Margaret Cho Embraces Her Age and Size

At 43, the hilarious comedian has moved past anorexia and bulimia and feels sexy doing it. Read the edited version of our interview with her below about her role on "Drop Dead Diva," the stand-up show she's headlining and how the two promote what she's learned to believe in

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
margaret cho image
Photograph: Sony Pictures Television

More: Congratulations on another successful season of Drop Dead Diva.
Margaret Cho: Thank you. I think we are all really happy with it and the finale. There were a lot of twists and turns that took our audience on quite a ride.

More: So many people think of you as a stand-up comedian on the live stage. What sparked your interest in joining this cast?
MC: I love the show and I loved the concept behind it. We, as women, are put in so many different categories, like Are pretty or are we going to be smart. This show allows a character to be both and prove you don’t have to conform to society and pick just one, because you can be all things. The message here is you have the power to be everything.

More: Plus it also proves size isn’t everything.
MC: I rarely see anyone on television that I can identify with physically. So many people on TV are way outside of my realm; I just could not visualize myself like that. On Drop Dead Diva, I think our characters are real and relatable women. You can look at them and see how beautiful all people can be. Our lead character is someone I can relate to, and when you are watching a show, you as a member of the audience want to relate to the character you are watching. To put someone in a lead role like that on TV is both rewarding and validating.

More: Speaking of stand-up shows, you are headlining “Mother,” which centers around how society looks at maternal figures and strong women in queer culture. Why do a show about motherhood when you aren’t a mom yourself?
MC: My show is a lot about my mom and the influence she had on me and my career. I wanted to put all of these different stories together and do a tribute to her. Also, now, at 43, I am at a point in my life where I feel as if I am in a maternal place. I know people view me as a maternal figure, which I think is great.

More: Age has something to do with that?
MC: When you get to your forties, you wonder if you are still sexually viable, when people see you as a maternal figure. I think I am, but I have to say that to myself. I always have to reinforce that idea because women in our society, or at least in the acting world, often become invisible after the age of 40. A lot of times you have the young girlfriend roles, and then as you get older there are different opportunities, but I feel there are not a lot of choices during the in-between period. I think people are finally realizing the importance of this time by making sure we as women stay viable and sexy.

More: What makes you feel sexy?
MC: What makes me feel sexy is appreciating my age and my wisdom. I also take care of my body in a way that is appropriate. I am not necessarily in desperate need to be super skinny. I did the anorexia and bulimia when I was in my twenties to be thin. Now I am too old to mess around with food, so I have to come at it from a more holistic point of view.

More: Such as?
MC: I am into yoga and I have learned the many different ways to appreciate food, such as cooking. Now I spend time with food so I can have a healthy relationship with it. Look, it took me about 40 years to get to this place, and for the first time I am really comfortable with it.

More: You noted that you once battled anorexia and bulimia. How did you find a healthy place with food and your body?
MC: A lot of the work I was getting was stand-up comedy. That has little to do with how thin I am. When I did 30 Rock I had to wear a fat suit. While some actresses might feel they might not get work if they don’t weigh a certain amount, I never had that pressure after my first experience with television. But back when I was doing my own TV show, in 1994, they wanted me to lose a lot of weight, and that is where the whole cycle began.

More: Which was?
MC: I was terrified, thinking I had to be thin to get the work. But it was then that I really started to embrace my love for stand-up comedy, and after that it became a non-issue: I no longer had to worry about what I was eating. Male comics don’t think about their weight—why should we?

More: You recently shed a lot of weight, which you have attributed to your time on Dancing with the Stars and your love of belly dancing. 
MC: Yes. I love belly dancing. It is great for exercise and it glorifies a woman’s body. When I was in Cairo, I saw women who were in their eighties belly dancing and still feeling sexy. It was so great to see. They were wearing really beautiful costumes and dancing in a very seductive manner. It was beautiful to watch, especially because of how age was really valued there.

More: Did being there teach you anything?
MC: It taught me to respect a woman’s body in a way that is so different, organic and true.

More: You referenced your time on 30 Rock, which I must add just scored you a Primetime Emmy for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series for your role as Kim Jong Il. [The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards show will be aired September 23 on ABC.]

MC: Yes, thank you. I am so excited about that, especially because of how much I love the show and Tina Fey. She is a genius and a true friend. I am so grateful I was able to do that.

More: What does getting an Emmy nod mean to you?
MC: I think it has an exciting feeling. You are being honored for doing something you love. I would do this for free because I love it so much. It is such a nice acknowledgement.

More: Aside from your on-camera work, you are also a huge advocate for the gay/lesbian community. What prompted you to get so involved?
MC: During my early years as a comic, in the ’80s and ’90s, I did a lot of fundraising for AIDS. I am also bisexual. For me it is so important to be connected to this world. Because of my role in the comedy world I have been able to work with many of these wonderful organizations and build a great relationship with them.

More: You mention being bisexual, yet you are married and have been for some time [to husband Al Ridenour]. Was marrying a man a hard decision to make? 

MC: No, I don’t think so. I think it was the right thing for me. I feel that marriage is really important and gay marriage is the prime example of equality. Now that I am a member of that family [with Ridenour], I view family as so important, and sexuality should not have anything to do with that. No one should tell you who your family should be.

More: Now that the season has wrapped, will you be hitting the road?
MC: I am on the road all of the time. That aspect of my job never stops. I am out traveling all of the time. Since I shoot the series in Atlanta, I tend to be there a lot. But I am happy to travel and be somewhere new all of the time.

More: Does being away from your husband bring a lot of stress onto your relationship?
MC: It is something that I have always done, and you just get used to it. I have always been a road comic and someone who loves to travel. That is nothing new.

More: The material you use in your routines—are you reciting your life to a group of strangers?
MC: It all comes from something. What I tell you is the truth. Although some things may be a tad exaggerated, it was something that happened to me.

Click here to read Dotsie Bausch Kicks Drugs and an Eating Disorder to Win Silver.

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First Published Fri, 2012-08-31 00:18

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