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Laughter is survival, community & hope for stand-up comic Margaret Cho

Comedian Margaret Cho
Comedian Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho has been a stand-up comedian for the past 40 years. She’s also an actor, musician and entrepreneur. Cho’s career has earned her five-time Grammy and Emmy nominations, named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “50 Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time,” and many more well-earned accolades.

Starting when she was just 14, Cho says she went into comedy because she thought it was the most grown up thing she could do while wearing things like neckties, rhinestone broaches, blazers and gloves. "It's so weird how I thought gloves would make all the difference," Cho recalls. "It was more about fashion — fashion was adulthood. I really wanted to be like Paula Poundstone [and] Joan Rivers and I wanted to just advance to be a 55-year-old woman, which is oddly what I am now. So I didn't actually have to work to get there."

Cho says Joan Rivers has remained her role model not only in comedy, but in aging and "how to handle life and everything — art, comedy, commerce, all of it. She had such mastery over it all."

Other influences for Cho also include Michelle Yeoh, Richard Pryor, Phyllis Diller and Totie Fields — all artists that are in the same fight to have agency and visibility. Something that Cho says has always remained a struggle throughout her career.

"It's a fight to have agency, it's a fight to have visibility, it's a fight to even live. And for myself, understanding also from a queer perspective, it's a fight to just survive," she says. "It's really important to have our voices out there and to be heard and to be seen. And it's political — it's more political than ever."

Cho has also built her personal and professional platform around being an advocate for causes such as anti-racism, anti-bullying, LGBTQIA rights, sexism, and more. For Cho, comedy and laughter is the ultimate tool to survival in order to endure the challenges we face today — a central theme of her latest Live & Livid tour.

"We have to be able to laugh to survive, we have to be able to harness our anger and find a way to find community to survive," notes Cho. "I think also to our state of mind, just that we need to find a way to find humor and I think laughter is the answer. Laughter, humor for me is always the answer because it is that glimmer of hope that brings you into the next moment and that’s what we need."

"Laughter, humor for me is always the answer, because it is that glimmer of hope that brings you into the next moment and that’s what we need."

Cho has steadily pushed the comedy and entertainment barriers as a stand-up and actor. She notes that comedy is the one profession in entertainment where you have to continually prove yourself — and constantly improve.

Cho has nine comedy albums so far on top of continuous performances that either help her work on new material, or adjust what she has to fit current events. Cho admits she never truly feels "done" with any particular set.

"There's a need to continually take risks... and I always look at it as a continual 'work in progress,'" she notes. "So I don't really have a way of taking [a show going badly] personally because I know that this is going to work out in the end."

You can see Margaret Cho perform her latest standup special "Live & Livid" tonightat the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, Wis.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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