I Freaking Love You, Margaret Cho!

Boxing Day morning at my house:

My mom, leaning into cane, sighing: “Dear, there’s a word I don’t want you to use in your writing.”

Me, lying on rug by fire trying to stretch out holiday-induced backache: “Is it fuck?”

My mom: “Don’t say that word.”

Me: “But is it–is it fuck?”

My mom: “No, it isn’t.  It’s sip. Doesn’t matter where a book is set–Africa, England, anywhere–the characters are always sipping tea.”

Me: “So if I stay away from sip, can I use fuck? If I stay away from sip, can I write whatever I want?”

My mom: “I suppose.”


Now that the holidays are over–and yes, they are—it’s time to forget family and fall into the splendor of a self-indulgent bender, to follow our own selfish impulses until our selfishness turns to something bright and glowing that the world just might need. Like Silly Putty or early Madonna. It’s time for a bender.

Sometimes, I hear a voice I love, and I can’t get enough of it. I’m feeling a Margaret Cho bender coming on right about now. The Margaret Cho thing is not a new love; I’m revisiting this one, and nothing’s been lost over the eight years since I first discovered her.

As one remembers with crystalline precision the first moments of a fall into love, I have vivid memories that I remember with fond nostalgia of the moments when I first heard the voices of writers who’ve most rocked my world. For me,these moments are as important as those of meeting people I knew would become good friends. Because in those moments, I was filled with an ecstatic joy. Fan girl much? I guess. But there is something delicious about being a fan, and as I’ve said before, I think to be a writer, you have to have fallen in love with a book or two.

And among the writers I’ve loved, we will find Margaret Cho.  (And yes, monologues are writing. Stand up is writing. And to my ear, Margaret Cho monologues sound like the very best of memoir). And yes, I remember the exact moment I fell for her. It was the late fall of 2003, the bleak stretch right after my husband and I split up, a period about which I’ve written more than I could’ve ever imagined and will only use to set the scene here.

After the kids went to bed, I’d try to watch movies before knocking myself with a Xanax. But–a nasty and unexpected byproduct of the divorce–I had completely lost patience with all fiction narratives. Movies? Now, on top of everything else,  I’m losing movies?  I couldn’t read a novel, or even a short story, and movies couldn’t hold my interest.   I’d rent a stack of movies, get through ten minutes of each of them and be utterly bored and completely irritated. I had no patience for someone’s made up version of what the world is like just when I most needed escape. In my head, I could hear the melodic voiceover from the Celexa ad, “Have you lost pleasure in the things you once enjoyed?”  Yes, yes, I have, I thought, and it better come back.

And then, one night a friend brought over a Margart Cho DVD.

“It’s no use. Don’t even bother,” I said when she offered to leave it with me.

“This is different,” she said in a soothing voice. “You’ll see.”

The DVD was I’m the One That I Want, and within minutes, I was hooked, searching for pen and paper, desperate to take notes on how she was weaving the stories of herself growing up, her Korean family, her sexual identity, and her crazy experience making the Disney show All-American Girl. How did she somehow pack an assault on our assumptions about gender, race and sexuality into one funny story after another? She was the first (only?) writer I’d ever heard to appropriate the term “fag hag” and render it a title of honor. (“I make every gay man infinitely more gay just by my presence,” Cho says in Assassin. “I am the fag whisperer.”)

So two weeks ago, I got hooked in again, watching her video Beautiful, in which she takes on sex scandals, dieting, monogamy, and much more.  In one skit, she says whenever she goes to a dinner party someone is always trying to shut her down, saying, “TMI. Don’t go there!” To which Margaret retorts, “Don’t go there?  I live there.  I bought a house there.” Today, I’m watching Assassin and plotting how I can get my hands of Cho Dependent.  If the only bridge I can find back to book writing from Christmas wassailing is Margaret Cho, at least I’ll have found a bridge.

Admittedly, Cho is not for everyone. She’s reckless and uninhibited.  She’s out to give the word slut a good name. But that’s the beauty of the singular voice; she’s not there to please everyone. She’s there to say what she needs to. Even if it’s fuck. Even if it’s–dare I say it?–sip.

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