Comedian Cho explores heritage over tea

California police had their hands full Sunday morning, or so the rumor went.

“As of this morning, I’m arrested in Oakland!” seasoned comedian and celebrity Margaret Cho said at a Davenport Master’s Tea Sunday.

Cho reported the latest Internet gossip about her whereabouts to approximately 50 students at the tea with a flair that matched the arrangement of decorative feathers in her hair. Cho not only set the record straight about her rumored jailing, but elaborated on her career, Asian-American identity and gay rights activism.

Cho will soon finish her 2003 tour, titled “Revolution.” She performed at Southern Connecticut State University Saturday with friend and collaborator Bruce Daniels. The tour includes commentary on current political issues.

“[Bruce and I] are really serious people,” Cho said. “But because I’m a comedian and entertainer, I’m able to say pretty outlandish things because I can hide behind the fact that it’s a joke.”

A San Francisco native, Cho said she attended a performing arts school in the San Francisco Bay Area. She performed at comedy clubs with classmates and said she never had stage fright because performing was natural for her. But she said her parents did not see comedy as a possible career for an Asian-American.

“Immigrant parents are very distrustful of the system in America,” Cho said. “They think the only way to get ahead is to follow a set of rules. Many Asian-Americans go into professions only to appease their parents. Half of your day is spent in America, half in another country — that of your parents’ upbringing.”

In the mid-1990s, Cho acted in a short-lived ABC sitcom about Korean-Americans called “All-American Girl.” She said she received criticism for the show’s “lack of authenticity of Asian-ness.”

“There was a consultant on the show to make sure everyone was ‘Asian’ enough,” Cho said. “What is that? A very narrow view. [Those critics] deny us the vast and very experience of life.”

Cho said her experience on the show helped her explore her identity.

“Being Asian-American is an interesting experience because somehow our face betrays our country,” she said. “I’m American, but my face will always betray me, foreignize me and colonize me.”

Kuong Ly ’07, who organized the tea, said he thought Cho’s discussion of stereotypes of Asian-Americans and the pressure they feel to represent the Asian community made it easy for Asian-Americans in the audience to relate to her.

“I didn’t realize she was so politically active, and I think that came through as she spoke,” Ly said. “She joked about it but was very serious.”

Cho said the gay employees at her parents’ bookstore in San Francisco also influenced her during her childhood. She said she is a product of the men who raised her.

“Two of those men who raised me are still alive; the rest of them have passed away from AIDS quite suddenly,” Cho said. “I have a great responsibility to the men I’ve lost and to tell their stories because they are unable to tell them.”

Cho said she incorporates the essence of real-life disappointment in her comedic technique.

“I say a lot of serious things that cause laughing and crying at the same time,” Cho said. “That’s the joyous insanity of life. I try to take audiences to those extremes.”

Cho said she believes it is her “destiny” to push forward. As a gay rights activist, she said she has her own vision for movements against adversity and wants to make her stage a literal platform for change.

“All civil rights movements we have, all movements are very split off,” Cho said. “My goal is to introduce the idea of a coalition. Mobilize yourself, then mobilize others by your example.”

–Contributing Reporter Marcel Przymusinski contributed to this report.

Comedian Margaret Cho speaks to students at a Davenport College Master's Tea about issues she has faced as an Asian-American woman.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
Comedian Margaret Cho speaks to students at a Davenport College Master's Tea about issues she has faced as an Asian-American woman.

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