Fresh Off the Bloat: Comedy Legend Margaret Cho Comes To Taiwan

It isn’t everyday that Taiwan gets to play host to a comedy legend (let alone one whose ideals are so near and dear) like Margaret Cho.

An absolute comedy pioneerJust check out her IMDB page), Margaret Cho has built a reputation as a tireless fighter in the war against racism, sexism, homophobia and patriarchy. Her comedy tackles difficult subjects like addiction, abuse, activism and Asianness with razor insight, and she’ll be bringing it all to Taipei on May 14th during the Asian leg of her “Fresh Off The Bloat” tour.

Why “Fresh Off The Bloat” (a bit of wordplay that brings to mind Taiwanese-American Eddie Huang’s show “Fresh Off the Boat”)?  Says Cho:

“My grandmother said ‘You look like bloated as if you’ve been found dead in a lake after several days of searching.’ Koreans are the most savage of all the Asians. My new show is all about being fresh off drugs and drinking and suicide and coming back to life – finally fished out of the river Styx. It’s meta. It’s magical. It’s me.”

Taiwan Scene interviewed Margaret Cho by email about politics, identity, GLBTQ issues and her upcoming Taiwan visit.

Photo by Albert Sanchez

Q1. Will this be your first time visiting Taiwan?
MC: This will be my first time and I am so excited! American comedians rarely travel so far from home, so this is a real luxury for me!

Q2. Does it feel a bit ironic to be jetting out of Donald Trump’s America to a liberal democracy with socialized medicine, legal protection for GLBTQ people (moving towards full marriage equality) and, oh yeah, a cool female president?

MC: OMG, I am so happy for you. We are so scared and embarrassed to have Trump as president. It’s actually really terrible, but what is good are the protest marches and the spirit of activism. These have really been our saving grace during these troubled times.

Photo by Albert Sanchez

Q3. How is doing comedy during the age of Trump different than, say doing comedy when Obama was president? Or, for that matter, Bush (of whom you were an outspoken critic)?

MC: I think that comedy has become an essential coping mechanism. It is all we can do – hang onto hope and laugh instead of crying.

Q4. One of the themes of “Fresh off the Bloat” is rebirth. How do you keep from feeling complete and utter despair, especially in the face of the current political climate?

MC: Well if you can make a joke about it, you will probably survive it. This is my continual mantra. And it has to work. Laughter is all about hope. We have to have hope.

Photo by Albert Sanchez

Q5: Taiwan is an interesting place, on the one hand being a fairly liberal and progressive country, but on the other still being a deeply Confucian, conservative culture. A lot of our gay and lesbian friends are terrified about coming out to their parents. As a role model for people from marginalized communities struggling to come out and define themselves on their own terms, what advice do you have for Taiwanese who might be struggling under the yoke of cultural conservatism, especially when that “conservatism” is a big part of the cultural identity?

MC: I think that it is an Asian thing, that Confucian tendency to value our family’s values more than our own personal feelings. But you have to be free to live your own life. My advice is to be yourself. Embrace your identity because it will only cause suffering to suppress it. We can only be ourselves. The family has to accept it and pretty soon they will, and if they don’t, your life is not to be bartered. You have only one life. Don’t throw it away on other people’s ideas on who you should be.  

Q6: You’ve always been open about your struggles with Hollywood typecasting. Of being “too Asian” or “not Asian enough” or “not the right type of Asian”, that sort of thing. It’s an issue that a lot of Taiwanese people can relate to, with many struggling to define what it means to be “Taiwanese”. What advice do you have about defining one’s cultural identity during a time when that identity itself is in flux?

MC: I think that not knowing what your identity is supposed to be is an identity unto itself. Confusion isn’t as bad as it is made out to be. Instead of defining ourselves as ‘confused’ we can redefine it as ‘discovering’. That is a better way to look at it.

Photo by Albert Sanchez

Q7: With America’s presence on the world stage changing, it seems like the current zeitgeist is to look towards Asia for cultural, if not outright political leadership. Do you agree with this, and, as an Asian American, how do you feel about it?  

MC: I love it. I have long been influenced by Korean entertainment and Hong Kong movies since the 80s. It’s the best!

Q8: Do you alter your act for the international stage? Are there some elements of your comedy that go over better in some areas than in others?

MC: I have to adapt and every show is different…even within the United States. I have evolved as a touring artist to be able to handle everything!

Q9: After Taiwan, you’re heading to Singapore. Being a well known comedy rebel, do you intend to engage in any traditional Singaporean forms of rebellion, some gum chewing or perhaps light jaywalking?

MC:  Ha! Yeah, I am going to try to get caned on purpose. So kinky!

Photo by Albert Sanchez

Q10.: Well, flogging is still an on-the-books punishment there, but I think it’s not the fun San Francisco BDSM club type flogging.

MC: I know! So crazy! That is way beyond the Folsom Street Fair. No fun!

Q11. Finally, can we get you to come back for a longer visit? Maybe to live here for a spell? Taiwan…bastion of progressive politics, defender of human rights and equality, Asia’s biggest and most awesome Pride parade! We’d be glad to show you around!

MC: I would love to come for an extended stay! Anytime!  

Margaret Cho will be performing on Monday, May 14th at the NTUH International Convention Center R201,No. 2, Xuzhou Road, Zhongzheng District 100, Taipei City  (台大醫院國際會議中心201廳, 台北市中正區徐州路2號)

Seating is limited, so click here to book your tickets online!

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