January 16, 2004
Margaret Cho Talks about MoveOn, the Bushin30Seconds Ads, Freepers and Performing Comedy That is Both Personal and Political
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Earlier this week at the MoveOn.org awards gala for the contest winners of Bush in 30 Seconds, Margaret Cho performed and joked about the Republican National Committee's smear campaign against MoveOn. Cho joked that the RNC was looking for "Hitler in a haystack" about the RNC's lies about submissions to MoveOn's open entry contest when two ads compared Bush to Hitler. MoveOn did not endorse or agree with the ads, contrary to the propaganda from the RNC.
Excerpts of Cho's comedy routine at the gala were taken out of context and posted on the Drudge Report and Free Republic. As a result, Cho's email was full of racist vitriol from right-wingers and "freepers" for daring to speak her mind about Bush. We spoke to her about the hate email she's received, the MoveOn ad contest, and being an irreverent and successful comic.
Margaret Cho started performing stand-up at age 16 in a comedy club called The Rose & Thistle above a bookstore her parents ran. Soon after, she won a comedy contest where first prize was opening for Jerry Seinfeld. She moved to Los Angeles in the early '90s to pursue comedy and lived in a house with several other young performers. In her early twenties, Margaret hit the college circuit, where she immediately became the most booked act in the market and garnered a nomination for Campus Comedian of The Year.
In 1999, her groundbreaking, off Broadway one-woman show, I'm The One That I Want, toured the country to national acclaim and was made into a best-selling book and feature film of the same name. 2001 marked the launch of Margaret's second show, Notorious C.H.O., a smash-hit 37-city national tour that culminated in a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall and was made into a second feature film, hailed by the New York Times as "Brilliant!"
Margaret has been honored by GLAAD, American Women in Radio and Television, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Organization for Women for "making a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender identity."
* * *
BuzzFlash: You recently performed at the MoveOn.org awards evening honoring the Bush in 30 Seconds contest winners. And proof that the right-wing doesn't understand what a joke is, excerpts of your comedy routine were taken out of context and posted on the Drudge Report and on the Free Republic where racists and bigots responded to you with hate e-mail.
Margaret Cho: Right. I was doing comedy at the MoveOn party and telling jokes. I am a comic – it's what I do. And the right-wing took some of my material out of context and then tried to make it sound like I was giving a speech or something when in fact I was performing my routine. My statements were printed out of context, but they were basically jokes.
BuzzFlash: I know part of your routine and the context was talking about how the right-wing and the RNC have completely lied and distorted MoveOn's ad contest by claiming that two entries that compared Bush to Hitler were endorsed by MoveOn, which is a brazen and shameless lie. What do you think specifically upset so many of the bigot "freepers" that they sent you hate mail? The Washington Times printed one joke you made that "Bush could be Hitler if he applied himself."
Margaret Cho: Yeah and that's funny. I think it was because I said that they were stupid, which they are. I actually respect a lot of conservatives. And I understand there are people that actually are smart on the right but they're totally embarrassed by the dummies out there in the right-wing. And when you call people stupid, if they are stupid, they get so mad that all they can do is just implode.
Almost 99% of the hate mail that I was seeing haven't pointed out anything about what exactly made them mad about what I said. What they pointed out is that I'm a Chink, and I need to go back to the Orient or go back to where I came from, or go back to my country, which is kind of hard because this is my country. I can't really "go back to my country" because I'm already here.
BuzzFlash: You stated in your blog yesterday that "the truth hurts the dumb, and it isn't my fault."
Margaret Cho: Yes. The truth really gets to stupid people.
BuzzFlash: I read some of the hate mail that right-wingers and racists sent you. And you responded in your blog that hurtful, racist, bigoted statements don't hurt you anymore. You've been hurt so much in your life, you've learned to absorb them and to give back love.
Margaret Cho: Yeah, I really love that. I mean, I enjoy it because it really shows how few people really think with their minds. They don't really know what's going on, but they are just dumbly following whatever the media's telling them or what some right-wing website tells them. People are very reactionary to things they don't even understand and don't really think things through. And I've gotten a lot of apologetic e-mails from some right-wingers and conservatives who are saying that this hateful response does not represent them. We are not like this, and we're very sorry.
