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Margaret Cho on Pushing Boundaries, Jokes in Trump’s America, and Her Show This Week at GWU

Photograph by Dusti Cunningham.

For more than 25 years, the comedian Margaret Cho has captured audiences with her biting humor. She’s putting her jokes to good use at a benefit show on Thursday for George Washington University’s LGBT Health Policy and Practice Program. Washingtonian spoke with Cho ahead of the show to get her thoughts on everything from telling jokes in the Trump era to her new TNT show.

What drew you to performing at this benefit?

I love to do anything that helps to promote equality and helps to look out for LGBTQ youth. To me, it’s an important cause but also this is an event that will be fun for me, too. I like to do that kind of stuff. I think it’s really all about talking about identity and talking about pride, talking about this kind of excitement that there is around gay pride in the summer. I love it.

Why is this such an important cause for you?

It’s always been. I grew up in and have lived in the LGBTQ community my entire life. So, it’s where I’m most active socially and it’s where my activism is really based, in the gay community. This is my friends, this is my family, this is like where I always am, whether it’s the Resist March in Los Angeles, whether it’s gay pride all over the world, whether it’s universities and these like-minded programs for LGBTQ youth. I’m always around that.

You’re known as one of the more fearless comedians. As a comedian, how do you balance your act for an event like this at a university?

To balance politics and humor, it’s really important to always remember to be a comedian. That’s all I do; talking about identity politics, whether it’s sexual identity or racial identity, all those things are important to me.

Do you feel pressure that talking about these issues is more important than ever because of the Trump administration?

Yeah, we’re really threatened. That’s what’s so great about all these protest marches, like the Women’s March. That kind of stuff is so vital to making sure we keep our rights and keep our sanity during this crazy time. We need comedy to get through this. Going to these marches and performing for these marches is so enlightening and fun. I started doing comedy in the era of Reagan, doing shows like Rock Against Reagan. It’s so exciting. We deal with a difficult administration with humor and grace.

What about the likes of Kathy Griffin and Bill Maher?

I think that there is a school of thought in comedy where you go out of your way to test boundaries and push the limits. The price that we pay is that people will be offended and in a lot of ways, that’s kind of what we’re supposed to do. I always remember my old friend Joan Rivers was all about being unapologetic and pushing those boundaries. It always has to be funny, though. But your mileage varies from person to person. It’s different for me because I am a woman of color and I am part of the gay community, I am definitely in a lot of minorities. So, that sort of aids my own freedom to say what I want to say.

What’s coming up for you?

I have a TV show that I’m working on for TNT all about an Asian American family and the marijuana trade. It’s a very different kind of show. We’re still in the development process, so there’s not really a lot to say just yet. And I’ll be on tour the rest of this year and next year.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Former editorial fellow Kayla Randall is City Lights editor at Washington City Paper.