Margaret Cho is an actor, comedian, and author famous for her hilarious take on culture and politics from the perspective of a Korean-American feminist. She's coming to Powell's this week (1005 W Burnside, Thurs Nov 3, 7:30 pm, free) in support of her new book, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, the title of which is taken from a famous Patty Hearst quote. I spoke to Cho on the phone about her new project, as well as many unrelated topics.MERCURY: Just the other week I saw the film version of Assassin (originally a comedy CD) on the big screen and I thought it was very funny.
MARGARET CHO: Oh, thanks.So, you're doing a book tour now—how do you like doing book tours as opposed to standup tours?
Well it's a lot more hectic, because there's a brief period of time where we're trying to push for the book, so it's very intense. It's really kind of a busy time and it's very exhausting.Have you been doing a lot of interviews?
Uh, huh. It's been great you know, but it's weird—I have to have such a sense of humor about it because people are asking things like, "Oh, what was it like to make Charlie's Angels?" and "Oh, I loved you on The View."[Laughs] Eww, god.
I mean, they're trying to be friendly and funny and everything, but that makes me really uncomfortable! There are so few Asian American women in entertainment that it's almost as if they're saying we're totally interchangeable—also that our own individual achievements aren't significant enough to be differentiated. But you would never, ever treat anyone else like that, I mean... I can't even think of when that would happen to any other person.So, how do you usually respond to questions like that? I mean I'm sure people think it's funny, but you've probably been hearing little jokes like that for your entire life.
Oh yeah, all the time. I try to respond to it by making fun of it somehow. I try to just sort of be really light and non-confrontational, but to me it is a confrontation. And it's hard to alert somebody to that insensitivity. But at the same time it's hard because, you know, I'm a comic, and I'm trying to sell a book. So it's a weird, weird thing to be in. But some of these, like... morning show hosts, I think they're the worst.[Laughs] Really?
Yeah, it seems to be the earlier you get up, the worse kind of thing you have... like one guy asked me, "Well, if you woke up tomorrow and you were blonde, beautiful... "Oh no. Oh my god.
"...five eleven, skinny, what would you do?" And I'm like, "Um, I'd probably go to the bathroom. That's what I usually do when I wake up." And he's like, "Well, what else would you do?" and I go, "Well, I'd eat breakfast."Like you'd probably go change the tiles on Wheel of Fortune.
[Laughs] Exactly. But it's the weirdest question, like—why would somebody ask me that? But that's the kind of mentality that's out there.I get the impression that you read a lot.
I read a variety of things. I'm not really that committed to any one thing, nor do I have particular likes or dislikes. I just kind of read anything.Are you reading anything right now?
Well, right now I'm reading The Guide to Rajistan. [Laughs][Laughs] Oh, The Guide to Rajistan?
Yeah, Rajistan, which is a northern state in India.Oh, are you going to go there?
Yeah, I'm going. [Laughs] I just always get really deep into guidebooks, which is kind of a dumb thing to do, because I never actually go to any place that I ever read about. I mean I'm going to the country, but I'm not going to go to that café or this bar or whatever. I just think it's interesting.Well, you'll get a feel for the place.
Yeah.So, how do you work when you write? Do you sit down every day at your computer? Or do you, like, take a notepad into the forest?
I have a quill.You have a quill!
A quill pen.And a stone tablet?
And a stone tablet. No, I just write a little bit at a time and just wherever and whenever I can get a moment. It's not every day and it's certainly very undisciplined and haphazard, because I have so many other different kinds of jobs. I just try to fit it in between everything else.Can we talk about the Stockholm Syndrome? [Ed note: The phenomenon in which a kidnap victim comes to identify with his or her captor.]
Oh, I love the Stockholm Syndrome!I figured you did because you chose that famous Patty Hearst quote for the title of your book, right? [Ed note: After being kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and transformed into a militant radical, Hearst became thought of as the poster child of Stockholm Syndrome.]
Yes.Did you pick it just because you like the sound of it? Or do you somehow identify with the Stockholm Syndrome?
Well, I love Stockholm Syndrome because it just makes sense to me. Because that seems to always happen to anyone in captivity. But actually, the quote really works on so many different levels, because I knew the quote was Patty Hearst and then I also knew it referred to how people were after the election—and a lot of people said "Oh, I wanna move to Canada."Oh, yes.
While my thing was, I love Canada, it's great, but I would rather just stay here and try to make America somewhat like Canada, as much as we can. So it's more about that. And then it's just fun to me that it was a Patty Hearst quote that really was a direct result of Stockholm Syndrome.Right.
But I wanted to start a band called the Stockholm Syndrome![Laughs] That would be great. It's such a great concept.
It's a really great concept. But then you would need to take the audience hostage. But it couldn't really work now, because people would really get scared.They would, you know, throw up a red alert.
Yeah! Terrorism is so scary to people. My friends did a haunted house last year, and one of the rooms had nothing in it... but then there was an Arabic guy who came in the back, and then pulled off his jacket and had, like, dynamite. And it scared people so bad, because they suddenly forgot that they were supposed to be in a haunted house and everything was supposed to be scary. They forgot that it was a theatrical experience, and they really just got freaked out. And then... he actually just started to throw fireworks.Oh, really?
Yeah, you could actually hear really loud bangs and stuff, and people were just totally freaked out. It was the most successful Halloween prank ever, because you just didn't even know... it came out of nowhere, and it's such a taboo thing.So, you also write about it being impossible to find movie roles that don't cast you as an Asian stereotype. Is your upcoming movie, Bam Bam and Celeste, partly a way of taking that matter into your own hands?
Yeah, I mean, it's really about that. It's about creating a place for my own voice, creating a space for myself. I don't have the luxury of having that common experience of most of the writers in Hollywood. But it's a very beautiful film and I'm very proud of it.