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Star Apps: Margaret Cho

The funny woman that we want chats with Download.com about her "Mother" show, favorite apps, fear of video games, and the gifts from Steve Jobs that went out with the trash!

Parental relationships can be quite complicated. For some of us, the same can be said about our relationship to software. Emmy & Grammy-nominated comedian and actress, Margaret Cho tackles the former (along with sex, politics, drugs, guns, ethnicity, and insanity) in her new aptly-titled show "Mother" -- and the latter in her day-to-day life.

The one that we want: Margaret Cho

(Credit: missmissyphotography.net)

As the comedian, best known for her TV work on Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva," NBC's "30 Rock," and VH1's "The Cho Show" and stand-up films "I'm the One That I Want," "Revolution," "Assassin," and "Beautiful," prepared to embark on the "Mother" ship for a mother lode of a tour, which kicked off earlier this month at The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, she joked with Download.com about her new show, favorite apps, fear of video games, and the gifts from Steve Jobs that went out with the trash!

What inspired the "Mother" show?
A lot of people in my life refer to me as "Mother" and it's an acknowledgement of that. I think when you get women in their 40s, they're perceived as a mother figure, whether they are or not, and so it's kind of natural. I also have a lot of younger friends who look to me as a maternal force, so it's just the right time. I also talk about my mother a lot to some degree in the show.

Even in my relationships with my computers and iPads and iPhones, it's still like your mother. That's why I think Jitterbug is such a genius invention, because it's like an old-person's phone with a bunch of big buttons that don't have a lot of functions. I think that's really necessary sometimes.

Outside of motherhood, what are some of the other themes you explore in the show?
The idea of bisexuality, that when we define as queer, that there is usually a side that you're more inclined to be. But I'm somewhere in the middle and that I think it's a weird place to be. When you're attracted to men and women, you're also in the queer community because there's so much fear...and I think once you decide to be gay or a lesbian, there's no questioning it and that sometimes that finite sexuality isn't really truth to everyone. It's really funny to explore and scare people. I just find it such a funny thing.

How did you get involved with the equality-promoting America 2049 game?
They just asked me and we actually did that at my house, which is really weird, and it was in this room in my house where I do my podcast, with Jim Short. I have actually not played it; I don't know how to play anything... so I can't say much about it.

Growing up, did you play video games, at all?
The last video game that I played was Frogger, which is pretty hard, because the controls are very sensitive. I've never been such an involved person with video games or anything like that. Maybe I don't have that hand-eye coordination or maybe I was scared off by early Atari games that I had as a kid, because it's kind of scary to play them. Also, now with all the video games and the way they're so sophisticated and realistic, I'd be really scared to play.

Switching gears, how involved were you in the development process of your own Margaret Cho app?
I've never used it. I'm not an apps person, which is so stupid. I'm not exactly a luddite. I actually understand some degree of how to do that stuff, and I know some of that stuff is really important because you want to keep in contact with your fans so they're aware of our shows and aware of what's going on. I have the Twitter app. I have a couple of apps. I still haven't realized the full potential of apps; and even my own, I don't fully understand.

Which devices do you own?
I have an iPhone 5, which I thought I lost the charger for yesterday and was kind of freaking out about, because if you lose your charger for your iPhone, it's over. If you have a 4 or a 3, you can check into a hotel and they'll have a dock. I think Apple, with 5, and the new cord, you're kind of doomed. I know there's a thing that can convert it, but I'm not good about getting another attachment or whatever.

I get scared, because I'm from the era when you found out about shows from a flyer, where you tear the flyer off a telephone pole and you go. I'll still do this thing, that when people are texting me, I'll call them when they're texting and often they don't answer because people are really freaked out by callers -- and I'm a caller.

I prefer voice-to-voice interactions, myself. However, why do you think we're all becoming so text-reliant?
I don't know I think that it's a detachment and way you can still be free to do other things, like if you're texting somebody, you do remain in control of the conversation. They don't see you, they don't hear you, and they don't know what you're doing so you don't actually have to present yourself to another human being in the same way you have to when you call somebody on the phone.

