July 26, 2004
BuzzFlash Exclusive: Margaret Cho Reacts to Being "Uninvited" to Human Rights Campaign/GLBT Event During Democratic Convention
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
If you missed the news cycle last week, Margaret Cho -- comedian, champion of civil liberties and a BuzzFlash fan -- was "uninvited" from performing at the premier Gay, Lesbian and Transgender event being thrown at the time of the Democratic Convention on Monday night.
Apparently, some Democrats got skittish because the Republicans made their usual double standard whines about a raunchy Whoopi Goldberg riff at a New York Kerry fundraiser. As we noted just on Saturday, the media and the Republicans have an inexplicable hypocrisy when it comes to comic values. Dennis Miller can imply that Kerry and Edwards are gay (not that it would matter, right), but let a Democrat go down and dirty on Bush and we have a moral values crisis! Hey, Dennis, was that Wayne Newton we saw you pawing?
We had interviewed Margaret recently, for a second time, about her new "State of Emergency tour" and her new DVD, "Revolution," when news broke about the Kerry campaign apparently asking the Human Rights Campaign to nix her appearance, out of fear that it would allow the Republicans to throw the first night of the convention off message -- and stir up the mainstream press into a sensationalistic frenzy. After all, all journalism now is tabloid journalism -- and Karl Rove probably would have gotten a couple of days of FOX News and CNN outrage out of it to be sure, not to mention blaring headlines on the New York Post.
Not wanting to answer every reporter who called about "how she felt" about being shunned as a defensive maneuver by the Dems, she agreed to exclusively answer questions from BuzzFlash. In addition, Cho appealed for unity. She knows that the real enemies of diversity are the squatters in the White House.
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BuzzFlash: Why are Democrats, even the most progressive ones, like the Human Rights Campaign, so politically correct? I mean, the right wing comics and right wing pundits, like Ann Coulter, go so far as to call for killing people, and no one yanks them from any appearances, at events or on television. Yet, you are being canceled from a Monday night event in Boston, associated with the Democratic Convention, held by gay and lesbian organizations. What's up with that?
Cho: It is fear based and an example of our own self defeating self-censorship and being unable to stand on our own as liberals. It is as if being liberal is enough of a cultural affront, so that we must be as conservative as possible as not to offend the conservatives any more than we have to.
What is the terrible thing about being compassionate? Why is it so bad to care about other people? After all, this is what the democratic party to me is all about. Not being selfish.
Unfortunately on the 'political' stage, this is considered somehow undisciplined and needing some way to rein it in when it gets too honest. The hyperbolic and insane rants of neo-con pundits is tolerated because the conservatives know that the key to winning is keeping a united front. The Democrats haven't gotten that far yet.
BuzzFlash: Dennis Miller introduced George W. Bush in Wisconsin recently and implied that Kerry and Edwards are, as Governor Gropinator would say, "Girlie Men." Why does he get away with this stuff and no one on the Democratic side calls for his removal from corporate sponsorships and his sad-assed television show?
Cho: The Democrats have a long-term inferiority complex, where we feel we do not have the right to protest those who stand in the ivory tower of privilege. This is why no one calls out conservatives when they are offensive, which is often.
The conservatives know that the only way to get anywhere is to stand together. They have the luxury of not having to worry about a backlash, because they can look up at any protest and brush it off, acting as if the other side can't take a joke.
The sad thing is that it is true. We can't take a joke, especially if it comes from one of our own. We are incredibly intolerant and biased against our own party. Once we have an ease and acceptance that we are all different, we can have a sense of humor and we can laugh without fear of retribution or worry about retaliation.
BuzzFlash: You've got a huge following in the the gay and lesbian community. The Republicans are using gay and lesbians for political target practice this campaign. You're an outspoken defender of individual gender choice. We can see them canceling Jerry Falwell, but why you?
