Margaret Cho is working some serious mojo these days with Cho Dependent, her new album and tour which take an unflinching and hilarious look at sex, drugs, and rock and roll, as only she can.
Phoning in from her home in Los Angeles, Cho chats about gay-porn stars, country-murder ballads and her queerness.
Cho sounds just a hint softer on the phone, a little more fragile, than she does on stage and screen, but she didn't hold back when discussing her inspiration for the new album and tour, proving that she is always and forever the one that we want.
Windy City Times: Your new album, Cho Dependent, has been described as a comedy/rock album. For all the queens out there scratching their heads going, what does that mean? Can you break it down?
Margaret Cho: It's like, um, it's like my kind of approach to the Divine Miss M; it's very Cher. It's kind of like Donna Summer, with some Patsy Cline thrown init's basically a lot of fag hags rolled into one! It's also great music too, and it's my approach to being a different kind of diva. I think it's exciting. It's music and funny music, and these are songs that I wrote with some of the greatest musicians out there, like Ben Lee, Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple and Tegan and Sara.
WCT: How did you decide on the album title? Besides the fact that it is obviously bad-ass, did the title have a deeper meaning or significance to you other than the obvious pun?
Margaret Cho: There are a lot of themes on the album, like addiction…to everything, addiction to drugs, specifically, crystal meth. The song, "Intervention," which I recorded with Tegan and Sara, is about that. I think it's really a plague and that it is something that is as damaging as AIDS, as deadly, and destructive, and for some reason it is still very prevalent in the gay community, and it has caused quite a lot of casualties. The title is about different kinds of addiction: "Calling in Stoned," is about calling in sick, but really you are calling in stoned! The album is about addiction to people and to sex, all different kinds of addiction, actually, which is why I thought of the title "Cho Dependent."
WCT: I hear that there is a song on the new album about porn star Ricky Sinz, who lives here in Chicago ( and has, like, a giant dong, or so I am told. ) You posed with Ricky for Unzipped, making you the first ( and last ) woman ever to be photographed for the cover of the now defunct magazine.
Margaret Cho: That was so much fun! Ricky is a shy, sweet, fabulous guy. "You Dick" is a song all about his dick! It kind of builds off of my rap single "My Puss." It's a great song, classic, and hugely produced. I co-wrote it with a straight guy, Carl Newman from The New Pornographers. I presented it to [ Ricky ] at the gay porn awards [ The GayVN Awards ] last yearI sang it to him.
WCT: Cho Dependent also features some darker moments, specifically the "I'm Sorry" track co-written by Andrew Bird. This "country murder ballad" is about the love you had for a man that was not reciprocated, right?
Margaret Cho: It's a really bizarre storyI was in love with this guy that worked on All American Girl. Nothing happened, he didn't like me back. The whole thing was so not right, but I really loved him, and I had held on to that for all this time. But then, I turned 40 and I was still wondering what he was doing, and I Googled him. I never thought I'd find him, and if I did, I thought surely he would be super-successful and married, with a bunch of kids and living in a lighthouse or something.
Well, I found out that in 2007 he was convicted for murder. He bludgeoned his wife to death, and they apparently found her partially mummified body in the attic. I was so horrified, on so many levels. It couldn't have happened to me, but at the same time it could have been me. I felt bad for this woman, I felt horrible. I didn't know how to deal with it, and I was writing with Andrew Bird at the time, and so I wrote the song and he composed wonderful music for it. We did the demo for it in his studio on his farm in Illinois, as a matter of fact.
When something horrible happens, I often think about dealing with it with a dark kind of humor. My favorite singers often sing about domestic violencesingers like Billy Holiday and Tammy Wynette often sang about the domestic abuse that they endured. I wanted to do my version of that kind of song, too. It is a traditional murder country ballad. It's my contribution to that genre.
WCT: Earlier, you mentioned recording a track with Tegan and Sara. What was it like working with them?
Margaret Cho: They are wonderful. I loved doing the song with them. We recorded in Vancouver, when I had just come home from a trip to Fez, Morocco and I was in Vancouver and I had some kind of intestinal parasite and head lice, and I was really sick and really itchy. And I was like 'hi, do you want to catch my lice?' and they were really good sports about it, they are a great band. I love their sound.
To me, "Intervention" is very funny, but quite poignant, too. As I said, it's about confronting drug abuse. I can't imagine anything worse, or as great, as an intervention, because you are surrounded by all these people that love you, and at the same time you are being confronted at a moment when you are at your most fragile.
WCT: People love to make assumptions, and I was wondering if you want to let readers know how you define your sexualityif you bother to define it in the first place, that is. Do you consider yourself queer, straight, bisexual?
Margaret Cho: I am definitely queerto me, that is a very natural response. I wouldn't say I'm bisexual because I really value my connection with transgender people, and I don't where they wouldn't fit in the bisexual spectrum. There is more variety than that in the world, more than two genders. I am definitely queer.
WCT: I've heard that your act is still primarily comedy, with some music sprinkled in for good measure. Can you talk a little more about what fans can expect from your show?
Margaret Cho: Oh, primarily the show will be comedy and I am dying to do it. I have been working nonstop on "Drop Dead Diva" for the last six months, and I am dying to get out there and do it. There will be a few songs in the show, but no matter what I do creatively, I am a stand-up comedian. It all comes back to that. That is who I am. I think I'm gonna talk a lot about race and family and what it is like to live in the South because it's such a big change for me, so they'll be some of that too.
WCT: The second season of Drop Dead Diva recently started airing. Have you found that working on TV is different/better/more bizarre than when you were filming All American Girl?
Margaret Cho: It's a wonderful show. I really love it, and I am a fan of it as well. Drop Dead Diva is a different kind of show [ compared to All American Girl ] , because it's not a sitcom. You are basically making a movie in a week's time, so it's a lot more involved. I'm not in every scene, so it's pretty simple for me, in that I don't have to carry it. I just come in and be funnyand that is what I really enjoy about it.
WCT: Speaking of TV, I did not know you had a role on the Ghost Whisperer! What a hoot. And in somewhat related news, I hear you have a Ouija-board collection.
Margaret Cho: I just took over one episode. I played a character whose fiancé has died and we were communicating with the dead which is really cool. I loved it and I got to be all dramatic and I was cryingit was great!
I do have a Ouija-board collectionbut they are missing the planchettes! I take the planchettes and toss them out because my house is old and kind of spooky, and haunted, at least it seems like it is.
WCT: Margaret, let's close this out with one of those Vanity Fair, Proustian questions: What is your personal motto?
Margaret Cho: My motto, I guess [ pauses ] , I guess it would be something Steve Martin once said: "Just be so good that they can never tell you no." I try to do this as much as I can, because I never want to be denied the opportunity to do more.
Cho Dependent is now on sale. In addition, Margaret Cho will be performing at the Chicago Theater Oct. 16. Visit www.margaretcho.com for tour date information.