But texting, for me, actually requires a lot more effort because I'm not used to technology, as much, because I'm not so used to my phone. It takes me a while to text something. It's much easier if I have a lot of detail or a lot of information to get, for me to call. But people are so scared of that and I think that's very funny.

When Cho chats with her bears, she prefers phone to text.

(Credit: missmissyphotography.net)

Do you have an iPad?
I have a few iPads, but I've never used them. I keep buying them. They're plugged in, weirdly stacked up in my house, kind of inert. I'm really bad with Apple products.

In 1992 or 1993, I did a commercial for Apple, and they didn't pay me because they didn't have any money, so they gave me a prototype for a laptop and a prototype for a camera, both of which were never mass produced and I left them both in the box and never turned them on. They were still both in the plastic, in 2001, along with a card from Steve Jobs, apologizing that I could not be paid, "but I hope that these will make up for it and that'd be cool." But I threw the whole bag in the garbage when I moved because it was heavy.

But that's the kind of person I am and I know that's a horrible thing, but I didn't have any value or understanding of what it was. I didn't have e-mail or a phone till way late. Having something given to me from Apple at that early stage and not really opening the bag is indicative of where my mind is at in terms of my own devices.

So where does this resistance come from?
I think it does enhance my life where I need it. I'm certainly very grateful for GPS when I'm lost. But I'm also rarely lost, so there isn't so much of a reliance on it. I do appreciate stuff like Voice Memo and things I can use all the time like functional things, because I wouldn't normally carry a tape recorder, so that's good for a working artist. You do have things that are valuable, but for most of it, the potential is unused. Jobs did a great thing for music with iTunes, like it's so insane how many CDs, vinyl, and tapes I would have if I didn't have stuff I could download. So there's a space thing that's very valuable. But the rest of it, I don't utilize what it's capable of. I do love my Kindle Fire. But everything else...

I never took advantage of Second Life, because it seems to me like old people do that. I don't know why I think that, but I think because Norman Lear kept talking about Second Life and was super into it, I think, to me, he seemed like somebody who was really hipster and a lot older...somebody I really liked but it seemed outdated. And when the Internet was big in the late 1990s and in a place for alternative communities, that's when I noticed my own resistance to it. Even though it was everyone I wanted to hang out with, I was not as involved as I could have been.

I know that you're very into your tattoos. There's an app, Tattoo Yourself, that lets you test out a tattoo by putting its image on a selfie to see how it would look.
Oh, that's great. It's a good idea, because it lets people get used to the idea of what it would be like. I think a lot of times people don't really know what it's going to look like on them, and once you're in the heady process of getting it, with the artist, it can be too late. I love everything I've had, but some people are shocked later on when they see it. So that's a good app.

"I love everything I've had, but some people are shocked later on when they see it."

(Credit: Austin Young)

Being from San Francisco, do you think that, in any way, informed your relationship to technology?
Yeah, for sure. I left San Francisco before the boom in 1990 or 1991 -- really early, so I never experienced all that. When I was in San Francisco in the 1980s and early 1990s, we were still recovering from AIDS, so there was a lot of death and a lot of places going out of business, because there was no community to support it. That's the San Francisco I remember. I don't know the San Francisco of the dot com boom and how it changed the culture and all that money coming in and going out again affected the way the architecture is and how the city is.

Are successful funny women supportive of each other?
Yes! It's funny because I think Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer both have a hard time because they're really pretty. I think, in a way, Sarah is really a bonafide genius, but the thing about her is that she's so beautiful that people....it's the problem of women in comedy: if you're really beautiful, then people won't listen. Socially, we're all very friendly and big fans of each other. I'm a huge fan of Amy Schumer. I think she's a scream. She's really talented and really pretty. Chelsea Handler's great; she's really funny. Kathy Griffin is amazing. But she's also in another league, in a way, because we're doing these shows in Las Vegas and she asked me if I want to split a private plane. And I said "It's $50 on Southwest, so if it's more than that, I can't do it." And she's like "It's probably 50K." I said, "I'll pay for your Southwest flight and I'll even rent us a car, because I don't want to spend that money." But she's really, really wealthy. It's a different world than I'm accustomed to. I can't do that kind of spending. That's too much.

