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Margaret Cho Interview

Margaret Cho talks to London Calling about her new show, for which she reminisces about Robin Williams and sings about rape.

American comedian and activist Margaret Cho returns to London this December with her PsyCHO tour. London Calling asked her about the difficult issues she takes on for the show.

London Calling: PsyCHO is about anger. Is the show itself a way for you to channel your political anger?

Margaret Cho: Yeah, and I think it’s also a way maybe to find some healing, because I think laughter is healing. In London I’ll be performing my song, ‘I Want to Kill My Rapist’.

LC: London recently hosted Clear Lines, its first ever cultural festival dedicated to talking about sexual assault. Have you heard about this or similar festivals?

MC: Yes I think it’s wonderful, because I think sexual abuse leads to self-abuse when it’s kept silent. I love that [the festival] is happening and I would have loved to be a part of it. But this show will be my own small part [of that movement].

LC: A big LGBTQ issue in London at the moment is the protection of queer spaces from being taken over by developers. Are you aware of these campaigns?

MC: No, but I think that that’s important. We need to have safe spaces and we need protection. In the United States there are only 16 states that include the LGBT community in hate crime laws and we’re often the victims of hate crime. I’m definitely trying to shift that here [in the U.S.], but I think it’s very important globally to have safe spaces for the LGBT community.

LC: Has Twitter made comedy more of a battleground than before?

MC: I think so. I think it also reveals the best and worst of humanity. I am somewhat of a Twitter vigilante myself. When I am attacked online for my views, when I have to deal with hate speech, I often just retweet it. I allow anything that comes [the perpetrator’s] way. I do like people to - when they experience that kind of hatred online  - to screenshot it, to look through [the perpetrator’s] feed, to find the employer of this person and send a message to them.

I know there’s a bit of a trend in the United States where - they did a Tumblr called ‘Racists Getting Fired’ - where people actually go after these people who attacked them online. Social media has become a place where you see so much homophobia and violence and sexism and racism. For me, haters become shooters. You see it time and time again. These people who go out and kill people often post stuff online so I encourage people, when they see hate speech, to do something about it.

LC: Do you notice a difference in tone in how British people talk about issues to do with politics and identity compared with Americans?

MC: Well I think it’s just different. I think Britain is different in a way that - if we’re talking about race, in Britain it’s often - from what I understand - about class. And it comes down to accent. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What school did you go to?’ We [in the U.S.] have a different way of dealing with it. I have a very good friend, [British comic] Gina Yashere. She’s somebody I work with in the United States and someone I really admire. Her feeling is that British racism is so subtle you don’t even know. I agree with her. She knows so much more about it than I do. It’s the subtlety. I’m often confused as well!

LC: Have you been to New Malden, the Korean area of London?

MC: No but I’d love to go. I need to get my nails done.

LC: The fact that you’ve picked up the baton for Robin Williams’ work with homeless people is hugely commendable. Was it a cause you would have necessarily been drawn to otherwise?

MC: It became apparent to me that [homelessness] was getting worse in San Francisco, especially because of the way that the city became a gold rush, with Silicon Valley and the tech boom. The rich become richer and the poor become poorer. It’s like a Dickensian situation here. So, I just saw it much more than I ever had. [Williams’] death it prompted me to do something to celebrate his philanthropic life. [Homelessness] was his main crusade. His death inspired me to celebrate that part of his work, which is very important now.

LC: Your background sounds like a more racially diverse Tales of the City. Would you agree?

MC: It is! It is. And Armistead Maupin is a very good friend of mine. I’ve known him since I was a child; he actually did his book signings at my father’s bookstore. My father had a gay bookstore in San Francisco, so Armistead was always there. My life absolutely is very much Tales of the City.

LC: You mentioned Gina Yashere. Is she your favourite UK comedian, or do you have any others?

MC: I love her. I love Stephen K Amos. Gina and Stephen are my favourite and then Paul Foot. I love him so much. He’s so funny. He and I celebrated his birthday last year in Paris and we had a beautiful, whirlwind three days of just food and laughter. I can’t say enough about him. But yes, those [three] are my heart. And of course I’m very influenced by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French. And Little Britain and League of Gentlemen. I love British comedy.

LC: Are there any questions that you wonder why you never get asked?

MC: People never really asked me about rape until this year. I was talking about it for many years. I was also a sex worker and I talked about that in my work, but there was never anybody asking me about [rape] until I started talking about it on social media. But I think that it’s good that they ask me about it now. I’m glad to talk about it now.

Margaret Cho’s PsyCHO tour plays at Leicester Square Theatre from 15th to 20th December. To book tickets, see website.

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