In part one of our interview with Margaret Cho, we talked about her comedy, and her work on Drop Dead Diva. In part two, we discussed her current projects, especially her upcoming album and tour.
Margaret, you’re keeping a blog. Is it for PR reasons, or personal ones – or is it a blend of both?
Oh, it’s definitely a blend of both.
I think writing is really rewarding, and I wish that I did more of it. It’s better for me to write more and – with the album, too – it’s like I have a whole bunch of things that I wanted to communicate, and I’ve written a bunch of pieces about each song and each collaboration with each artist and it’s for their fans, too, to get another look at how they work.
I read blogs a lot and I do all my shopping online, so I read a lot of different things and I’m always online, and it’s good to participate in that community as well as to be a blogger. Also the response is good.
” I think writing is really rewarding, and I wish that I did more of it. It’s better for me to write more…”
Participating in community has always been a big thing with you though, hasn’t it? You’re a very strong proponent of gay and lesbian rights for example.
Yeah, and that’s an important thing to write about and talk about and having a blog is a good way to get those messages across and I think it’s very positive.
Speaking of the album, I know it’s due out this month, and I’ve heard a couple of tracks from it – the “head lice” song is hilarious – but, can you tell us a bit more about it?
The album is a collaboration. It was a way for me to write songs with all the artists that I really love and really admire. It’s a comedy album, but done with participation of some of the greatest musicians in the world, and that track ["Lice"] was a collaboration between me and Ben Lee. The other songs have been…I’ve done songs with Ani deFranco and Fiona Apple and Andrew Bird. I’ve worked with Grant Lee Philips and Jon Brion and Tegan & Sara.
All these artists that I really admire, I got to work with, so they’re kind of “jokey” songs, but also with a lot of great musicianship, which I think is amazing.
One of the things that impressed me was that you can really sing. Did you work with a vocal coach before you made the album, or are you a natural musician?
Well I play music. I’m a guitarist, and I play banjo, and I play dulcimer and I had done some measure of vocal coaching through the process, but my mother’s a singer so it’s something that I always knew I had the ability to do. I really discovered it and started developing it, actually, after going on tour with Cyndi Lauper, who was very, very encouraging about my voice.
So it’s good. It’s good to be able to sing. It’s a really fun thing to add to what I do as a comic but at the same time it’s not really leaving the comedy world at all. It’s just another aspect to doing comedy.
The album coincides with the beginning of your new tour?
Yes. The tour will be starting in August. I’ll do a few dates before the album is released, and then I go on a full, big launch tour starting at the end of August, all the way through December.
How does tour work for you? Do you love the intensity, do you hate it…?
Oh, it’s really easy!
To me, touring is actually the easiest thing, because you’re physically carried to a different place every day and I don’t even – I just sleep all day. All I do is sleep and rest.
I kind of go through periods of vocal rest, like if I’m singing a lot – I do mostly stand-up comedy and then I’ll do some songs – it’s very difficult on your voice to do all that different stuff, so I usually do a lot of silence during the day. I just get carried from place to place and I don’t make a noise.
It’s really funny but touring’s so easy. I mean, the only thing you have to do is perform. Everything else is taken care of for you, and I appreciate that.
” It’s really great to build a relationship with people who’ve known your work, and have been coming back and coming back. It’s just really cool.”
Do you interact with your fans a lot when you’re on tour, or do you try to stay a little bit distant?
Well, it depends on where, and what is going on but yeah, for sure, I meet a lot of people and that’s really great, because a lot of people have been coming to see me year after year for tours. It’s really great to build a relationship with people who’ve known your work, and have been coming back and coming back. It’s just really cool.
The tour and the album share the same title , Cho-Dependent. Can you give us an idea of the theme of this tour?
It’s a lot about addiction, that’s sort of what the title is about – and a lot of the songs are about different kinds of addiction and the humor in that, and kind of the pathos in that and there’s some dark stuff too.