You produce a YouTube series called, "In Transition" and you interview celebrities with fellow comedian Jim Short on your podcast "Monsters of Talk." Are YouTube series and podcasts the new normal?
I hope so. I think YouTube is great and "In Transition" was a fun thing my friends and I were able to do, really easily. I think podcasting, which is really fun to do with my friend and great comedian, Jim Short, where we encounter the most interesting people from all over the world -- I hope it becomes the new normal. I think there's a lot of content out there for people now. If you're into somebody or another point of view, you can get it a lot more from them, which is really valuable and cool. There are lots of different outlets for people to shine. I really like doing this kind of stuff.

On your reality show, "The Cho Show," your life always seemed like a Fellini film, with all these interesting characters around you. When the cameras are not on, is that really your reality?
Yeah. It's the same people around. Liam Sullivan is great and Selene Luna is someone I work with again and again and see socially. I think when you're an artist and do comedy, you attract lots of interesting people, so I'm lucky that way. But it's certainly exciting and fun to hang out, which is rare; but I think that's why we work together, so we can hang out.

Have you and your cohorts ever experimented with joke apps? I get freaked out by ones that are fat face or ones where you can meld your face with another face to make your baby or ones where you can make your face into something else, because it always looks like someone I know.

You are on so many social media sites. Which do you use the most and why?
I use Twitter a lot. I'm actually on there all the time, which is really weird for me. But I find that one really addictive. I used to be on Pinterest, but it just got to be too many things. Then Instagram also, but I post through Twitter. Twitter and Facebook go at the same time, but I'm definitely on Twitter way more than anybody should be.

Actors and musicians have to tweet to stay relevant, but they don't have to really give their art away. With comedians, however, it seems, at least to me, that they're essentially giving away material, in the form of funny tweets. Do you ever feel like you're just giving away your material without adequate compensation?
No, because it's an effortless thing. For a comedian to make jokes, it's like breathing air. It's a way we communicate. There is never enough time to do all the jokes you have. Also, there's never a finite amount of material, because it's just the way we look at things. For me, it's not always about jokes, but also about communicating with people I like or saying "Hi" or doing really stupid things. Of course you want to be funny, but you're going to do that anyway.


2013 "Mother" U.S. Tour dates
  • Sep. 6 -- Las Vegas, NV -- The Mirage
  • Sep. 20, 21 -- Buffalo, NY -- Helium Comedy Club
  • Sep. 27, 28, 29 -- Nashville, TN - Zanies
  • Oct. 5 -- St. Louis, MO -- The Pageant
  • Oct. 12 -- San Francisco, CA -- Nob Hill Masonic Center
  • Oct. 18 -- Denver, CO -- Paramount Theater
  • Oct. 19 -- Chicago, IL -- Chicago Theater
  • Oct. 20 -- Milwaukee, WI -- Pabst Theatre
  • Oct. 23 -- Austin, Texas -- Paramount Theater
  • Oct. 24 -- Dallas, Texas -- The Majestic Theatre
  • Nov. 2 -- Sacramento, CA -- Crest Theatre
  • Nov. 6 -- Boston, MA -- Wilbur Theatre
  • Nov. 9 -- Washington, DC -- Warner Theatre
  • Nov. 15 -- Portland, OR -- Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
  • Nov. 16 - Seattle, WA -- Moore Theatre
  • Nov. 23 - Fargo, ND -- Fargo Theatre
  • Nov. 30 - Santa Cruz, CA -- Rio Theatre
  • Dec. 3 - Phoenix, AZ -- Orpheum Theatre
  • Dec. 4 - Tucson, AZ -- Rialto Theatre
  • Dec. 5 - San Diego, CA -- Balboa Theatre
  • Dec. 6 - Los Angeles, CA -- The Wiltern

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