Margaret Cho is headed into uncharted territory. The release of her latest album, Cho Dependent, marks the Grammy-nominated comedian's first full-on foray into music and features collaborations with some of the best singer-songwriters in the business, including Fiona Apple, Ani Difranco, Patty Griffin, and Jon Brion. But fear not! With a track list boasting titles like "Your Dick," "My Puss," and "Captain Cameltoe," you can rest assured that Cho hasn't abandoned comedy for her guitar. We caught up with Cho to chat about attempting to subvert the straight people of Peachtree City, Ga., her love of bears, and why the Cho Dependent experience just wouldn't be complete without a video featuring California Raisin turd costumes. Bonus: Be sure to check out the exclusive Out premiere of her song "Lesbian Escalation," featuring Rachael Yamagata, on the second page of this story.
Out: You moved to Peachtree City, Ga., right?
Margaret Cho: I made a move from Los Angeles to Peachtree City, Georgia. But I've actually also moved again to Atlanta, Georgia. I lived in Peachtree City, Georgia, because I work on a television show for Lifetime called Drop Dead Diva out there. It's a great show, and I really love it, but it requires me to spend six months of my life every year in a different city. So I decided that I was going to live by the set in Peachtree City, Georgia. But the problem with the set, or the problem with living by the set, is that I had rented a very large house and anytime anybody came over, they could not believe that I was not the maid. And so anytime anybody would come over they would say, "Well, tell the tenant..." I'm like, "Well, yeah, I am the tenant." They're like, "Yeah, so tell your boss." "No, I-I'm the boss." "No, tell the person that's renting the house..." "You know what? I'm a three-time Grammy nominee!" And that's how I would answer. [Laughs] It's actually two-time. I just added a third time cause it sounded better when I was screaming it.
Hopefully with this new record, right?
Right. The racism there is so subtle; it's like they just can't believe somebody not white would own a house.
I heard you had an interesting experience at the gym you frequented in Peachtree City.
OK, this is the problem of Peachtree City: I would go work out every single day. And at the gym, I would be confronted with a stack of Focus on Family magazines, which offended me to no end. This is the organization that defeated gay marriage all over the country. This is the organization that is routinely responsible for this kind of institutionalized homophobia. Focus on Family is the worst thing to happen to America. In so many ways it is really terrible. So I would go to the gym, a bad thing in itself, going to the gym, and then have to be faced with a stack of Focus on Family magazines. So to combat this I would bring a stack of Advocates and Outs and Genre sometimes, and leave them out and put them on top of the Focus on Family. I would start my workout by putting Out, The Advocate, all of my favorite things to read on top. And then by the end of my workout, somebody would come by and put the Focus on Familys on top of the Outs and Advocates, and so it was just like this magazine fight. And I would escalate by bringing even gayer magazines. So that's when I'd just pull out the Unzipped and all the porn, which, you know what, they asked for it. Since then, I have canceled my membership, but I left my magazines there. I think that that really was a good way to protest, but it was alarming how quickly the Focus on Familys would go back on top -- like they were really on to it. I think I brought a fresh breath of gay air to the town, but now I've moved to the gayest part of Atlanta, so I feel much better now.
What's your favorite gay spot in Atlanta?
My favorite gay spot in Atlanta would probably have to be Burkhart's, although I haven't been for a while. I have been to Mary's, that's sort of another place to go. Or Woof's, which is the bear bar -- I'm always looking for the bear bar.
You actually have a song about bears, don't you?
I have a band, actually, that sings songs only about bears. It's a band that I formed with a wonderful singer-songwriter named Jill Sobule. So we have a spin-off band project called Pixie Herculon, which is devoted to singing songs about, and for, bears in the bear community. We made a video, and it's a great single -- it's called "The Bear Song." I think it's a summer jam. It's a really exciting, exciting movement. I think that it's a great thing to have an entire band devoted to singing about bears by two women who are not bears who wish they were bears.
So why this obsession with the bear community?
I love bears because, in general, I think the standards of beauty for gay men are so oppressive and so narrow-minded, and what the bear community has done is, they've said, "You know what? We're beautiful, and we're going to make our own sex symbols, and we're going to create our own ideals of beauty." And this is so revolutionary and so exciting and hot. And so what they've done is something that women have not been able to do for themselves. What they've done is really created their own ideals of beauty and their own... I guess their own standards, which is like super-inspiring. So I hope that women can one day do this. Women can be like bears. And that's why the band exists, cause we want to be like bears. The chorus is "I want to be a bear."
You're in Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime. What can you tell us about the evolution of Teri's character this season?
I am on the show for the second season, and my character's Teri Lee, who is the assistant of the lead character, Jane Bingum. So in my evolution this year, I just found out that I'm a private eye, which is really exciting. I don't know what that means -- we're right in the middle of shooting right now -- but we get our scripts in the next day or so, so we don't even know what's going on. So I can't really tell you what's going to happen. But I'm a private eye, which I'm very excited about.
You also have Cho Dependent" coming out this month. Why a music album now?
