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Margaret Cho is still the funny one that she wants

| Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, 9:30 p.m.
Margaret Cho
Credit: Lifetime
Margaret Cho Credit: Lifetime

As the country that produced the parents of Margaret Cho, South Korea beat its neighbor to the north in launching a “missile” at the United States.

The firebrand comedian that was that missile grew up in San Francisco and spent part of her childhood in her parents' native Korea. By the time she was 16, she was performing stand-up comedy. She developed her aggressive Riot Grrrl stage persona out of the need to be forceful, she says.

In 1994, she had her own sitcom, the ill-fated “All-American Girl.” The show's producers considered her character to be too Asian one moment and not Asian enough the next. She landed in the hospital with kidney failure after trying to lose weight for the role.

She talked about that experience in her 2000 one-woman show, “I'm the One That I Want.”

Cho ventured out of her comfort zone recently when she competed on “Dancing with the Stars,” where her partner was Louis van Amstel. Always the cutup, she couldn't resist some clowning during the Viennese waltz by pretending to be tangled up in her gold lamé “Isis Wings.”

Cho also has a supporting role on “Drop Dead Diva” on the Lifetime Channel, where she plays the assistant of a smart-but-overweight lawyer, played by Brooke Elliott, whose body is inhabited by the soul of a shallow former model. “Cho Dependent” is her latest DVD.

She brings her latest show, “Mother,” to the Pittsburgh Improv for two shows Sunday and Monday. She sat down with us (actually, we don't know if she was sitting or standing) for some Q&A:

Tribune-Review: Please talk about your latest tour and what it entails.

Cho: It's new material, pretty raw and uncensored, which is the heart of what I do. Stuff about my mom and motherhood in general, but my take on it, as I am the farthest thing from being a mother, and I am very proud of it.

Trib: How has your material evolved over the years?

Cho: I think it has shifted into what I understand comedy to be, which is about a kind of honesty and a way of seeing things, that everyone is aware of but people often can't verbalize, and so they ask an outside observer, which is usually a comedian.

Trib: You don't strike me as the type of person who has regrets, but would you do “Dancing With the Stars” differently instead of cutting up during the Viennese waltz? Were you unable to let your guard down?

Cho: Actually, doing the Viennese waltz is very difficult, and I tried my best, and the Isis wings are an element pulled from bellydance, which is something I know well. It's that people perceive me as making fun of things, even though I am not necessarily. (“Dancing With the Stars”) assumed I was making fun of them, maybe because they can't imagine I would take something that is so mainstream as seriously. But I did. I just looked funny doing it.

Trib: Why did you do “Dancing with the Stars?”

Cho: They pay a huge amount of money! I can see why anyone would say yes. Also I wanted to wear the costumes and get paid to work out. I had a great respect for the dancers on there - they were magical.

Trib: What music/band are you into these days?

Cho: The Alabama Shakes, first two albums by the Pretenders, Amanda Palmer's new album, “Phoenix” and that really lovely Burt Bacharach/Elvis Costello collaboration album. (“Painted From Memory”).

Trib: What's the best thing about being in “Drop Dead Diva?” The worst thing?

Cho: I love “Drop Dead Diva.” The best thing is working with a great cast and crew and getting to know everyone so well. We are family. The worst thing is that our soundstage gets so hot that it opens up all my pores on my neck and I get a nickel allergy from the costumes.

Trib: How did the Kim Jong Il role on “30 Rock” come about?

Cho: Tina Fey asked me to do it last year and then I came back to do it this year, even though he had died. It was her idea and it was genius.

Trib: Could you, perhaps, be “inserted” into North Korea and engineer its downfall as a body double for Kim Jong-il's son and successor, Kim Jong-un?

Cho: I think that is a great idea, too!

William Loeffler is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7986.

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