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Margaret Cho: Offstage

by Dale Dobson

Comedian Margaret Cho's concert film I'm The One That I Want made a splash on the independent scene in 2000, grossing over one million dollars with only 10 prints in circulation, and spawning a successful autobiographical book. Ms. Cho recently discussed her work with Our conversation has been edited for continuity and clarity.

dOc: Did you know what the tone of I'm The One That I Want would be when you were writing it?

Cho: I think that I did, yes. It was pretty much set. The show was almost completely written, and emerged completely written. And it was just about honing it and refining it when I was working on it in New York. But, yeah, it was really an easy show to do.

dOc: It's something of a rarity now, since the days of Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin, to see a show that's so personal, and not just about jokes.

Cho: I think that when you learn about the performer it's really interesting. And I really always loved people that I really get to know on stage. So that's what I was aiming for.

dOc: When did you realize that the show was striking the kind of chord that it has?

Cho: I don't know... I think that it was... I mean, I knew that it would. I just really had a sense of it from the very beginning. So I just didn't really think too much about it when I was working on it.

dOc: You decided to film the show while in New York?

Cho: I had wanted to film it before I even started in New York, just because I really was such a fan of Richard Pryor, and wanted to re-create his legacy of doing films from these stand-up shows that he did. So that's what I was looking to do.

dOc: Were there any other early influences on your comedy?

Cho: The people that I love were Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson. For some reason, Wilson's work is not as celebrated. But he was really a genius, he was really funny. And later on, I love Eddie Murphy, and Lily Tomlin, too.

I think that I get a lot of my inspiration from music. The people that I... I just saw some great shows, that really kind of... In the past month, I've gone to see Madonna, Marilyn Manson, and Bjork. I get something really profound from each of them, so I would cite them all as influences.

dOc: The night you were filming The One That I Want you were not in the best of health...

Cho: I was quite ill, actually. I'd been ill for a few weeks before then, it was really bad. So I'm amazed that it came off as well as it did, because I could barely speak! It's amazing how you can just pull it out of somewhere when you're not feeling well.

dOc: Let's talk about the DVD. You participated in the documentary—did you consider contributing to the commentary?

Cho: I didn't really have anything to add to it... I just didn't know what to say. It's not like I'm as objective as, say, a director would be, so I really didn't know exactly how to go about doing that.

dOc: It would be difficult to comment on what you're doing, because it's what you do. Your new The Notorious C.H.O. tour is going well?

Cho: Yes, it's about a third of the way through, and it's going great. It's going all over the United States and Canada. It's been a lot of fun. I'm The One That I Want is very much a coming-of-age type of show, where this is certainly much more of a mature voice. It's also closer to straight stand-up than the last show, as I worked a lot of it out in comedy clubs, I wrote a lot of it in comedy clubs, and so it's got more of a stand-up feel.

dOc: And you are going to be filming the current show in Seattle?

Cho: That's true, yes.

dOc: I love your portrayal of your mother onstage, because it's so funny and so visibly full of affection. Watching I'm The One That I Want, it's hard not to be aware that your mother was in the audience for the first time...

Cho: It was actually okay, it didn't really bother me. She just came to see me last week, or two weeks ago, in San Francisco. My parents just love what I do and are so supportive and excited by everything.

dOc: You've done some animation voices over the years.

Cho: A little bit here and there. I'll probably continue looking to do that in the future too, to more of an extent; hopefully that'll be happening really soon.

dOc: You've done some live-action work as well... are you getting calls now from people who think they have the ultimate Margaret Cho vehicle?

Cho: Yeah, there's a lot of that. I think that that's great, but I'm so really into what I'm doing. That's my main focus. I love touring, and writing new shows. I want to write another show after this one's finished, and another book. So those are my main focus points, doing my own work.

dOc: Is there anything that people watching this film might not realize or know about it?

Cho: No, I'm just really pleased with it, and I'm really happy that it was done the way that it was. And I plan to continue, shoot the next film; I'm really looking forward to it. And I'm glad that The One That I Want is out on DVD, so people can see it.