Cho: I don't really know, and I don't wish to speculate, because it is divisive. I am going to continue with my work as an activist within the queer community, and that includes working diligently for the same organization that would ban me from their event. I look at the big picture, rather than the small-minded thinking that would have my opinion be too 'racy' or risqué for their political function.
It is out of bounds what the conservatives are doing to the gay community. We are being dehumanized, looked at as less than deserving of equal rights. If you really listen to what they are saying, it is likely that if we let them get away with talking like this now, what would stop them from having us all removed from American society altogether?
I don't see why we must accommodate their intolerance to advance ourselves politically. It makes no sense. But this is what it means when my voice is silenced. We are accommodating intolerance.
BuzzFlash: Okay, Whoopi Goldberg gets canceled from Slim-Fast; Linda Ronstadt gets thrown out of the Aladdin Hotel; and Howard Stern gets his show canceled -- all for not towing the Bush Cartel line? Now, you've joined them on the right wing politically correct "shut up or lose your contract" wall of fame. Whatever happened to the First Amendment?
Cho: It is like blacklisting all over again.
Fortunately, we have people who are willing to stand up for their beliefs and the fact that they suffer for it gains the attention of others who have similar views, which is far more than we realize. We cannot censor intelligent thinking, and, therefore, these people that you have mentioned will be remembered for doing just that, and being vocal about it, and being punished for it which makes them cool.
Being a dissident is cool. Being anti-establishment is cool. Whatever the conservatives or the liberals try to do, they can never take that away from us.
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Here is our earlier recorded interview with Cho:
BuzzFlash: The last time we interviewed you, you had just performed for MoveOn.org for the Bush in 30 Seconds video contest awards night. And the right-wing completely misrepresented your statements and jokes and called you profane. After which the freepers the psychos from the Free Press --went after you with their bigoted and racist hate mail. But recently Vice President Dick Cheney told Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy to go f**k himself inside the Senate Chamber. Cheney later defended his outburst and refused to apologize. Whats your take on the hypocrisy?
Cho: Its not hypocrisy because Cheneys already told the whole world to go f*** themselves. Its surprising for somebody who is supposed to be a leader and supposed to be very diplomatic not to have some kind of anger management program that they attend regularly. But hes just a hothead and cantankerous. The gentility of the whole administration is so questionable. It always has been, so none of that is surprising to me.
BuzzFlash: How do you balance being a comic, whose job it is to make people laugh, when you talk about political or social issues? I mean, your primary job as a comic is be funny.
Cho: I guess because if you didnt laugh at it, it would be really tragic. If you didnt try to find humor in whatever was going on, you just want to die, because it seems hopeless when you look at the mainstream news about everything that is happening -- like this idea that handing over power to Iraq is going to make everything better. The hypocrisy and the lies are terrifying. So its more like gallows humor than anything else. People who work in emergency medicine have the meanest sense of humor of all. Thats kind of the way that I see whats happening; we have to be really frustrated but also retain a sense of lightness about it because if we dont, well just perish under our own anger. And then thats not the point. You want to be able to survive it.
BuzzFlash: Are there any political topics that are so personal that you cant or wont talk about?
Cho: I dont think so. Everythings pretty much open to ridicule, or everything is not. Theres nothing that hits me personally that I would say I want to back away from an issue, or I havent seen it yet.
BuzzFlash: Is it ever difficult for you to talk about your life, your heritage, or your sexuality, when youre on stage? The ideas that are most personal to you are more likely the funniest.
Cho: I think thats because theyre the most relevant. The things that are the funniest probably have roots in a lot of pain and frustration. Things that are personal dont really affect what I see as potential material for putting into a show. When Im with an audience for a performance I want to feel like I know them, or I want to feel something emotional with them. I dont like a distant kind of emotional-less robotic entertainment. Its got to have some sort of substance to it emotionally so it becomes valuable.
BuzzFlash: You say at the end of your performance that silence equals non-existence. Have you always felt that way? Is that what spurred you into going into stand-up comedy?
