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Margaret Cho Breaks Barriers In World Of Comedy

Comedian, actress and outspoken social rights activist Margaret Cho.
Comedian, actress and outspoken social rights activist Margaret Cho.

She is one of America's most well-known comedians. But breaking into the mostly white, male world of comedy was a challenge for Korean-American actress and comedian Margaret Cho.

"To be in show business is really to feel a sense of invisibility, if you're not white, if you're not a man," the San Francisco native says. "Those two things are so much a part of how a comedian is defined."

Yet she found inspiration for her performances in her immigrant family.

"When you are from an immigrant family, there is something to making fun of your immigrant roots," she adds.

When Cho was a little girl, her father was deported to Korea, an event that made her family very protective of their American identity and status.

"I'm the only member of my family to have been born in America, so my mother would always push me forward and say, 'She's white,' " she says.

Later her father was able to return to the U.S., but his having left made her see that they were outsiders in this country and gave her a different point of view in starting the work she does. Cho wanted to make sure that "we had a voice that was being heard and that our voice had a lot of humor to it, because within humor, there is a lot of strength," she explains.

Knowing she never wanted to be anything else but a comedian, Cho started her career at as a teenager and became financially independent at age 16.

She went on to work with acclaimed comedians, such as Jerry Seinfeld and Bob Hope. In 1994, Cho won the American Comedy Award for Best Female Comedian.

That same year, based on her standup routine, ABC developed and aired a sitcom, starring Cho, called All American Girl. Although short-lived, it was one of the first shows to prominently feature an Asian-American woman. Yet, it also became a challenge for Cho's physical appearance.

"I was really considered such an outlaw for being an Asian-American that every other aspect of myself had to be controlled, and weight was a big part of it," she says.

But the rejection only propelled her to do better and take on different projects. Since then, her TV career has included The Cho Show, 30 Rock and Dancing with the Stars.

Today, Cho is shooting the third season of the Lifetime TV series Drop Dead Diva and producing Yellow, an album about rage, age and ethnicity.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Monika Evstatieva is a Senior Producer on Investigations.
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