Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho have quite a lot in common: They both credit Joan Rivers as an early inspiration; they both lovingly (and hilariously) lampoon their mothers onstage; and, they both have more gay fans than Karl Lagerfeld’s closet. Most importantly, though, they both are headlining the New York Comedy Festival, which runs November 10-15 at venues all around the city.
I must have been very good this year, as I was able to interview both of these incredibly funny women. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t able to get them together in the same room—I said I was good, not a saint. So, although presented together, the conversations were done separately. But nonetheless, a great time was had by all.
Out: Your New York Comedy Festival shows are both part of larger tours — Kathy’s Like a Boss tour and Margaret’s There’s No I in Team but There’s a Cho in Psycho — any hints as to what we can expect?
Kathy Griffin: I named my tour for the first time because my assistant — who, how should I say this, is a part of “the community” — said, “You know, I think you should name this tour. I think you might be facing a real issue. People that have been coming to see your shows, you want to let them know that this is all new material.” So I came up with the name Like a Boss because I think it’s funny. It’s like, “Who do I think I am, Nicki Minaj or something?”
So, if you’ve seen me 10 years ago, five years ago or even one year ago, it’s going to be all new material. We have a lot to discuss and Carnegie is so magical. It will be all new, offensive and exciting.
Margaret Cho: In PsyCHO, there's a lot of talk about the times I had been raped. And, so, I am joking about it, because I get to, as a survivor. I also talk about the insane, violent culture we live in and get into gun control. We need it. Women's reproductive rights. It's cathartic comedy. Also, I’m celebrating the lives of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers. And, a joyous shout out to marriage equality!
I understand you’ll be marrying one couple each night of the tour? How will you pick the couples?
Cho: Basically the first one who wants to do it gets to! That is how I pick. It will be done onstage at the beginning of the show.
And, you’ve both done the New York Comedy Festival before? What brings you back?
Cho: I love NYC and looking forward to seeing friends. Comics never see each other because we are always working.
Griffin: This is the second time I’ve done Carnegie as part of the festival, the third time I’ve done Carnegie total. So when the festival approached me, I said you know only [a few] female comedians have stood alone on that stage and done their act here and so I really wanted to play Carnegie. Of course I would someday like to set the record for the most times there, but I am in great company: Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Phyllis Diller.
Speaking of female comedians, there are quite a few doing shows at the festival, too. Is this is a good time to be a woman in comedy?
Cho: Absolutely. These are my sisters and we have known each other and loved each other for many years. I am so proud of Amy Schumer — she is my baby — she makes me beam with happiness. It's the best time to be a female comic.
Griffin: Hold on, I love that Amy Schumer is in Trainwreck and I love that she wrote it with her sister. That’s awesome! On the other hand, let’s cut the shit, there still isn’t a woman in Late Night and that isn’t me calling out executives; that’s just a fucking fact. It’s not been since Joan Rivers, my dearly departed friend, has there been a woman in late night. And that was in 1986!
Cho: Women have always been funnier and now people cannot deny it anymore. Women comics are far superior to their male counterparts because it takes a lot more effort to get work, get noticed, get your career off and running because we don't have the boy's club camaraderie and often are isolated — there are very few women in comedy comparatively.
Griffin: Look, there are a lot of ways to try and succeed when you are a female in stand up because you know that you are in an uphill battle and you are in such a male dominated field that, there are ways that if you have a machine behind you that’s the way to do it. Or if you have an incredible writers room full of people who have won Emmys and they write for you. Then there is me, where I write all my own specials. I think my story is that I’ve been kind of doing it on my own.
Let’s talk about political correctness…
Griffin: Oh God!
Exactly! Do you think there’s too much worrying about political correctness? How do you walk that fine line between being PC and being funny?
Cho: Political correctness was created to protect people like myself — why would I be concerned? I invented it! I am like the Little Richard of political correctness. I am a queer woman of color with progressive feminist politics and a compassionate heart. I am the physical embodiment of PC — I think that is a joke — but it's actually not - or is it?
Griffin: Here is what I think about political correctness: I actually think that it has been hijacked by stuff that isn’t PC. I am someone that is never going to fall victim to censoring myself because of political correctness; however, I am very aware and cognizant of what it is at this moment. Let me tell you, the important thing to get, is that it fucking changes. And that is what I have to explain as a beloved and vulgar comedian. I am very aware that – I’m more aware than anybody — of what political correctness is and when it changes, when it is appropriate.
It would seem you have a litmus test every time you tell a joke.
Griffin: Every time. I love that you brought that up because that is why there is a line in one of my specials: “I don’t just cross the line, I move it then I cross it.” It’s funny, I made that joke, I don’t know how many years ago, and it’s actually more true now than when I said it because now, you are correct, we are in a time where everything is monitored. And yet, as a comic…I believe it’s a craft, I believe it is necessary. I actually take it very seriously.
You don’t want to start censoring comics but, at the same time, when you are a comic it doesn’t mean you go out there and start throwing around certain words. I openly say this, there was time (you can look this up in one of my old specials) where I used the “F” word. I used to lovingly refer to myself as a fag hag and every gay guy I know would say, “You are my favorite fag hag.” So, I would say that at that time and people would laugh.
Now, I’m not being politically correct here, but that is just not a joke that I would make today. Here’s why: You have to keep in mind I have to go into areas where there might be one person in that audience that cringes and says, “I was called a fag at school today and nobody thought It was cute and funny.”
I’ve known gay men as long as I can remember and behind closed doors if they all want to hang out and call each other that word, that is A-OK with me. But it has taken me a long time to be, all right I can kind of do the same type of joke if I just go out and yell, “Alright, let me hear from my LGBTQI12345Caitlyns.” It is the same joke. And if we are in Birmingham, it gets cheers because the Kathy Griffin show in Birmingham may be the only place in town where you can go: “Wooh! Right here, girl.”
Margaret, I recently saw you on the Today Show and you mentioned you knew you wanted to be a comedian at 14. Do you remember your first joke?
Cho: I am Margaret Cho, and I drive very well.
The New York Comedy Festival takes place Nov. 10-15. Margaret Cho: There’s No I in Team but There’s a Cho in Psycho is Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. at Town Hall. Kathy Griffin: Like a Boss is Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. at Carnegie Hall.