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September 30, 2014

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Q+A: Margaret Cho on food, racism and being a ‘badass mother’

The comedienne is at the Mirage tonight with her ‘Mother’ tour

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Bob Mahoney/Lifetime

Margaret Cho.

Comedienne Margaret Cho takes the stage at the Mirage tonight with her brand new standup comedy tour "Mother." Since last performing in Las Vegas in 2010, Cho has kept herself busy with projects including her role on Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva," a new show on the Food Network and an Emmy-nominated guest role as deceased North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Il on "30 Rock."

I caught up with Cho over the phone to get the scoop on her new tour material, her favorite Las Vegas indulgence and the challenges of portraying "Dear Leader."

Andrea Domanick: Tell me about your new tour, "Mother," and why you're devoting a whole show to the theme of maternal figures.

Margaret Cho: I've always talked about my mom in my acts, so I wanted to put all those bits together and all the new ones I've written about her and some standup that I hadn't finished from years ago. I also had put together a bunch of jokes that were so filthy but so well-written that I was really proud. I just think it's funny to call a show "Mother" that has the filthiest jokes you've ever written. It's about my mother but also about myself being kind of a mother, not literally, but like a "badass mother," and mother figures in pop culture like Madonna and Lady Gaga.

A.D.: Because your family and parents have been such a big part of your acts in the past, how will this expand on that?

M.C.: It has more about my family history and where we came from and our time in America -- coming here and my parents' immigration. Being so much of an American but having them be so foreign. I think that was one of the basis of my comedy. In my development as a kid, that's what I was always joking about, and then it sort of transitioned into my adult life and then my life as an artist.

Margaret Cho at The Pearl

Margaret Cho at The Pearl in the Palms on Sept. 17, 2010. Launch slideshow »

A.D.: You're returning to Vegas -- what do you enjoy, or not enjoy, about performing here?

M.C.: I love doing Vegas because it's a late-night town, it's a rowdy show, it's always really something new. Because the people who come to my shows in Vegas are often performers, so I have a very eclectic audience. I love getting to do a show for other kinds of performers.

A.D.: Do you find you can push yourself, as far as your material goes, a little bit more in Vegas because of that?

M.C.: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody is really cool and open. It's a rock and roll town, doing material in Vegas is just a big party.

A.D.: What are you plans here for when you're not onstage?

M.C.: I love eating. That's just my favorite thing to do in Las Vegas; it's a really major food destination. There's always different places and different kinds of eating you can do. So I plan on hardcore eating.

A.D.: Speaking of chowing down, you'll be hosting a new show on the Food Network, "Blind Dinner Party," where seven strangers meet and dine together. What's the inspiration behind it, and what can we expect?

M.C.: It's about people getting together and sharing food, their opinions and themselves. The way the show is put together, they get people who wouldn't necessarily sit down together ever. There was a lot of fighting when we shot the pilot. But there was a lot of connecting, too. I thought that was really genius. I love that people get to cook for each other. They're not celebrities and they're not performers, but they're still really interesting and really important people to get to know. I love that I get to moderate and be a part of the whole social experiment.

A.D.: Who are some of the guests, for example? What have been the challenges of moderating?

M.C.: There's really conservative people, there's really liberal people, and they'll have beliefs that they will just take with them to the end. Things like gay marriage, abortion, things that people do not change their mind about. Then they're forced to get together and talk about in a very human way -- over dinner and lots of alcohol. There was one instance where I found a person really racist but I really just loved their food. I absolutely could not agree with their views, but their cooking was stellar. I've really never ever been in that situation.

A.D.: How did you reconcile that?

M.C.: It was really weird. I just wanted to eat, I didn't want to argue. But it was also cool, when else are you going to eat somebody's racist food? But I think we all learned about each other in that people believe things for a reason, and they might not be good reasons, but they are reasons that are personal to everyone. So I think it's really important to do that because you get in a bubble with like-minded people in your life, and it's not often that you get to be with people who don't have the same points-of-view.

A.D.: You recently had a guest role on "30 Rock" as Kim Jong Il. I thought it was really refreshing to see a female comedian do gender-bending comedy. What were your thoughts on playing that role, and what was the experience like?

M.C.: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. I thought it was so ingenious. It was all Tina Fey's idea. When I heard about it, I was like, "I have to do this, and I don't care what it takes. I won't sleep, I won't eat!' I was still working on "Drop Dead Diva" in Atlanta, so I had to take flights in the middle of the night to get there. So it was kind of like trying to work two days consecutively in two different cities. I was happy to forgo sleep and everything to make it happen. I'm really proud of it.

A.D.: Do you see yourself bringing any characters like that into your standup in the future?

M.C.: Well, I think that the Kim Jong Il character is pretty close to my mother character, so it makes sense to do that. Half of my family is from North Korea, so there's that right amount of symmetry I have with Kim Jong Il. I mean I look like him enough to make it really work, so I think I'm inspired to do him in my standup and certainly inspired to do more of my family because he looks like he'd be in it!

A.D.: How has your comedy evolved since you've taken on these other arts, like acting and music?

M.C.: I think it's all kind of connected. I think standup feeds into my acting. My music is still standup comedy to some extent. I think what it does do is logistically it takes me away from touring as much, so it makes me really excited to get back on the road when the season is over. It's more spaced out now, I spend half the year on acting and half the year touring as a comic. But even when I'm acting, I try to make it out to local clubs because it's such a part of my social life, too.

A.D.: Of your many projects and activities, is there one you prefer above the others?

M.C.: I really love standup. That's my life. And it's been my life since I was 14. I never stopped doing it, I'll never give it up, and I'll never be able to. It's a big part of my identity and a big part of my life.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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