how that’s offensive.”
For the past 30 years, Cho has done stand-up that reflects her beliefs as well as her personal failures and insecurities. Since she is so different from many people in the comedy industry, she said, it’s “pretty cool” to still be going strong. In fact, Cho is often so busy working that she forgoes basic needs like food and sleep in order to move from one project to the next. This fact of her life doesn’t bother her — she said she’s happy to go without, as long as she can keep taking on opportunities when they’re offered.
She’s disappointed that there aren’t more women in the business.
“Female comics are the best,” she said. “Often they’re my favorite artists. I don’t know why it’s like that, why there aren’t as many women. It could be because the industry does not support as much or that these men tend to be more supportive of each other in terms of development.”
The men’s club mentality of comedy is reflected often, seen most recently in the support shown for comedian Daniel Tosh after he made gang rape jokes at a woman in the crowd of one of his stand-up shows. The event sparked discussion on the Internet about the appropriateness of certain subjects for joke fodder -- Cho said she doesn’t believe any topic is off-limits, but there’s a measure of responsibility that must be assumed when it comes to telling jokes.
“People want comedians to ride this line of political correctness but also be very punk rock,” she said. “It’s a hard thing. I think people can make bad judgments. … I’m just a liberal and because I am so many different minority groups in my own self, your views and points of view become a little bit unsalable.”
Cho said that comedy is “an outsider art, ultimately,” but she enjoys the craft and straddling all of the lines that it includes. She is constantly doing stand-up, always in the middle of a show or developing one, sometimes simultaneously. With “Mother,” she might even incorporate some of her other art forms, possibly even some of her recent forays into singing and songwriting. As for Cho’s mother’s response to the character and the tour it’s sparked: “My mother thinks it’s great. She thinks it’s really funny. She’s really supportive of me as an artist.”
In a way, Cho said, she’s been training to be a comedian all her life. Her impressions of her mother began when she was a child growing up in San Francisco.