There’s one song that I wrote with Andrew Bird. It’s called “I’m Sorry,” and it was about this guy who I was really in love with, who worked on All American Girl almost seventeen years ago.
He didn’t like me back, and he was like, the first person who I ever had a really bad crush on and I really fell in love with him and he didn’t care. And it was horrible. And I still love him. I still have feelings for him, and I never Googled him in all this time, in the seventeen years, because I didn’t want to know that he’s super-happy, and married and living in a white house and…you know.
I had all these ideas and finally after seventeen years I thought, “You know, I should find out what he’s doing,” and so I Googled him and his name came up on Wikipedia and it said “American Screenwriter and Producer, worked with Margaret Cho on All American Girl, and in 2007 was convicted of the murder of his wife.” He’d bludgeoned her to death and then stuffed her body in the attic and left it there for a month until it had partially mummified. I was really horrified and upset and I didn’t know what to do, and I thought, “Well, I should write a song about it.”
“I was really horrified and upset and I didn’t know what to do, and I thought, ‘Well, I should write a song about it.’”
That week I was working with Andrew Bird, and I wrote some lyrics and he was like, “This is really good and we’re gonna do a country murder-ballad,” which is like the perfect thing, and he went to his farm, and three days later I had a demo.
So, the song is called “I’m Sorry,” and it’s really about the complexity and the horror of domestic violence, and yet the humor in it, too. I mean, to me, it’s just horrible and so sick, but sometimes those things are so horrible they can actually be really funny. That’s the only way I can process tragedy – is to make it funny for myself. And so the way that I could process this person that I really was deeply in love with, who turned out to be a fucking psychopath – I mean – just HORRIBLE and so…the humor can be very dark.
But, it can also be very light. It also could be about a case of head lice, so there’s different levels of the kind of humor that you find. I mean, to me, humor can be found in the depths of heartache and tragedy and I just – I feel really sick and sad about what happened, but it’s also – to me – it’s just absurd. And funny too in a way, like, from my perspective it’s just like, kinda funny.
How could that NOT turn into a country song?
Well it is. It’s a country murder ballad, and that’s the tradition.
You mentioned several of the artists you worked with for the album, but you’ve collaborated with others. In fact, one of our readers would love to know what it was like working with Amanda Palmer.
Oh, she’s great!
“What keeps me really balanced is just performing a lot and doing a lot of sets and hanging out with a lot of comics. That’s a very comfortable place for me to be.”
I’ve toured with her a couple of times, and I shared a bus with the Dresden Dolls and I’ve done a million different things with them, and they’re great.
She is a phenomenal artist, and an incredible singer, and she’s helped me a lot in terms of just learning about the voice and taking care of my voice, because she’s also had vocal issues in the past – we all have – if you work a lot and do a lot of stuff performing – it’s tough – but she’s great.
You’ve talked about doing vocal rest, and sleeping a lot while on tour, but what do you do during day to day life to keep yourself grounded and balanced?
Well, here, where I’m shooting – we’re shooting in Georgia – I actually do a lot of shows. I do a lot of sets at night. Like, I do a LOT of comedy and then I spend a lot of time playing music and practicing, and that’s really important for me, and that’s basically it. What keeps me really balanced is just performing a lot and doing a lot of sets and hanging out with a lot of comics. That’s a very comfortable place for me to be. So that’s what I do out here.
I know your next call is ringing through, so one last question: What piece of advice would you give to other women who want to do what you do?
Well, I think it’s important to just have tenacity. Having a long career now, I see that the people who have become successful often aren’t the most talented, or the most gifted, they just happen to be really tenacious and really stuck to it. And that’s what it’s all about, I think.
Margaret Cho’s “Cho-Dependent” album will be available on August 24th, and her tour kicks off on the 26th. Tickets are already on sale. For more about Margaret, please visit her website, MargaretCho.com.