Identity forward Identity forward Identity forward

Margaret Cho brings her self-aware comedy to UW's Graduate School Public Lecture Series.

By Shin Yu Pai | Photo by Sergio Garcia | March 2024

For the past 40 years, performer Margaret Cho has been tackling identity issues through stand-up comedy. The five-time Grammy and Emmy nominee has been named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s 50 Best Stand-Up Comics of All Time, while CNN chose her as one of the 50 People Who Changed American Comedy. Now Cho brings her politically progressive and unapologetic humor to Seattle on May 1 for an onstage conversation at Town Hall, as part of the UW Public Lectures series.

Fresh from watching the Golden Globes and a powerful night of public recognition for Asian American actors and their projects, Cho says she is excited about what has shifted in Hollywood. “‘Beef’ won for best series. And Steven Yeun and Ali Wong made history,” she says. “It’s an incredible achievement within a very white establishment.”

When Cho started in comedy in the 1980s, there were few Asian faces or voices on television or in the movies. Cho notes that now, it’s not just actors getting attention. “It’s also the quality of writing and projects.”

I’m always identity forward as a comedian. It’s always got that in there, whether I’m performing at a comedy club or on social media.

Margaret Cho

In addition to exploring her Korean family roots, her comedy boldly interrogates her own perspectives on gender and queer issues. She openly talks about her own gender dysphoria and her path to being open about her sexual identity. These are issues and conversations that she imagines young people and college-aged audiences are thinking about, too. “So much of my work is really about identity and in juxtaposition to the [white male] world that I’m in,” says Cho. “I’m always identity forward as a comedian. It’s always got that in there, whether I’m performing at a comedy club or on social media.”

This focus on identity is also interwoven into Cho’s love for making music. She sees music as another avenue of creative expression that allows her to subvert the Asian American stereotype of overly disciplined kids forced to take music lessons and grow up to be musical prodigies. “You had to be all of those things,” Cho says. “But they didn’t want you to like it too much.” Cho’s parents made her take piano lessons from a young age and expected her to be part of her church choir. But it wasn’t until she decided to become an artist that this interest posed a problem with her family. Today, Cho’s preferred instrument is the guitar. And she counts Fiona Apple and Olivia Rodrigo among her influences, as well as Bob Dylan—whom she calls “a great humorist.”

In 2024, Cho continues to share her stand-up comedy with audiences across the country. She sees touring in an election year as a necessary way to boost community morale and call for unity. “I was doing a lot of dates in Florida, where it was frankly dangerous to be when they are issuing warnings for gay people,” Cho says. “Yet the audience needs that so much. There are queer people who live there who need a kind of escape.”

Cho’s appearance in Seattle will be a moderated stage conversation. While the event is separate from her “Live & Livid” tour (she will be performing stand-up in Bellingham on May 3), there will be some component of comedy interwoven throughout the program.

Registration for An Evening with Margaret Cho on May 1 at Town Hall Seattle opens March 13.