Margaret Cho, the All-American Girl
By Michael Chau & Deanna Wong
Margaret Cho, a groundbreaking standup comedian, was a first among firsts. Not one to shy away from her passions, it seems as though she’s done it all, working as a comedian, fashion designer, actress, author, and even as a singer-songwriter.
As with most Asian American role models, her upbringing has without a doubt influenced her work. Her family came to the states from Korea in 1964, residing in San Francisco at first. This small immigrant family quickly settled into their neighborhood. Cho was brought up in a colorful community, full of artists and even drag queens. However, despite being surrounded by a diverse community, she faced ridicule and bullying when she started getting into stand up comedy at the age of 14.
“Being bullied influenced my adult life because I grew up too fast. I was in such a hurry to escape that I cheated myself out of a childhood. I didn’t want to go to school any more, didn’t want to be around those people any more. I want to use what happened to me to help other kids.”
This kind of hardship would become an influence in her life, eventually leading her to earn a GLAAD Golden Gate Award for enhancing, understanding, advocacy, and visibility of the LGBT community, due to her stance against bullying and discrimination.
Besides speaking frankly about gay and lesbian rights in performances, Cho is known for her advocacy for same-sex marriage and acceptance of the LGBT community. Cho’s satire exaggerates events and experiences gays and lesbians go through.
In one of her standup routines, Cho takes on the role of her very traditional Korean mother, talking to Cho’s answering machine about sexuality: “Are you gay? Come talk to Mommy about it. You have a cool Mommy. Mommy is so cool and Mommy know all about the gay … They all over the world, you know. But not Korea. Not Korea. Everywhere else.”
Offensive, perhaps, but skits like this one are among Cho’s specialties, as they help shed light on the side of Asian society and culture that is rarely expressed. As evident by her work, she has never chosen to focus on a single aspect of her identity. Cho has always been upfront with the intersectionality of her identities, as a member of both the LGBT community and the Asian American community.
Leveraging her talent, Cho had always been a frontrunner in bringing Asian Americans into the spotlight. In her twenties, Cho was starring in her own ABC TV sitcom “All-American Girl,” the first show of its kind to focus on an Asian-American family. In her work, she has always challenged stereotypes by embodying them and using these ideas to her advantage.
More recently, you can find her working with the likes of Weird Al and David Thorp. Participating in parody music videos and podcasts, her work maintains a sense of diversity and eclecticism. There’s a not a single project that Cho has been involved in, that does not challenge or influence the expectations of an Asian American role model. An advocate, an entertainer, an innovator and an artist, Cho is a person that inspires while being a creator. She is exactly who we should be calling, an All-American Girl.
Thoughts from the Authors:
Margaret Cho inspires me to pursue all aspects of my Asian American identity. In particular, she truly motivates me to understand the intersection between my identity as a member of the Asian American community and the LGBT community. I used to watch videos of her perform comedy routines, poking fun at her Asian parents as well as making jokes about sexuality. As someone who grew up in a mostly white and straight community, I came to college with a past of Asian stereotypes and an understanding of the stigma behind being LGBT especially in traditional Asian culture. I’ve always asked myself whether I would be allowed to accept my culture if a part of me was rejected by it. Margaret Cho teaches me that intersectionality is not all or nothing. Just because my two identities seemingly clash, does not mean I have to reject either one; I can embrace my full self.
As a female Asian American, I find strength in Margaret Cho’s story and life’s work. She is passionate about the causes of which she is an advocate. I find camaraderie in that passion. Growing up, my mother always told be that being feminine meant being careful about sharing opinions, showing restraint and stepping back. But I have learned better from people like Margaret Cho. She is unapologetic and honest about her opinions. I’ve learned from her, that it is okay to be loud, and to be a champion for a cause that you are passionate about. Her success reminds me to never back down for the causes that I care for and take any and all opportunity to shine light on my communities.