Yes. My album Cho Dependent is coming out August 24. It's this project that I have been working on now for two years. And it's probably the hardest thing I've ever done. It's really exciting to do music. I have a voice, actually. I was on tour with Cyndi Lauper, and I was singing with her, and she said, "Oh, you're a singer. You're a singer." And I was like, "Wow. If Cyndi Lauper's telling you that you're a singer, you must be a singer." So I was so inspired by that, and I went and collaborated with some of the greatest artists around. People like Fiona Apple, and Jon Brion, and Patty Griffin, and Ani DiFranco, and Grant Lee Phillips, and Tegan and Sara, and Rachael Yamagata, just incredible artists. I was really fortunate to be able to collaborate with the best of the best of the best. Especially big queer superstars like Garrison Starr and Tegan and Sara, which is, to me, so exciting, and Andrew Bird, and I'm really proud of it. It's all comedy songs, so it's all comedy, but in music form. I'm very excited because I'm kind of pulling out of stand-up comedy, but then the show that accompanies it, that I'll be touring with, is all stand-up comedy and some songs. So it's a combination of both, but it's a lot of fun. I want to do sort of like an older diva thing, like you get into a Bette Midler mode, where, you know, you're doing jokes, and then you're singing songs, and then everybody cries. It's just fabulous.
How did you enlist such serious musicians for a comedy album?
Well, everybody that I asked to perform on the record, they are people that I'm friends with and also a fan of. And the thing about rock stars is that they secretly want to be comedians, and all comedians secretly want to be rock stars. So what we got to do was kind of pretend to be each other for like a minute. That was really funny. It's really amazing. Artists like Andrew Bird have a such a great sense of humor. He's really, really hilarious, but you would not necessarily know that if you listen to his music because his music is just so high-minded and intelligent and poetic and eloquent, but he has a serious goofball side, which is really funny. So I tapped into that, and I tapped into everybody's kind of goofy side.
I'm looking at some of these hysterical song titles. Are there a couple of songs that you're particularly fond of or particularly proud of?
Well, "Your Dick" is a really Baroque -- pop Baroque -- song that I wrote with an incredible artist named Carl Newman, who is the singer and writer for a great band called the New Pornographers. So we wrote this really beautiful, almost operatic, song. In my mind, I wrote it so that it could be sung by the Gay Men's Chorus. It's all about [porn star] Ricky Sinz. It's nine inches by two inches, no, nine by five. His cock is nine by five inches long, which is 45 inches of cock volume. So we wrote this long, beautiful arrangement, and it was produced by Ben Lee, who also collaborated with me on the record, who is really incredible. But in my mind I envisioned it, "This will be sung by the Gay Men's Chorus one day." It's a beautiful song. And "Eat Shit and Die," well that's really a great song that I wrote with Grant Lee Phillips. And we made a video where we made shit costumes that were fashioned after the California Raisins. Which, I really think the California Raisins -- to me, they just look like turds, and I thought, "Well, I should have a band that's like turds." So we made turd costumes with our faces showing. So it's me and Selene Luna, who is a very funny comedian, one of my best friends. She and I were sort of California Raisins turd costume people for that. You know Lady Gaga's going to steal it. Lady Caca: Work.
Tell me about "Captain Cameltoe," your collaboration with Ani DiFranco.
Ani DiFranco is such an incredible artist, and her music is so serious and so emotional, and so what I wanted to do with her is create something really fun and loving and sweet. And so we were thinking, "Oh, I wanted to do a song that was like Serge Gainsbourg's comic strip." It was Serge Gainsbourg, it was a duet with him and Brigitte Bardot, and it was a very, kind of fun, kind of take off on Roy Lichtenstein, kind of like '60s pop art kind of thing. So I wanted to do that, updated for now, about a super hero whose greatest power is their cameltoe. So that's my collaboration with Ani. It's a great song. It's a dance hit. It's going to be everybody's summer jam; it's the bounciest track on the record, so that's a lot of fun.
Is the Mickey Avalon cut a parody of "My Dick"?
Yes. "My Puss" is pretty much a cover version of Mickey Avalon and Dirt Nasty's song "My Dick," but instead it's "My Puss," or "My Vagina," but "My Puss," it was just to the point. I really love that song, and I really love those guys. I love Simon Rex and I love Mickey Avalon, so it was my tribute to them.
Lastly, I just was watching this video before you came in -- it's not on the album, I don't think -- but you collaborated with Girlyman for "Young James Dean." Can you tell me a little bit about the song?
I collaborated with Girlyman, I've written a song with them. We haven't recorded it yet, but there is a video that I made for their song called the "Young James Dean," which is a wonderful, wonderful meditation on female masculinity and butch identity. And I cast in the film -- it's a short film/video -- I cast in the film all trans people. It was all trans men and trans women and also their partners. So the video is a wonderful overview of the trans community, which, I think, in a sense, people have the wrong idea that there are drag queens and then there's the trans community. That drag queens are performers, and they are very, very flamboyant and that's an identity unto itself, but that's not a sexuality. That's a profession. But that there is a community out there, of trans people, who need representation, and so that's my goal with the video, since the song is about being unable to find that identity within a world that rejects butch identity. I thought I wanted to make a film that was really about seeing the trans community in its beauty and in its variety. And that we are not talking about drag queens, but we are talking about transgender people, which I find that the queer community in general tends to ignore.
Margaret Cho is heading out on the road with a brand new North American stand up tour in support of Cho Dependent. The Cho Dependent tour is sponsored by Logo and will kick-off on August 26 and run thru December 12. The Cho Dependent shows are a hilarious evening of new stand up comedy, mixed with live performances of three of Cho's comedy songs, featuring her trademark unbridled, no holds-barred humor.
Cho Dependent is in stores and available for download now. Cho plays Montclair, NJ, on November 4, New York City on November 5, and The Foxwood Resort and Casino in Ledyard, CT, on November 6. To purchase tickets and get a full list of tour dates, visit her official website.