Margaret Cho Stands Up

The comedian, actress and activist urges Asian Americans to take action.

January 11, 2010

FROM HER BEGINNINGS as a 16-year-old comedian and the star of the short-lived sitcom All-American Girl, Margaret Cho's career has soared with such gut-busting comedy shows as "I'm the One That I Want" and stand-up concert tours like "Beautiful" (her fifth). Her new music/stand-up album Guitarded (yes, she sings, too) will hit stores in 201 0, and the Lifetime network just picked up her pilot Drop Dead Diva, a show about women's relationships with their bodies.

Clearly, Cho, this issue's cover model, gets around - ina good way, of course.

While she makes us laugh as an award-winning Korean American comedian, her activism in the Asian American and gay communities is nothing to scoff at.

"For me, the main focus is repealing Proposition 8," says Cho, a San Francisco native, about the California law that forbids gay marriage. "The response to Proposition 8 has been really tremendous. I am thrilled that this movement has grown over the years. I am amazed to get as far as we have."

Even so, Cho is aware that the ban on gay marriage still finds support among many Asian Americans. "Homophobia is very present within the Asian community, [though] it's more with the older generation," Cho says. "It's really something that has to be fought."

We had the chance to talk with Cho about activism, the progress of Asian Americans in media and how it doesn't hurt to be self-righteous every now and then.

As far as activism, what needs to change in the Asian American community?

Asian Americans need to be more active in the community. For instance, there was that whole Miley Cyrus incident (the Disney star was lambasted earlier this year when photos got out of her pulling her eyes back to make them look slanted). It wasn't really addressed. There's a lot of racism played out through invisibility. There's a casual and complacent attitude towards racism with the Asian American community. People don't really want to acknowledge that there's a problem. I don't know why that is.

Do you think there has been progress?

It's been OK, but we have to work harder. There have been great strides in the gay community, and that's what we need. We need more of a civil rights movement. A lot of Asian Americans [keep silent]. When bad things happen, they deny it.

Do you think there has been progress in entertainment? Has Hollywood become more accepting of Asian Americans?

Yunjin Kim, Daniel Dae Kim and John Cho - there is a great crop of talent. There are a couple more Asian faces here and there - that is great. The Slumdog Millionaire win at the Oscars is super exciting and is great for the community. There also needs to be more Asian Americans behind the scenes - not just with movies, but with television, music and other forms of entertainment.

What kind of action do you think Asian Americans need to take to have their voices heard?

Using their voice to make things known: blogging, writing or whatever. But their voice has to be very strong to get their point across.

How does someone take part in activism without being selfrighteous?

I don't know - I am into being self-righteous. (Laughs) I don't think there is anything wrong with it. I am not bugged [by it] at all.

Writer Dino-Ray Ramos

Dino-Ray Ramos is a freelance writer and instructor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. You can read his random discourse at blog.

DINO-RAY RAMOS summed up why an Asian American comedy legend was the perfect choice to grace the cover of The Action Issue: "Margaret Cho isn't just about jokes. When it comes to pressing issues, she means business." The San Francisco-based fashion and entertainment journalist - who blogs at, teaches at the Academy of Art University and has written for, the Oakland Tribune, and the Nob Hill Gazette - said his least favorite actions are "protesting and philanthropy as the 'cool thing to do.' " As for the most humorous morsel of his interview with Cho? "The title of her upcoming album, Guitarded, was funny enough for me."