Cho: I never heard voices out there that were similar to mine or were relevant to mine. I always was trying to find some kind of outlaw voice out there that I could identify with. Being able to be an uncompromising performer is very important, and not having to be silenced by anything is really great.
BuzzFlash: Do you feel that times are changing with respect to Americans becoming more open-minded about gay and lesbian issues and same-sex marriage? Are you optimistic?
Cho: I think so. But I only travel in these circles where its totally acceptable and completely fought for, so I dont know. I look at the mainstream media and I see how difficult an issue this acceptance about sexuality and about gay marriage is. I just dont get the problem. Im optimistic and Im optimistic that the communities involved are very excited about this change. But I want to see it worked out and made legal and made acceptable on a lot of levels. Marriage and recognition of relationships are very auspicious ideas. Theyre very wondrous things, and they should be available to all human beings, not just a select few.
BuzzFlash: You talk about this issue in your performances. Does it surprise you that people dont frame this as a civil rights issue?
Cho: Yes, because does that mean that gays and lesbians are not human beings? Or are they somehow less American because of their families or the unions that they decide to forge ahead and make? It just doesnt make sense to me that theres this inherent deviance that goes along with the idea of homosexuality. Its a myth. Homosexuality is not a deviant notion -- its something that we lived with in society for so long, and weve dealt with the hatred and discrimination toward us for so long. These are the same problems that existed with segregation and the denial of interracial marriage. Same sex marriage is following the same circles and struggle with power that we overcame during the civil rights movement. Its odd to me that there would be so much resistance to it now.
BuzzFlash: Does knowing your show is being filmed change your performance at all, or how do you approach the show?
Cho: No. Its just a live show. Its different, but I guess Ive filmed the show 70 times now; I cant really say what makes it different.
BuzzFlash: You dont feel more nervous or more engaged in the performance?
Cho: No, no, because Im usually about the same. When I go out and I perform, I really am very committed to what Im doing, so the level of engagement and excitement is similar. It remains the same to me. The only difference is the lighting changes, and its just a different setting for the people that I work with.
BuzzFlash: How did you develop "Revolution"?
Cho: It began with a series of ideas, and they get connected and the show goes through about a year of preparation, going from venue to venue, and developing as a comedy show. I never know what its going to be when I start out. The title comes pretty late in the process. This all depends on the social climate and political climate and whats happening.
BuzzFlash: I think a lot of people would be surprised that it takes that long to complete and grow the show.
Cho: Yeah, it kind of grows. But at the same time, I would think that its able to reach out or evolve in every incarnation because the show has to be done in front of an audience. It cant be processed in a mirror. I need the dialogue with a live audience.
BuzzFlash: Have you ever had an experience where youve been urged to be less political or do different forms of comedy in order to advance your career?
Cho: Well, yeah, but those days are gone. The reason I work as an independent performer and the people that I work with now is because I dont have to worry about that anymore. I have my own production company. Its very much part of the past. All that sort of weird career censorship is very boring to me now.
BuzzFlash: Whats next for you? Do you have any future projects youre working on now?
Cho: We're looking for financing for a movie I wrote called "Bam Bam and Celeste." Some really cool people like Sandra Bernhard and Wanda Sykes have said they're interested in being in it. Im also writing a new show and my production company is producing a TV show for the new Logo network. But I really want to continue to do what Ive been doing, too.
BuzzFlash: Do you have a title for your new show that youre working on?
Cho: Not yet. The show that is going to be touring in the fall before the election -- its called "State of Emergency." Its pretty much already written, but its also going to be very timely, very much about current events, so its changeable as well.
BuzzFlash: Are you going to tour through some of the swing states before the election?
Cho: Yes, to get people more inclined to vote, and to get people who I havent performed for before. Thatll be really fun, and Im looking forward to that. Im doing a couple of dates in there with Ani DiFranco, whom I really love. So itll be a little rock thing that I throw in my own comedy too. Then, the next year, Im going to launch a worldwide tour.
BuzzFlash: Margaret, thanks for speaking with us again.
Cho: My pleasure.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW