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Margaret Cho: ‘I Was Never In Doubt That I’d Do Standup’

I learned you cause your own neurosis early on. At one, I walked for the first time, desperate to please my parents. I had so much performance anxiety that when I reached my father I puked all over him. He was wearing this fabulous velour polo shirt. It was never seen again.

Chaotic is how I’d describe my childhood. My parents shuffled between the US and Korea. I had a tapeworm at one point. My American doctor, who had never seen one, asked to keep it. I wonder where it is – and if my name is on it.

Bullies made my life hell at school. I was the queer Korean kid. Difference wasn’t accepted. Later in life, a group of them sat front-row at my standup show. At the meet and greet, I pretended not to know them, despite their efforts to be friendly. Who are you? I asked, again and again, when in fact they still haunt my nightmares.

I did a lot of drugs in my teens – as a kid you think you’re invincible. It’s a shame, my mind used to be quicker.

I won a comedy competition as a teen. The prize? A hot-air balloon ride. I took a date, our first together. A wind storm hit – 10 balloons crashed, ours included. In another basket, someone died. We needed bandaging up at the hospital. Afterwards, we went back to his, then tried (and failed) to have sex.

It was never in doubt that I’d do standup. I started young, so don’t really know what else is possible. Now I’m a fool that sometimes tells the truth, I hope.

Pulling on hangnails is an awful habit. I yank them, despite the fact I’m held together by a thread and could split open like a Babybel at any minute.

Activism is a huge part of who I am – my start in comedy was charity fundraising for Aids campaigners in San Francisco in the late 80s. Today, queers are still dying: just look to the Club Q shooting. Standing up and fighting back has never been more important.

Once I was with my friend, the late director John Schlesinger, when suddenly he panicked. Without explaining, we sprinted to a gay bar. A tall woman slowly spun around on a stool, as John grovelled. “You are late,” she drawled. It was Lauren Bacall. She was mad, and I was starstruck.

If I bomb on stage, I make sure the entire audience is just as miserable as me. Don’t like me? Well, now you’ll hate me.

Joan Rivers gave me the greatest advice of all: “They’re always going to want you, even more so as you age. We’re the type of girls,” she told me, “who don’t find our place when young. The funny ones, the odd ones, the weirdos… We are seen a little later.” I have a portrait of her on my wall, made out of garbage.

Margaret Cho’s Live & LIVID tours in 2023

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