“If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”
This is how comedian and activist Margaret Cho described the theme of her upcoming tour “Live and Livid,” but also her general state of being, in an interview with the Voice. “If you are looking at the news, if you’re a political progressive, if you’re a feminist, if you’re queer, if you’re a person of color, all of these things, it’s really an affront to our way of life.”
Cho is an Emmy- and GRAMMY-nominated performer whose art has always been inseparable from her activism. She’s been a stand-up comic since she was 14, and acted in projects like Fire Island (2022), All-American Girl, and 30 Rock. We spoke with Cho ahead of her upcoming sold-out appearance at the Warner Theater on Friday, March 10, and she discussed the many sources of inspiration—or rather, desperation—that fuel her work.
Her comedy has been steeped in a rage-driven hunger for change since her first performances in her hometown of San Francisco. Even decades later, her passion for activism has only grown; she continues to stoke the fire inside of her through comedy, writing, music—any form of art she can. In “Live and Livid,” she marries this sense of urgency with wit and humor to remind her audience that after their laughter dies down, they should be angry, too.
Throughout our conversation, Cho expressed her rage at the unjust ways in which “people are dying” in our country while emphasizing that these issues did not occur spontaneously. Homophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia—all of these phenomena are rooted deep within the systems the United States was founded upon, and Cho is determined to work to dismantle them all.
Despite wearing many hats in the entertainment space, Cho defines herself first and foremost as a comedian: “I like that label because it encompasses it all.” She added that comedy is a powerful tool in political activism; with the heaviness of the issues we are discussing these days, Cho likes that comedy allows us to confront them meaningfully and still find joy.
“I think that comedy is a good way to talk about social issues and politics because it disarms people right away,” she elaborated. “We understand the language of jokes and laughter.”
Cho’s newest set expresses her rage at the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, as well as the school curriculum debate. She calls out those unwilling to confront America’s racist history: “[It was] never taught in the first place.” Passion poured out of her as she detailed the ways in which our country has systemically and repeatedly failed those living in its margins.
A queer woman herself, Cho expressed disgust at the treatment of other queer and trans people, and revealed particular concern with the way that queerness is portrayed in media. Cho rejected the claim that any piece of media could be evil or satanic in nature: “No, it’s dance music, it’s pop music, rock and roll has always had that sort of edge.” She also mused about the role of religion in policing queerness, especially in an America marked by religious diversity. She emphasized the historical use of Christianity as justification to villainize and marginalize queer and trans people.
“If the United States is formed on religious freedom, we need to actually have it,” Cho said. “Jesus is king? No, there’s no monarchy.”
Cho’s sillier side came out when we started our interview by asking her one of the Voice’s signature icebreakers: Would you rather that fruit had bones, or meat had seeds? Her response? She would love it if fruit had bones so that she could eat it like a popsicle with tahin (yum!). When we asked her what defines a jort versus a jean, she declared once and for all that jorts are not about the length of the cutoff but rather about the width of the pant leg. “You could even say it’s also how much of the leg that we see underneath,” she added. “If it’s a wide-leg pant, you will see more of the leg in the motion.” Her ability to take just about anything and enthusiastically run with it is trademark, and what makes her comedy so special.
A larger-than-life actor, comedian and performer, Cho is also deeply human. Throughout our conversation, she switched gears with ease, but she was especially comfortable when discussing her deep love of animals. Cho is a proud mother of three cats. Two of them are pink female Sphinxes, named Sarong (“heart” in Korean) and Sacra, who is hard of hearing. She also has a fierce werewolf cat named Uju (“universe” in Korean). “[Uju] is the only male that I will tolerate in this house,” she said.
Cho is living the lifestyle of her dreams: taking care of pets and hundreds—yes, hundreds—of plants while touring the country without any intention of “settling down.” Through openly expressing the joy she finds in her home life, Cho rejects societal pressures often placed on women to conform to a heteronormative family structure, sending the message that there is more than one way to find fulfillment.
So what’s next for this multi-talented artist? When she’s not busy binging The Glory 2, a sequel to the K-drama she absolutely loves, on Netflix or recording for her upcoming podcast, Cho is looking forward to more producing, acting, animation, and voice work. In all aspects of her career, Cho comes back to the fundamental idea of channeling her advocacy through words, and believes her audience has the power to do the same in their everyday lives. “Language is what makes up who we are, and so we need to lean on it,” she said. “The idea of being able to identify yourself and use language to do so is so important.”
What we know for sure: Cho is fired up and ready to take on challenging issues, one joke at a time.