The only seat left on the bus was wet from the dirty water dripping from the air conditioner above. It was either get my butt wet or arrive late for my interview with Margaret Cho. So I weighed my options. I chose the seat because I knew Cho would like the fact that I got my butt humid for her. I darted through the lobby of some shi-shi Park Ave hotel and up the elevator to the suite where Cho and her publicist were patiently waiting. I explained why my butt was moist and Cho laughed, though certainly not as wickedly as I expected. I apologized and she invited me to sit down. It was early in the day so I knew I had to prove myself. Cho’s latest comedic tour, Notorious C.H.O., arrives in select theaters on July 3rd. The fabulously embittered fag hag calls the only gay bar in Scotland (named C.C. Bloom, after Bette Midler’s Beaches character) “the gayest thing ever”; she says it should have been called “Fuck Me In The Ass” right before segueing straight into tales about her anus and G-Spot. She pokes her way through every orifice in the body; she emerges weary and bloodied, taking aim at our discomfort with our bodies. Aside from moist butts, I spoke with Cho about Eminem, her visit to Sesame Street, her new movie and the joy of touring (she likens her shows to “Cinderella’s Ball,” insisting that gay men don’t come to see her but to meet other Prince Charmings). All the while, it’s clear that Cho’s talent provides more than just comic relief (or the opportunity for an easy hook-up). Having escorted her fair share of men through the Gay Underground Railroad, she’s a trailblazer who always comes out on top.
I have two lists of questions. Which do you want: the clean version or the explicit version?
Whichever one you like!
Notorious C.H.O. is very different from I’m the One That I Want. Can you talk about the changes in your life since the last show and what prompted you to get so naughty?
I think I turned from a drug addict to a sex addict. [Laughs] All I knew for a while was sex, drugs and alcohol, and then it was all about sex for awhile. And now everything’s regulated and normal and easy so it’s a good time to reflect on all the crazy stuff.
I read on the web that you taught Sunday school for two years.
What was that like and why were you fired?
I actually ended up quitting because it was too hard to get up with a hangover on Sunday morning—or too hard to go straight from the clubs to Sunday school. [Laughs] I love children so I think that was what kept me really wanting to go. We’d learn songs or we’d do coloring—I love coloring, I stay in the lines and I’m really good. So it was just like being one of the kids.
Is everything—anthrax, Catholic priests, your mother, yeast infections—open territory, or do you try to set some kind of limits?
Well, I don’t know. See, I haven’t had any experience with Catholic priests so I couldn’t speak to that. And then yeast infections are just not funny to me. [Laughs] If you’ve had one you know they are no laughing matter. But everything else is definitely hilarious and easy to talk about.
Do you ever ask your mother’s permission to say something about her on stage?
So she knows that if she opens her mouth it could get in the show?
[Laughs] She knows. She never says, “Don’t put this in.” She’s very into it. Sometimes she actually stands in the bathroom and thanks people for coming. She’s been known to stand in the lobby and just kind of greet people when they come in and say “Thank you for supporting my daughter.” My dad does it too. They just sit there and talk to people.
What would you say is the truth-to-fiction ratio of your shows?
It’s 100% true. I mean, there’s no fiction there at all. If anything, I temper the truth with humor because there is so much real insanity going on in the way that I live my life sometimes [that] I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it. But then it makes for good writing too. But, yeah, it is definitely all true.
You open your latest show with a very funny dedication to the rescue workers at the World Trade Center disaster site. Can you talk a little bit about humor after 9/11?
It’s hard because nobody wanted to approach you. Everyone felt so incredibly small after what happened. What 9/11 really did was make us all feel as if nothing really mattered, you know, none of us really mattered. We were all kind of working toward this greater purpose. Humor seemed incredibly inappropriate. And I was really worried about going right back to work. I almost [cancelled] my show and then I went to see Madonna on [September] 13th and it was her first night back [after 9/11]. She came out and was wearing the American flag kilt and people were so elated because everybody was scared and we really needed a celebrity like that to sort of acknowledge what happened and say everything was gonna be okay. And she was really phenomenal. She called for a moment of silence, which, of course, with 20,000 gay men nobody’s gonna be silent. [Laughs] But it was a nice attempt and she was gracious and beautiful and made part of her show a benefit for children who had been orphaned and that was such a great gesture. So I realized, “Well, at least I can go back and make part of my show a benefit show for firefighters and do something for the war effort.” And then I felt like “Oh, I’m like Bette Midler in For the Boys!” And then I felt like it was a travelling USO show after that.
What are your thoughts on Lil’ Kim and representations of female sexuality in the media like, say, the Miss America pageant?
Well, I think Lil’ Kim is great because Lil’ Kim is all about her sexuality and her individuality within that identification of sex. She’s very powerful and she’s just a great fashion icon. I love her and my show is, in a sense, sort of tribute to her outrageousness. And then Miss America—see, you’re judging all of these women against each other for comparison to an ideal so I think that that is wrong. It’s about the non-expression of identity—it’s the opposite of what Lil’ Kim is and I think that that’s completely offensive—that there are secret criteria that the Miss Americas are judged by. It’s really this thin competition and this pretty competition and it’s, in a sense, very un-American because it’s really about suppressing what makes you unique. So it’s ironic that it’s called Miss America.
Any favorite Lil’ Kim songs?
“How Many Licks.” That’s a toe-tapper!
Would you ever invite Eminem to one of your shows?
I think Eminem is very interesting because I think that he’s talented. I like what he sounds like and I like his anger and I enjoy that he’s so controversial and so ominous. And yet, I think a lot of what he says about gay men and the gay community is offensive. You know, he’s doing it in order to get people angry and he’s doing it with a sense of humor and a kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude—like, “I don’t really mean this but I’m saying it.” But then his fanbase takes him very serious, like gospel. So what he’s doing is he’s creating this generation of incredibly homophobic young men which is really dangerous. So I think that he is, in so many ways, very dangerous to the community and yet I believe in his right to free speech. He’s doing this great disservice to us but he has the right to say what he’s saying. But we, at the same time, also have the right to tell him to fuck off. I think it’s really harmful.