On Monday, November 30, legendary comedian Margaret Cho will be joining Outfest to ring in its first annual virtual fundraiser, 'Twas the Night Before Give-mas.
The event, hosted by Marc Malkin, will be raising money to support nonprofits and will feature live music, drag performances, and appearances from the likes of Cho, Out100 honorees Janaya Future Khan, Wilson Cruz, and Cheyenne Jackson as well as Charlie Carver, Steven Canals, Jinkx Monsoon, BenDeLaCreme, Candis Cayne, and many more.
We recently sat down with Cho, whose relationship with Outfest spans decades, to talk about the importance of community and how queer comedians are shaping the future of comedy amidst the ongoing pandemic.
"It's exciting to participate every year," she says of Outfest, which this year took most of its programing virtual, including partnering with us for our annual Out100 event that can still be streamed on Out.com/Out100Live. "This year has been really interesting because I've been participating in events that I usually am physically at."
For Cho, a bisexual comic who has never strayed from her LGBTQ+ audience through her trailblazing career, meeting fans in a virtual setting has welcomed new opportunities to learn about each other.
In September, Cho hosted the virtual Folsom Street Rair. "That was incredible," she shares. Years ago, Cho worked at a leather shop and has since kept a connection with the community "I went to a little studio and everybody was socially distanced. It was just like two people there. We did it in conjunction with live streams set up from all over the place and then another specific live stream in San Francisco. We were showing different play sessions and participants and performances from all over the world, and it was really great because usually if you're at Folsom there are so many people and there are so many things happening that you can't see everything. But this time, because it was online, you got to really see and experience all of the stuff."
"There were all these new fetishes I was not aware of, like cactus play, which I think is really cruelty-free using cruelty," she quips. "Also duct tape play. There was this one young man who was all done up in duct tape and it was all about the sound of tape. It was so amazing because it was about using a duct tape outfit, sticking it and sticking it to skin. And that was the whole thing. Everybody was freaking out about it. I was like, this is the future. It's so cool."
Since rising to prominence with her starring role in ABC's All-America Girl, the first prime time sitcom to feature an Asian American family, Cho has not stopped working and continues to forge her legacy as one of the LGBTQ+ community's most beloved treasures. Her work has broken ground not only for queer Asian American representation in comedy and in television, but for Asian American actors across the board.
"I think it's great," she says of her queer fan base. "I am really grateful for all of those experiences I've had with different people who really enjoyed my work. I think that I've seen the world really change and I've seen also the industry of entertainment really change too as it relates to queer issues and how now we're much more aware of what can be done in diversity. People are feeling seen and seeing themselves for the first time and I'm just I'm really glad to be here for it."
Aside from producing and starring in Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva while also touring the country and creating epic performance art online when she's free, this year Cho voices Auntie Ling in Netflix's Over the Moon, which is comprised of an all Asian American cast.
Still, despite all the success she's built over the years, Cho is very much looking forward to getting older and embracing her "crone" and haggotry years.
"I'm all about the Crone and the hag; I love an old gay lady," she says. "To me, that's the ultimate. Like, Betty Davis was always better when she was really old. It's so good to come into a new space of joy and excitement, like Joan Rivers, who I really loved and admired. I think it's really exciting. And I learn a lot from young people, too. It's a great honor [to be viewed as an inspiration]."
As far as where comedy is going, Cho says in the coming months we are likely to have "a deeper understanding of what comedy is and how important it is," she explains. "I think we'll also have a broader representation of comedians and I think that's really important."
"The '80s and the '90s were kind of the era of the closeted lesbian, like Ellen," she says. "It was like a weird, blazer-mullet time. But we always embraced queerness in comedy. We always have. Like everybody's favorite comedians, like Paul Lynde or Louie Anderson, all of these people. Joan Rivers I always think of queer as well. All of these icons of comedy have always been queer. That duality and kind of essence."
She continues, "The queerness is like the outsider in that comedy is an outsider art form, so we're always going to embrace the outsider. Now, I think we're going to be more open to it and have a more understanding of it and will have a broader sense of what comedy topics are really important to address. So I think we'll come out knowing more. I think it's been good for comedians to have gone through this period of the high time of cancel culture, which is probably 2018-2019, to not being able to perform at all in 2020, and so we'll come out on the other side of this much better comedians -- one would hope."
The virtual art form of comedy, however, is still being cultivated. "It's developing," she says. "We're understanding that we can still reach people with our message, but we don't necessarily have to physically be together. And that I think is really powerful. So I feel like we can connect on a lot of levels and that's what I'm really excited about. My favorite thing I think recently probably has been Lady Bunny's WAP paradise."
Cho's recent appearance on The Bachelorette brought the performer to a younger straight audience. It was the first time she had been around people in March, having shot her bits in August after being quarantined several days on site.
"We were in a bubble, their Bachelor bubble," she says. "I thought it was super interesting and I just have never experienced anything like that, to really be in this bubble and then be trust in this world that is very curated, everybody looks perfect. You know, everybody was really good looking and showing off their best side in order to kind of win the heart of [Bachelorette] Clare Crawley. This was before she left with Dale [Moss]. There was a lot of talk, like, Oh, she wants to be with Dale. Don't talk about Dale. I was like, What is going on? It was almost like she had already kind of decided who she wanted to be with. Inside, I was like, Why do straight people have to be so extra about making a huge TV show? Like, this is so straight. How much do we have to really proclaim heterosexuality? It's definitely its own kind of genius and competition. That's what people are into. It's a huge phenomenon and I think it's so interesting."
Cho didn't hold back in explaining what a queer Bachelorette looks like in her mind
Cho is certainly looking forward to a new year post-Trump, hopefully with a vaccine for the ongoign pandemic. But till then, she says we can't forget to laugh.
"We have to laugh because it's an affirmation of hope," she says. "Laughter is really an acknowledgment that there is a glimmer of hope somewhere in the sadness and the terror, there's some survival instinct that makes you laugh. It just brings you up and out of it. It's a hit of dopamine. It forces you to take your breath, and that's kind of what [the virus] has been all about, taking away people's breath."
'Twas the Night Before Give-mas will be held November 30 and will be livestreamed at Outfest.org/givemas, as well as OutfestNow.com and via Outfest's social media handles.