Margaret Cho may be a formidable stage and screen presence these days, but it took a while for her to recognize her own worth in Hollywood.
HuffPost caught a sneak peek at Cho’s appearance in a forthcoming MSNBC special, “The Culture Is: AAPI Women.” Speaking to host Katie Phang, the San Francisco-born actor and comedian reflects on her unconventional path to fame, and addresses the self-doubt she experienced while filming her short-lived sitcom “All-American Girl.”
When “All-American Girl” debuted in 1994, ABC marketed the series as being based on Cho’s stand-up routines, and hoped to mimic the success of other shows led by female comedians like Roseanne Barr and Ellen DeGeneres. Unlike Barr and DeGeneres, however, Cho was granted no creative control over the series, and it was canceled after a single season.
In her chat with Phang, Cho said she was let down by the experience, noting that she felt at a disadvantage due to her intersectional identities.
Watch a clip of Katie Phang’s interview with Margaret Cho below.
“I would’ve loved to have creative control. I just didn’t know to empower myself to do it,” she explained. “It was being young, it was being Asian American ― there were no Asian Americans. Also gay, also not sure what I was doing. Also female ― not a lot of women in comedy at the time.”
Cho is just one of several trailblazing Asian American and Pacific Islander women featured on “The Culture Is: AAPI Women,” the third installment in an MSNBC series dedicated to elevating diverse voices. Also set to appear on the April 2 special are chef Christine Ha, author Min Jin Lee, “Turning Red” screenwriter Julia Cho and Huma Abedin, the former State Department aide to Hillary Clinton.
Phang, also a Miami-based trial attorney, told HuffPost her aim for the special is “to provide a ‘see her, be her’ moment” for members of the Asian American community and beyond.
“It’s not every day that we are able to bring AAPI women together who are willing to shed their cultural inhibitions and share, with transparency, the highs and the lows of their journeys,” Phang said. “There are a lot of stereotypes about AAPI women and this special explores whether we are succumbing to those stereotypes or we are fighting back.”
In show business, 2023 is already seen as a watershed moment for Asian artists, with the surreal comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and its stars, Ke Huy Quan and Michelle Yeoh, securing big wins at the Oscars.
Of course, cultural triumphs can’t obscure the fraught reality for many Asian Americans. Earlier this month, the FBI released hate-crime statistics for 2021 showing 746 reported attacks targeting people of Asian descent across the U.S. ― the highest number in three decades and a rise of 167% from the previous year.
Calling the rise in anti-Asian hate “startling and disturbing,” Phang said “The Culture Is: AAPI Women” will offer “analysis and context” and “a frank discussion about how just looking ‘Asian’ has become a personal safety liability.”
Ultimately, she added, the show is meant to provide “inspiration and hope.”
“There’s a lot of laughter and moments where all of our jaws collectively dropped from what was being shared,” Phang said. “These incredible women are from so many varied backgrounds, but we instantly felt a bond. I truly believe that viewers will feel that bond and share it with us.”
“The Culture Is: AAPI Women” airs April 2 on MSNBC and will stream on Peacock.