LAUGHTER HEALS –
April 2, 2021 – The thing about being a standup comedian is that you can never turn off that part of your brain, not even when you are trying to kill yourself. Margaret Cho learned this in 2013 when she attempted suicide in a hotel room, using a shower curtain rail. “It started bending and I was like: Oh shit, I’m too fat to kill myself, so I had to get down,” says Cho. “I thought: I’ll go on a diet and I’ll try again when I reach my goal weight, which means I’m never going to kill myself, because I’ll never reach my goal weight.”
The 52-year-old Emmy-, Grammy- and Oscar-nominated comedian, author, actor and podcaster lets out a delighted cackle. “That joke … people get really upset. They’re like: ‘You should put in a trigger warning.’ I don’t know how to do a trigger warning!” The point Cho is trying to make is a serious one. Comedy has saved Cho’s life several times over. In her 2002 memoir I’m the One That I Want, Cho describes the alcoholism, drug addiction and depression that followed the cancellation in 1995 of her sitcom All-American Girl. “Suicide … seemed very practical to me … [I decided] to drink as much as I could until I just stopped breathing,” she writes. A survivor of rape and childhood sexual abuse who has spoken often of the racism her parents – Korean immigrants to San Francisco in the 60s – experienced, Cho has forged a style of humour that is intimate, confessional and utterly without self-pity. As Jameela Jamil said with horrified relish while interviewing Cho for a recent podcast: “I can’t believe how fucking intersectional your trauma is.”
The past 12 months have been horrendous for the Asian community in the US and beyond. Cho is a leading voice in the Stop Asian Hate movement, giving interviews and using her podcast to focus on anti-Asian hate crimes. Since the Covid pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, hit the US, attacks on Asian-Americans have been rising. Analysis from California State University has found that anti-Asian hate crime in major US cities increased by 149% in 2020 (in the UK, the Home Affairs select committee heard last May that hate crime directed at east and south Asian communities had increased by 21% during the pandemic). Much of the animus, early on, was driven by Donald Trump’s descriptions of the coronavirus pandemic as the “Chinese virus” or “kung flu”.