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Next Avenue: Being over 50 is not slowing down actress and comedian Margaret Cho—’Life is just beginning’

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

Performing stand-up comedy is a formidable endeavor at any age. Margaret Cho started taking the stage to make audiences laugh when she was 14 years old. Her boldness wasn’t manufactured. She was fearless and armed with a desire to entertain and “feel like an adult.”

Inspired by her goals and the eclectic community of entertainers she grew up around in San Francisco, she went after what she wanted without a second thought, and it’s paid off: Cho is a household name.

The multitalented comedian, actress, musician, writer and human rights activist has spent four decades wowing audiences with her thought-provoking words and sharp skills. Those performances and her activism efforts have earned her a slew of award nominations and wins, including a GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Golden Gate Award in 2000.

All the success doesn’t mean that it’s been a completely smooth ride. Cho has been very candid about her struggles with alcohol and drugs, detailed in her 2002 memoir, “I’m the One That I Want.

Depression and suicidal thoughts were also components of her mental health issues. Cho spoke publicly about entering rehab in 2016 and has used her own experiences to inform others who have similar challenges.

Cho is still tirelessly performing

In an industry that hasn’t always done a great job of embracing female performers over 30, Cho is not worried about being disposable—she’s got too much to do.  

Now 53, Cho is still tirelessly performing and loving life. She is currently touring across the U.S. doing stand-up shows, and this year is making her debut on two HBO shows, “The Flight Attendant” (the second season premiered April 21) and “Hacks” (premiering May 12).

Cho is also starring in a comedy-horror movie titled “Fire Island” scheduled to release this summer.

Margaret Cho in “Fire Island,” coming this summer.

Searchlight Pictures/Everett Collection

During a Zoom
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call with Next Avenue, Cho talked about these recent ventures, plus how she believes we humans can be better to one another.

Next Avenue: Performing stand-up comedy is no easy feat. You started doing it at the young age of 14. What propelled you into that world, and, looking back, would you make the same decision now?

Margaret Cho: A couple of things got me going. My parents owned a gay bookstore with a nightclub above that had comedy shows—that made things easy. I also took a comedy class at school. Those things helped me get stage time in other places.

I wouldn’t change any part of it. I was so fearless, and I wanted to be a comedian—I loved the art form. I also wanted to be an adult and have some autonomy; doing it gave me adult feelings. It was a decision that gave me a lot of freedom and hope for the future, so I’m glad I started when I did. It gave me a sense of control over what my life would be like.

Much of your career and life has seen you focused on advocating for women, the LGBTQ community, equality, and human rights. At that age, was that part of your intent?

Not at the time. I know there was nobody like me in that world of comedy, but I wasn’t thinking about visibility or anything at the time. I just wanted to be a comic.

You inherently brought your personal beliefs into your work, which helped create a monumental awareness. Undoubtedly, change is happening in the entertainment industry; we finally see more prominent roles for underrepresented performers.

Yeah, it is very exciting. I love that there are so many more Asian-American comedians. That’s very inspiring and just how it should be. There are still going to be many more. I feel like this is a good time and just the very beginning. We need to keep thinking about how we can do better and where and how we can change. There’s still so much Asian American hate out there, and hate crimes are happening daily. Still so much discrimination against gay people. It’s all about continuing to fight.

Cancel culture has shaken up the stand-up world these last six years, with people like Louis C.K. and Ellen DeGeneres being spotlighted for different types of negative behaviors and with different results. Do you think that is a constructive approach?

It depends. What we are talking about is looking at language to be fair and trying to look at culture as a way to normalize itself and make language accountable for that, and that is important. And we still need to keep focusing on things that are dangerous. Racism is dangerous, homophobia is dangerous—why are we not canceling these things? Why are we not canceling transphobia? These are things we can afford to cancel and have had enough of.

At 53, you’ve spent four decades performing. The entertainment industry isn’t always kind to women over 30. Hopefully, that’s another area where change is happening. How do you feel being a 50+ woman in Hollywood?

Oh, I love it! I think it’s great. I am enjoying my age. I love that there are so many more up-and-coming Asian American comedians so that I can be on all their shows. I want to be their Joan Collins—like when she starred on the show “Dynasty” in the ’80s.

That is great. You haven’t stressed about how aging might affect your career?

No, because I was always so different anyway that none of that mattered. I never fit in. Now is where it equalizes—it’s not important. None of that is important. I take care of my physical health more; drink green juice now and then. I exercise, and I’ve gotten into gardening and bird watching. Life is just beginning. I think you are in your mid-40s when you get a handle on things. Menopause is like a second puberty because you’re really coming into who you are as a person.

See: ‘What do we do with all that talent?’ Older workers and the new economy

You’ve joined the cast of the popular HBO series “The Flight Attendant,” starring Kaley Cuoco. How is that experience? And can you tell us anything about your character?

I am so excited to be a part of the show. My character is a fixture in Iceland, where they go this season. It’s been a thrill, and I’ll let audiences see how it plays out without giving too much away.

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You have done so much—acting, comedy, music. Is there something in the creative realm you would like to tackle? And what else is coming up?

I would love to get into the David Attenborough space. I love nature documentaries, and I am wildlife oriented, which would be great. I have a movie coming out this summer called “Fire Island” that also stars Bowen Yang and Joel Kim Booster. I can’t wait for that. I’ll be doing some stand-up shows and tending to my gorgeous carnivorous plants.

Amy Young is a journalist based in Phoenix. She contributes to numerous regional and national publications and has experience in radio, podcasting and live storytelling. In her spare time, she volunteers for different nonprofit organizations.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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