BuzzFlash: You were a judge for MoveOn.org and their ad contest Bush in 30 Seconds. Talk to us about the manufactured and distorted firestorm from the Republican National Committee -- that MoveOn somehow either created or endorsed two ads that compared Bush to Hitler, out of thousands, in an open entry contest. I also might add, the entries were voted on by MoveOn members and they did not endorse or support the ads, much less the leadership of MoveOn. Yet, the RNC lied and distorted the ad contest.
Margaret Cho: Completely. Because, really, the RNC was looking for Hitler in a haystack. They were trying to find something to pin on MoveOn, or to make it seem as if MoveOn is some radical extremist group. In truth, MoveOn is about educating people about the choices they have in terms of voting and educating people about understanding what's going on in this country under the Bush Administration.
When you hold a completely open forum or contest like Bush in 30 Seconds, there are going to be lots of people who think differently. I didn't consider either of those two ads because I don't really care if someone says something I disagree with, because it's free speech. I allow everybody that right. That's fine if those people think that, but it doesn't represent what the overwhelming majority of the people that made their ads or MoveOn.
It is just a tool that the RNC is using as part of their propaganda -- to link buzzwords like Hitler to MoveOn in order to get some kind of controversy going. The RNC was just trying to divert attention from the fact that thousands of people were actually using their right to free speech and creativity, to expose the Bush Administration for what it really is. I was just so impressed by all of the work that people put into their ads and how much people really believe in this country and want to be a part of the American dream and democracy.
The Bottom line is that the RNC was trying to find something to pin on MoveOn, and since they couldn't find anything, they resorted to lying and distorting the truth. I didn't endorse the ads comparing Bush to Hitler, and I just feel that when people make a political statement that is way out there, you ignore it, which is what MoveOn did.
BuzzFlash: It's sort of like judging an open entry drawing contest for kids, and blaming the school or the education system when one kid happens to draw a violent scene.
Margaret Cho: Right. It's like in my day, it would have been Iron Maiden or a skull and crossbones, you know? It's just about the way people want to express themselves, and what I was saying about it is that although we don't want to condone the message comparing Bush to Hitler, we do condone free speech and democracy. I mean when push comes to shove, either you support free speech or you don't.
BuzzFlash: Do you think as a judge and being part of MoveOn, that this is a sign that the right wing is, in fact, afraid of the power and growing movement of MoveOn.org?
Margaret Cho: Yes I do. The voice of dissent against the current Administration is getting louder. And organizations like MoveOn and certainly people like Al Franken and Michael Moore are finding that we're getting to a point where we're setting aside our minor differences and are joining together as part of a larger voice to take on the current Administration.
From my side, I bring with me a lot of different organizations within the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender) community, within ethnic minority communities, and women's organizations and feminists. I'm bringing that to this collective voice of dissent. And the right wing should be afraid because they are not intelligent enough to understand that we can have coalitions, too. What's been successful for them in the past is that they've found power in coalition. But fortunately, the Democrats are acting a lot smarter.
BuzzFlash: One of the most galling aspects of this outrage from the RNC and right-wing in regard to MoveOn is the hypocrisy. These are the same people who claimed that former President Bill Clinton was a rapist, was a murderer and a thug. Is it simply selective memory and being blinded by ideology or is this a political weapon?
Margaret Cho: Well, it's tunnel vision. It's selective memory and ignoring the facts. At the same time the right-wing is in this "furor over the fuhrer" with MoveOn.org, I've been called a femi-Nazi for as long as I can remember. I did not see the RNC coming in on my behalf, flying in and being outraged.
BuzzFlash: Shifting gears, I want to ask you about your generation. How is it that when so many people in your generation lived through the oil shortages of the seventies, the AIDS epidemic in the 80's, Iran-Contra, the savings and loan scandals, and so many awful events, that people of your generation can be so myopic about world events and international affairs?
Margaret Cho: It's very strange. I don't know. In the last few months especially, a real voice of anger and outrage was released about the war in Iraq, and the lies that we've been told. I do think that there's less apathy than there was in the past. I grew up in the middle of the AIDS crisis in the early to mid eighties. And so for me, personally, it was a political crisis how people responded or didn't respond as the case may be, and it was a very politicizing event in my life. I have almost a different view than some of my peers in terms of the way that I think politically. But I think that it's getting a lot better.
