On this day in comedy on December 5, 1968 Comedienne, Actress, Author, Singer-Songwriter, Margaret Moran Cho was born in San Francisco, California.
According to Hollywood lore, Margaret Cho was the first comedian of Asian descent to star in her own sitcom, “All American Girl” on ABC in 1994. That’s if you don’t count, “Mr. T & Tina” two decades previously on ABC as well. The latter show aired for five episodes in the fall of 1976 and starred Pat Morita. It was a spin-off of “Welcome Back Kotter”, with Morita (of “Karate Kid” and “Happy Days” (where he played Arnold Takahashi)), as a Japanese inventor living with a young American played by Susan Blanchard.
The distinction Cho holds is being the first Asian comedienne with her own sitcom. A major achievement considering Cho’s culture looked down on such displays of foolishness. She was pointed in that direction as soon as Mom met Dad. Born in the late 60s, Cho was raised in San Francisco. Her father wrote joke books and owned a book store. There was a comedy club nearby and Margaret developed her act around the old hippies, drag queens, drug heads and immigrants in the area. After working universities for years, she got a break with a role on “The Golden Girls” spin-off, “The Golden Palace” then as Jerry Seinfeld’s opening act.
In a profession dominated by men and few Asians of any gender – Margaret got noticed. ABC took her act and churned out, “All American Girl”. For Cho, it was more like All American nightmare. The producers kept tweaking the premise of the show from Cho living with her parents in the house, to living in their basement to moving out and living with three men – without explanation. They fired cast members and attempted to find ways to spin-off other shows from a show that obviously wasn’t working itself. They didn’t like her weight and round face so she starved herself to appear like the Margaret Cho they had in mind; the fictionalized version. The result was major kidney problems for the real version. They told her she wasn’t Asian enough and brought in an Asian consultant to Asian-her-up. That failed so they fired the Asian cast and moved her in with white guys then told her she was too Asian. All this led to the show being canceled after one season and Margaret Cho (the real life one), becoming an alcoholic and drug addict. If those producers had had their way she would’ve committed hari kari during Sweeps Week.
It took Cho awhile to pull out of her depression and addictions and resume comedy work. The show was not the only downer. She had never met with acceptance in the Korean community for her choice of profession. She was looked down upon and this naturally didn’t help when her shot at worldwide success fizzled. Regardless, Cho went forward and created a fashion line of crotchless underwear for men as well as women. She wrote a new act and took her brand of race and sex humor back on the road. She also recorded and released her music.
Margaret Cho has won over a half dozen awards from GLAAD, Entertainment Weekly, the Gracie Allen Award, Lambda Legal, the national organization for Women and the Asian Excellence Award. She mounted almost a dozen major comedy tours. She’s appeared in 30 films, including Face/Off with John Travolta. She’s guest starred in dozens of sitcoms, published two books and released 9 comedy recordings.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: