Margaret Cho isn't your ordinary diva who belts out tunes and wears a 0 dress size. Nor is she trying to live up to the Hollywood standard of style. In fact, she is in a field that hasn't added the word 'diva' to its constituents. But, as I discovered at a recent performance by Ms. Cho, she is well on her way to becoming a gay icon, even if it isn't the Hollywood variety.
Margaret Cho was born and raised in San Francisco, surrounded by what she describes as 'hippies, ex-druggies, burnouts from the '60s, drag queens, and Chinese people.' Her father, a Korean immigrant, writes joke books in Korean, and her housewife mother is usually just the punch line for Margaret's jokes.
Following in her father's comedic footsteps, Margaret discovered her gift for comedy at an early age. She first performed stand-up at age 16. She found success quickly, winning a comedy contest where the first prize was opening for none other than Jerry Seinfeld. That success launched her career.
In her early 20s, she toured the college circuit, becoming the most booked act in the market. She was quickly becoming a national celebrity. With this success, getting her own sitcom was the natural next move. However, she wasn't always laughing, especially when her short-lived ABC sitcom, All-American Girl, was cancelled. But she pushed forward and went back on tour.
Margaret is currently on her 3rd national tour promoting her new material, titled Revolution. In the same likeness as Che Guevara, Margaret Cho is starting her own Revolution, as a stand-up comic. She does more than just tell jokes; she has combined politics with laughter. During her 2-hour performance Margaret spoke about her personal struggle with weight, the lack of minorities in the media, and everything gay.
On the subject of her weight, Margaret Cho addresses the stereotypes that prevent her from becoming the next J-Lo or Madonna. Minorities, especially Asians, have no 'real' identity when it comes to popular culture, and it's rare to see a chubby, much less overweight, celebrity. However, in the face of this media-crazy society that encourages women to look and behave a certain way, she has truly mastered her art and become a success story. She was probably a likely candidate to be the girl voted 'most likely to not be famous,' but talent has no size or ethnicity, so she made it big. Despite her success, if you pay attention to any television show or magazine you would notice the lack of other Margaret Cho's.
Margaret has always been open about her bisexuality, making it a non-issue for her. During a Q&A session at DePaul University, Margaret was asked to give a shout out for Coming Out Week. She gladly made everyone clap in recognition. Someone in the audience commented on the short amount of days given to GLBT issues and she related, 'At least Black people get a whole month, all I get is Pearl Harbor Day!' the crowd laughed.
Margaret uses her platform to promote GLBT issues, unlike most of Hollywood's entertainers who seldom speak on behalf of the gay community. Margaret not only speaks on the issues, but also advocates a change.
She joked in her monologue, 'It's ridiculous! People are saying that we are going to ruin the sanctity of marriage?' She paused and sarcastically said, 'Dennis Rodman married Carmen Electra!' the crowed cheered.
She continued, 'Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley!'
'Liza Minnelli married David Gest!' the audience roared.
Yes it was funny, but it was also true!
It is no surprise that Margaret has been recognized by GLAAD, American Women in Radio and Television, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Organization for Women for making a difference in promoting equal rights for all. Margaret Cho has come a long way from her days doing stand up in the 2nd floor of a bookstore in San Francisco. She takes her experiences—good and bad—as a lesson to be learned and passed on to all who will listen.
Near the end of her performance, Margaret talked about her involvement with ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) 'I believe in their message, we advise and inform, we demonstrate, we are not silent. ... People are always asking me, why do I always 'go there'—if I don't go there, then I wasn't ever there.'
She encourages youth to speak up for what they believe in and always 'go there.' What a different world this would be if we all spoke up against the injustices in our society. We would be one voice united for change.
And change is exactly what Margaret has done.
Yes, she isn't exactly the Gap ads we've been overwhelmed with, nor is she on any Hex Hector mix pulsating at Circuit, but her message is one that deserves to be heard. Revolution is Margaret's best work to date. In a field cluttered by marketing techniques, Margaret's voice is genuine. Margaret gives GLBT youth the message so that in return they will have the last laugh!
Emmanuel Garcia is a student at Columbia College in Chicago. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org