Katie Halper interviews Margaret Cho in Guernica (Photograph by Mary Taylor):
Guernica: In your foreword to BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism From the Pages of Bitch Magazine, you write, “Whenever anyone has called me a bitch, I have taken it as a compliment. To me, a bitch is assertive, unapologetic, demanding, intimidating, intelligent, fiercely protective, in control—all very positive attributes…. These days, I strive to be a bitch, because not being one sucks.” Can “tasteless,” which is generally intended as an insult, also be a compliment?
Margaret Cho: Things that are in “bad taste” are often renegade and rebellious. They go against the status quo, and the laws of decorum and modesty. And that can be really thrilling. I’m a huge fan of the people and things that are considered the epitomes of tastelessness—things like drag and raunchy comedy. People like John Waters and Divine.
It’s always considered bad taste to comment on a tragedy right when it’s happening, but I love when something is considered too soon to talk about because then you can blast past that social censorship to get into something real. Often something that is in bad taste or considered to be in bad taste is something that’s just very true but that people are unwilling to discuss or comment on.
Guernica: What’s the saying? Comedy equals tragedy plus time?
Margaret Cho: Yes. But I don’t even think you need time. There’s no reason to wait.
Guernica: Did you expect such a backlash to your appearance at this year’s Golden Globes as Cho Yung Ja?
Margaret Cho: The response was out of proportion. But I think that sometimes people [who overreact or lash out] will hang on to their point just because they’re so embarrassed that they made it. They won’t set it down because they are the authors of these [disproportionate responses] and they have a lot to be embarrassed about.