Margaret Cho was born on December 5, 1968 and raised in San Francisco. Her career as a viciously sharp-tongued and unfiltered stand-up comedian began in her teen years. By her 20s, this Korean-American performer found herself starring in her own short-lived TV sitcom, All-American Girl. Since then, Cho has been the highlight of many comedy specials, tours and albums, as well as films and books. Her reign entertaining TV audiences has continued, too, with Dancing with the Stars, Drop Dead Diva and 30 Rock. When not cracking up the masses, this funny lady focuses her energies on advocating for gay rights and fighting racism and sexism.
Born Margaret Moran Cho on December 5, 1968, Margaret Cho grew up on San Francisco's Haight Street during the 1970s. "There were old hippies, ex-druggies, burnouts from the '60s, drag queens and Chinese people," the Korean-American comic said of her neighborhood. Her upbringing provided plenty of fodder for Cho's early standup days. Her first comedic inspiration may have been her father, who once wrote Korean joke books.
Humor definitely helped a pubescent Cho deal with teenage angst and bullying. She started doing standup at age 14, and by the 1990s she had moved to Los Angeles, where her comic career gained traction. Cho's first nighttime gig was on The Arsenio Hall Show. She became known for her outspoken and sometimes crude routines, as well as an ability to shed light on prejudices and stereotypes, especially those relating to gays, women and Asian-Americans.
Cho followed in the footsteps of other comedians by eventually earning her own TV sitcom: All-American Girl debuted on ABC in 1994, and was based on Cho's real life as a rebellious Korean-American young woman amid more traditional relatives. The series was groundbreaking, as it was the first prime-time show to focus on an Asian-American family. However, Cho often voiced her dissatisfaction with the show, especially with, as she described it, the network haranguing her to "act more Asian" and lose weight; in fact, she wound up with kidney failure after starving herself for the series.
Despite the cancellation of All-American Girl after only 19 episodes, Cho's comic career continued to soar, especially after her critically acclaimed off-Broadway show, I'm the One that I Want, which was also developed into a concert film. Her Notorious C.H.O. performance at Carnegie Hall led to another smash film. The tours and taped specials haven't stopped since, nor has Cho's interest in TV stardom.
She took another stab at her own program in 2008: VH1's The Cho Show was a scripted reality approach to the comic’s life, featuring her real life entourage and parents. The following year, she was cast on the Lifetime show Drop Dead Diva as lead actress Brooke Elliot's sidekick—a role that continued until the show's cancellation in 2014. Cho then announced a return to the standup stage in 2015 with her "PsyCHO TOUR.”
Accolades and Advocacy
For her many years in showbiz, Margaret Cho finally earned an Emmy nod in 2012 for her hilarious gender-bender guest portrayal as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. "It's shocking to me how much I really look like him," Cho said in an NBC.com video.
But that's not the only role in recent years that garnered the performer media buzz, as Cho competed on season 11 of ABC's Dancing with the Stars (2010). While she didn't last long in the competition, she did stir up the press by doing a Samba to Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" while wearing a gay-pride-themed dress, later voicing her opinions on the need to protect today's gay youth from bullying.
Cho's activism isn't new: She's been at the forefront of gay rights, anti-bullying and anti-racism campaigns for years, and her efforts have been honored by organizations like Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the American Women in Radio and Television, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Gay rights in particular is a cause near and dear to Cho’s heart. In an interview with The New York Times Magazine, she said, "I refer to myself as gay, but I am married to a man [artist/writer Al Ridenour]. "Of course, I've had relationships with women, but my politics are more queer than my lifestyle."
In late 2014, Cho announced that she and Ridenour had split after 11 years of marriage.
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