Margaret Cho

Active - 1986 - 2020  |   Born - Dec 5, 1968 in San Francisco, California, United States  |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

A self-described "Korean-American fag-hag, s**t-starter, girl comic, trash talker," Margaret Cho is nothing if not straightforward, and this forthright approach to her material made her one of the more compulsively entertaining -- and startling -- comedians to gain an audience in the 1990s.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Cho was born in San Francisco on December 5, 1968. Partially raised by her parents, who owned a bookstore, and partially raised by a motley crew of gay men and drag queens, Cho's upbringing in the city's Haight district made for a colorful childhood and adolescence. She began doing standup at 16, performing in a comedy club above her parents' store. A short time later, she won a comedy contest, first prize being the chance to open for Jerry Seinfeld. After moving to Los Angeles in the early '90s, Cho found her audience growing, and, after appearing on shows hosted by Arsenio Hall and Bob Hope and winning the 1994 American Comedy Award for Female Comedian, she was approached to be the star of her own sitcom, CBS' All-American Girl. Billed by the network as a ground-breaking show thanks to its status as the first network series about Asian-Americans, All-American Girl proved to be controversial, attacked by some for not being Asian enough even as others criticized it for being too Asian.

For her part, Cho found herself in the center of the controversy, and the pressures surrounding her -- many of which were manifested in the network's orders to her to lose weight -- lent themselves to the comedian's addiction to diet pills and alcohol, a struggle she would later detail in her one-woman show I'm the One That I Want. Following the short-lived sitcom's cancellation, Cho continued to deal with drug and alcohol problems. She eventually kicked her addictions and became visible again, appearing in supporting roles in films ranging from The Doom Generation (1995) to John Woo's Face/Off (1997) and performing sold-out shows across the country.

In the late '90s, Cho used her experiences with All-American Girl as the basis for her off-Broadway show I'm the One That I Want. The show became a huge success among critics and audiences alike, and subsequently toured the U.S. for over two years. In 2000 it was adapted for the screen; that same year Cho kept busy with a number of other projects, including Spent, an independent drama about addiction and dysfunction among a group of twenty-somethings. Cho continued to work as a stand-up comic throughout the 2000s, and in 2007 voiced a character in Rick and Steve, a short lived animated series. In 2010, Cho participated in the 11th season of dancing with the stars.

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  • Parents emigrated from Korea to the Polk-Haight area of San Francisco in 1964.
  • Began stand-up at age 16 in a comedy club named The Rose & Thistle which was located above a bookstore run by her parents.
  • Won the 1991 U.S. College Comedy Competition, West Coast Division which offered opening for Jerry Seinfeld as the first prize.
  • Won the 1994 American Comedy Award for Funniest Female Stand-Up Comic.
  • Starred in the short-lived ABC sitcom All-American Girl in 1994.
  • Performed in the one-woman Off-Broadway show I'm the One That I Want that chronicled her experiences on the ill-fated sitcom.
  • Received GLAAD's first Golden Gate Award in 2000 honoring her as "an entertainment pioneer who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."