For Margaret Cho’s first regular television gig since the now infamous cancellation of her sitcom All-American Girl, it seems fitting that the actress and comedian would gravitate toward something that celebrates women of all sizes. Drop Dead Diva tells the story of a gorgeous model who dies and comes back to earth as a size 16 lawyer.
With Cho playing plucky legal assistant Teri, this time around, the responsibility to carry the show doesn’t fall on Cho’s shoulders ... and she couldn’t be happier. Instead, she gets the bulk of the witty one-liners and the occasional song-and-dance number with guest stars from Paula Abdul to Liza Minnelli.
Officially a Southern transplant — she lives in Atlanta while taping the show in nearby Peachtree City — Cho chatted with The Advocate about distributing our magazine at local gyms, remaking “Cold Hearted” with Paula, and why her local Home Depot is better than any gay bar for afternoon cruising.
The Advocate: I’m so thrilled Drop Dead Diva is back for a second season. It’s such a fun show.
Margaret Cho: Thank you. Yeah, we have a lot of fun doing it, and it’s really exciting how things are amping up.
I know they don’t let you tease too much, but what do we have to look forward to for Teri in season 2?
You get to see her family, which is really fun. We had some Korean people — actually, Emily Kuroda (Gilmore Girls) is not Korean, but she does a great job playing my mom. And my cousin, who is beautifully played by Aaron Yoo. We had a helicopter in my sequence, so it was real M*A*S*H. So that was really fun. And you find out that I’m a private investigator, which made me feel so Rockford Files.
I love all the TV references.
Really old, old TV references. I watched them in reruns.
And you sing?
Yeah, I get to sing and dance. I’m on the soundtrack a couple times. I sing with Brooke Elliott and Kate Levering, who did a wonderful job with the vocals on “Would I Lie to You.” Then I have an original song that I wrote with the fantastic Ben Lee called “Restraining Order.”
The show talks about so many of the issues you’ve dealt with in your routines — body image, self-esteem. What that a big part of the draw for you?
Yeah, I really thought it dealt with issues about weight and about looks and about how a whole section of women in our society feel invisible. I think that’s an important thing to address. It’s a great idea to talk about self-acceptance and how this character eventually evolves into that place. You have a story about a beautiful girl who is living out this very, very fantastic life where she always wins and she dates hot guys. It’s a cool message to put out there that we are all beautiful, that women of all sizes can be recipients of life’s best things.
You film in Georgia, and know in some of your past comedy routines, you’ve talked about what it’s like to look like you and travel through the South. What’s it like filming in the south?
It’s weird to live in the South. I actually moved to Atlanta. I lived right by the set, which is about an hour south of Atlanta. One of the things — The Advocate comes in great use here. I was having this weird fight at the gym with someone who would lay out their Focus on the Family shit, and I would bring in my old Advocates and lay them out on top. By the time I would be done working out, the Focus on the Family would be on top again. So then I just started bringing out the really gay shit like Italian Men’s Vogue, the big, giant men’s fashion Pour Homme. People are very nice, but the level of homophobia and ... it’s not exactly racism, it’s just a real feeling of “the other.” It’s a place where your queerness really gets in the way. So I just didn’t want to be around that anymore, so I thought the best thing for me would be to live in the big A, which is so gay. It’s the San Francisco of the south. Real grand and really fun.
So do you enjoy being in the South?
I do, I do. People are very nice, but then they’ll talk to you for hours about why they think Prop. 8 is OK. For me, I’ve been learning that people’s ideas and hatred about homophobia are not personal. They feel like their views are going to die with them, and so they hang on to them harder. They’re a culture of people who feel like they’re disappearing. There’s an intense amount of stuff on the "DL" in Peachtree City [where the show films] too. It’s all centered on the Home Depot. It’s a lot of cruising. It’s the one place you can go and your wife is not going to suspect you because you’re fucking building shit. There’s hot other dudes there. I know I’m just blowing it for everybody now.
They’re going to have to find a new place to go now.
Like a Lowes. Another home store, which they will.
Drop Dead Diva gets the best guest stars. Who has been your favorite to work with?
Well, I always love to see Rosie O’Donnell, although, unfortunately, we haven’t had any scenes together. She’s actually quite a regular on our show. She’s done a number of episodes. Paula Abdul was really cool. We did the big dance number with her. It was really fun to be rehearsing with her in this really unglamorous gym. It was like I was reenacting my favorite sequence from “Cold Hearted.” It was really, really fun. I loved Jasmine Guy. She’s still Whitley and she’s so fabulous. We have a lot of really fun guest stars.
Who is your dream guest star?
I would love to see Madonna and/or Cher. That would be so gaytastic. Also, I’d love to see some of the younger generation of people. Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift would be fabulous.
Long before it was trendy or popular, you were extremely supportive of and gave a lot of your time and energy to the gay community. What is your take on all of the celebrities who are supportive of gay causes now?
I think it’s great. I think it’s important, I think it’s definitely fabulous for something like that to become trendy because with that, lives are saved. It’s not a small thing. I think when people who are in the public eye are vocal about gay issues, I think it’s great ... and it helps. Where we tape the show is not too far from where they canceled the prom where the girl tried to go with her girlfriend. Living and working within a very homophobic world, I feel very lucky that I get to go back to Los Angeles and New York.
On the same token, you talked about your experiences with men and women long before everybody was talking about being bisexual. Do you feel like it’s become a trend?
I don’t know. I think people are being more honest and open and feeling like there are no repercussions like there used to be. I do think there’s a double standard. I think women have a far easier time talking about it than men do.
Cho Dependent is a CD of comedy songs, but written with some of today’s best musicians.
How did the idea for the album come about?
Well, I think Bette Midler actually thought of it, when she did "Beast of Burden" with Mick Jagger, although that was really a Stones song. But that’s where I thought of it. Also, it comes from going to see one of the artists that’s on the record, Jon Brion, perform over 16, maybe 17 years. I eventually became a part of his shows. The idea that music and comedy should be paired, but really hadn’t been paired in an exciting way ... I wanted to find the people that I loved the best and write lyrics for them, so the collaborations are pretty tremendous with Ani DiFranco and Fiona Apple, Ben Lee, Tegan and Sara. It’s really beautiful, and I’m extremely proud of it.