San Francisco native Margaret Cho grew up on Haight Street in the 1970s amid drag queens, ex-junkies and hippies, and started performing comedy professionally when she was just 16 years old. More than 30 years later, the Emmy- and Grammy-nominated comedian is back in town to perform at the Castro Theatre, a few blocks from her old apartment.
Without many female comedians to look up to at the beginning of her career, Cho idolized the ballsy, laissez-faire attitude of Joan Rivers, filling her stand-up with dick jokes and pokes at her mother. (“Korean history and culture is about the invisibility of women. But she loves to be the center of attention!” says Cho.)
Since then the bawdy, ultra-outspoken, queer-centric, feminist Korean-American has used her long career to deal with tough issues. When she’s not waxing filthy about sex, Cho has recently delved into her traumatic experiences with drugs, alcohol, disordered eating and painful teen years. At 16, she might have been making jokes about being a really bad Korean driver or trying to lose weight, but she was also hiding the fact that she was sexually abused as a child and as a teenager. It wasn’t until she was 46, in 2015, that she was finally able to perform the original song “I Wanna Kill My Rapist.”
In her new tour, Fresh Off the Bloat, Cho talks about her recent yearlong stint in a mental-health facility. “It was my Girl, Interrupted moment,” Cho says. “I needed to go to a place and deal with my issues. It really was necessary; there was no choice. I’m grateful to have survived.” Spinning it all into comedy is tough but healing, she adds.
A loud, proud soapboxer for LGBTQ rights (she calls herself a dick widow, referring to the witching hour when all of her gay male friends disappear in search of sex), Cho also uses the show to tackle the tough issues facing her LGBTQ fans, namely AIDS. “We [in the LGBTQ community] were ravaged by AIDS and I couldn’t figure out how to talk about it through comedy for years,” says Cho. “I’m a more compassionate writer now,” she adds, “and am able to figure out how to talk about something so devastating and still have it be funny.”
The Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St (415-621-6120, castrotheatre.com). Oct 21 at 7pm; $35–$59.50.