Comedian Margaret Cho was born and raised in San Francisco, and from childhood, was exposed in the queer culture of the city.
As a grown woman, she still grapples with questions of identity – as an individual, as a member of a community – and her new show draws directly on these thoughts. Entitled Mother, it sees Cho grappling with the idea of parenthood as it relates to queer culture. “Essentially, the show is about the fact that I’m old enough to be somebody’s mother, but I act just like a terrible child,” Cho tells me with a laugh. “I’m getting more and more out of control the older I get. I’m regressing into childhood.”
Behind the self-deprecating jokes, Cho is asking some tough questions of herself. The show, she tells me, represents an attempt to define an identity in a culture that, for the most part, keeps queer people out of sight. “When you grow up as a queer person, and you’re not getting married or having kids or doing the things that straight people do, how do you know what age you are?” she says. “How do you identify the milestones? There are no societal cues, there are no defined life goals as such, and there’s a weird feeling of invisibility that comes with that.”
In many cases, Cho says, the families we create for ourselves are just as important as the ones we’re born into. “I think that queer people are really good at creating families wherever we can, wherever we find the possibility,” she says. “That’s something that’s happened in the past, and that continues. A big part of my show is about that. I was lucky in that my own mother was very progressive, and taught me all about gay people. In the queer community, parenting doesn’t always come from the traditional family structure – I think that, in the queer community, the older generation have a responsibility to act as parents to younger ones, even if that doesn’t mean traditional parenting.”
Queer people have become more visible on TV in recent years, especially in shows like Modern Family, which presents a set of same-sex parents as a relatively mundane occurrence. Cho loves the show, and feels like its exploration of different kinds of families is a step in the right direction, even if we haven’t gone quite far enough just yet. “I think from here, it would be great to see more bisexuality on TV, or to see more transgender people,” says. “A big part of my show is me attempting to rectify those things. I always try to speak to that queer identity, to that idea that we can all feel kind of isolated or invisible wherever we are.”
Cho has worked extensively in TV, but one of her most memorable roles saw her crossing gender lines to play Kim Jong Il on 30 Rock. “People don’t know what he sounds like, so I had to come up with my own version of that from scratch,” she says. Getting the look right, however, was a breeze: “Oh my god, it took no time at all,” she laughs. “I could come in and I’d be ready to go within five minutes. It’s funny, it takes way more effort for me to look like Margaret Cho in the morning than it does for me to look like Kim Jong Il!”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Margaret Cho's presents her Mother set for Sydney Comedy Festival at Enmore Theatre on April 27.