BuzzFlash: A friend of ours said that the GLBT community is very supportive of people who are "courageously outrageous or courageously truthful," of which you embody the latter by openly discussing your heritage, sexuality, body-image and politics. The Dixie Chicks -- white Southern girls -- were lambasted by conservatives for their comments about Bush, but the attacks against you spend far too much effort on your cultural heritage.
Margaret Cho: Certain folks don't really see me as being an American, because of the "foreignness" that they project upon me. In their eyes, I'm an immigrant, when in reality, we are all immigrants -- unless you are a Native American. There is no such thing as an American really -- we're all truly immigrants.
I think when people try to dismiss you because of your sexuality or heritage or whatever it's just a reaction from a segment of the right wing. It's just the really, really stupid people who can't understand or get their mind around the fact that there are people of other races, other ethnic backgrounds, other gender identifications, other sexualities, other forms of living that's just unacceptable. In my worldview, and in my mind and in my work, I try to express that we are all Americans and that we can have completely different ideals and morals, but still co-exist peacefully as a country. But we have to allow brothers and sisters to do what they would want to do and don't try to control other people's lives.
BuzzFlash: Do you laugh at the fact that some people can't comprehend a joke and then respond to you with righteous indignation?
Margaret Cho: I really don't have a choice about being political or outspoken. I have my own definition of community and it means that people should talk about issues that are meaningful and incendiary, which I specialize in. If it wasn't irreverent, I would be betraying my own personality. My race gives me away every time. I have to speak about race. If I don't, it's weird. I have to talk about my own experience in this country being a minority, because if I don't, then what would I talk about? I don't look at it as being any particular responsibility or burden, but it's kind of funny to talk about. I just enjoy working. I enjoy writing. I enjoy being political because it is hopefully opening people's minds to alternative views of how we can live in the world.
As a comic, I have a kind of freedom that we're all allegedly supposed to have which shouldn't be cornered into a free-speech zone. I don't think that anybody else had the same kind of backlash from being involved with MoveOn.org as I did. And partially it's racial, of course, and it's gender-based. And it's that people just don't see that Americans are of other ethnic backgrounds.
BuzzFlash: Showtime is airing both of your films tomorrow on Saturday, January 17th. But what's next for you this coming year?
Margaret Cho: This is a big year, and I hope to cover the Democratic and Republican National Conventions on my Internet show, which will be streaming every week, capturing all the political events. I'll be working on a new comedy show. I'm going out on tour to small venues, performing shows. I'm writing a blog every day, which has a lot of politics, a lot of news, and getting news from different sources.
I'm working for the next two weeks on a rap record -- I'm also a hip-hop artist. It's a commentary on the state of medical care in this country. So I'm MC-MC. It's about how terrible the budget cuts are and how they've affected inner-city hospitals. Obviously the government apparently does not really care about citizens who lack health insurance, and the basic needs that we have a right to. So I'm spitting rhymes in the studio.
BuzzFlash: If you had something to say to artists and performers, and even more specifically to comedians who are politically minded, what would you say to them?
Margaret Cho: I would say, first thing, it's called stand-up comedy, so stand up! Your own opinion counts as much as anyone else's. This is a time not to be afraid. It's an important year.
I just worked on the campaign to get Lenny Bruce, who to many artists is somewhat of a messianic figure, posthumously pardoned, by [New York] Governor Pataki, for the obscenity charges against him. And this is a great thing, in terms of thinking about the fact that we have a First Amendment right and that it's worth fighting for.
And all artists, not just comics, should never buy into this idea that we should stay out of the political arena, because that's what we are supposed to do. You know, I am the court jester. I feel like that's my role. When you can make things funny and light, I think that most people, even if they disagree with you politically, they'll still be on your side. There are countless people who disagree with me politically, but they enjoy my performance. I think it shows that we are all closer than we think we are.
BuzzFlash: Margaret, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Margaret Cho: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
* * *
Margaret Cho's Blog
Margaret Cho on TV
list of right-wing & Free Republic Hate mail to Margaret
BuzzFlash Editorial on RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, "Bush Cartel Feigns
Outrage In Order to Smear MoveOn.org!"
MoveOn.org Bush in 30 Seconds
otherwise noted, all original