Margaret Cho has a very simple strategy when it comes to her comedy.
“I take things that are quite horrible and make them funny. That’s my alchemy,” she says, calling from a café in Los Angeles.
Take the topics of her upcoming standup special – her first in five years – which she’ll cover during her three-night run at the Comedy Zone beginning Thursday.
“It’s about sexuality, growth, the death of my mentors Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, about grief and how to endure that and questioning why the world has become so violent toward women,” she says. “The kidnapping of the Nigerian girls, Bill Cosby. A lot of things I question what we can do to solve this as American women and how to deal with our own emotions around it.”
It doesn’t sound like funny stuff, but the comedian, actress and activist insists it can be. She’s built a career on that sort of thing and isn’t afraid to tackle Korean dictators (impersonating Kim Jong-un on the Golden Globes), fight for gay rights, or talk about sex – a lot – as host of TLC’s late-night Dr. Ruth-meets-“The View” talk show “All About Sex.”
“I’d wanted to do a group show like ‘The View,’” she says. “It’s an advice show. It’s a discussion on sexuality and women and how we can get closer to pleasure and better our relationships and remind ourselves that we are not only our relationships.”
“I think things have gotten worse (for women),” she says. “Maybe because we didn’t have social media.”
Cho, 46, was born into a Korean family in San Francisco but says her ethnicity wasn’t what made her stand out as an adolescent.
“For me, it was the difference of being gay,” says Cho, who identifies as bisexual. “That was my struggle. That’s why I’m so active with anti-bullying campaigns.”
“Coming into Hollywood and working here for 30 plus years as an actor of color,” she adds. “I was familiar with being an outsider. I was used to it.”
Having grown up “in the shadow of Harvey Milk” (whom her family and community supported), Cho is thrilled to see 30 years of gay rights work come to fruition.
“America is truly about equality and democracy. We are all getting there,” she says. “With violence against women we tend to blame the victim. Considering someone like Bill Cosby. How do you deny the evidence of 30 testimonies? It’s very disheartening. That’s why (in my show) I try to bring some kind of mirth and levity to situations that are downright depressing.”
One thing that’s not depressing to Cho? Watching her Asian-American friend Eddie Huang’s ABC sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” 21 years after her own sitcom – “All-American Girl” – failed at the same network. Cho served as a sounding board for Huang.
“For me, it’s a dream realized,” says Cho, who served as a sounding board for Huang. “I’m very excited for his success and hopefully I’ll get to be on it.”