From a failed television show to a successful marriage, Margaret Cho has remained true to herself.
By JIM CARNES
Things didn't go as Margaret Cho had hoped in November, but the stand-up comic and political activist remains optimistic.
"The best thing is to be hopeful," Cho said. "It's hard to truly change things. First you have to wake everybody up to the problems that we face. I think overall, we were successful in doing that. Next, you move them to action."
Cho is currently touring with her show, "Assassin." In the runup to the election, she performed a series of shows called "State of Emergency" for the Democratic campaign group MoveOn.Org.
"This show is the aftermath of the election," Cho said. "It's how politics are today and what we can do about it."
Sex, politics and sexual politics form the foundation of Cho's act. On past tours, in shows that yielded the concert films "I'm the One That I Want," "Notorious C.H.O." and "Revolution," she has spoken about her bisexuality, eating disorders, poor self image and ethnic discrimination.
Watching Cho work, one might not guess that at bottom she's a quiet and almost shy individual.
"I don't really have a very outgoing nature," she said. "I tend to be reserved in general, but going onstage and riling people up -- I just know that I can do that. It's like playing a character, but everything I represent is also an aspect of me."
Cho, 36, casts herself as spokeswoman for the underdog.
The native San Franciscan began performing stand-up in a bar above the bookstore owned by her parents when she was 16. She was the first Korean-American to star in her own network television series, the ABC show "All-American Girl" in 1994.
The series lasted only one season, during which the network brought in an "Asian consultant" to adjust Cho's ethnic flavor and told the star that she was too fat to portray herself -- "basically that's what they said," she said. That assessment resulted in crash dieting that led to Cho's hospitalization for kidney failure, and abuse of pills and alcohol --"but never missing a yoga class."
On her last tour, Cho was talking up a proposed line of clothing for plus-size women, but now says she abandoned clothes design because "It's too hard to make a clothing line. To me, it's a whole 'nother profession. It's full-time. It's too much."
What about weight?
Cho looks less in need of the Big Beautiful Woman apparel these days. She doesn't discuss her weight loss "because it doesn't interest her," her manager said, but in a November 2003 posting on her Web site, she wrote: "I have lost some weight, which has set off a strange wave of paranoia among people that I have either had my stomach stapled or shut off with a rubber band, or am on some freaky raw-food diet or whatever. ...
"I put away all notions of what diets meant to me, what I was supposed to eat and not supposed to eat," she wrote.
"When I am hungry, I eat. That is what the weird diet is. I eat as much as I feel good eating and leave the rest. I never eat when I am not hungry. I never let myself get too hungry."
The comic has been married to Los Angeles artist Al Ridenour for nearly two years, a move that surprised -- and disappointed -- some fans, she said. But a heterosexual marriage for her "only deepened my certainty of the need for marital equality [for gays and lesbians]," she said.
Cho said the content of the "Assassin" show "changes.
She said the act has "grown out. I think part of it is me growing up. You kind of move on. It's more interesting to explore other subjects right now. Maybe I'll get back to that later."
The whole red-and-blue-states political thing is good, she said, because "It shows us where all the stupid people live.... You know things are bad politically when you reminisce about how good Ronald Reagan was," she said -- a line from her new act.