Choís one-woman show, "Iím the One That I Want,"
has garnered rave reviews both for her live performances
and for the movie of the same name. "Iím the One
That I Want" includes a lot of the signature sexual
material that has brought Ms. Cho the marked adulation
of gay audiences. It also is both hilarious and harrowing
when she recounts her experiences as the first Asian-American
lead on a TV show, the series "All-American Girl."
Producers of the show felt that Ms. Cho was too fat,
and a crash diet and exercise plan landed her in the
hospital. At the same time, she received negative comments
about the show and her performance in it, including
one letter from a 12-year-old Asian-American girl who
wrote that the show and Ms. Cho "made her feel
and confused after the show was cancelled, Ms. Cho entered
a spiral of self-destructive behavior, abusing alcohol
and drugs. When she emerged from this low point, she
decided to bring it all up on stage for us to laugh
at, and more importantly, to learn from.
Magazine film editor Roxanne Bogucka spoke with Ms.
Cho by telephone recently.
With all that you went through, having to lose weight
so rapidly during "All-American Girl" that
your kidney shut down on you, I guess the first thing
I want to know is, how are you? Are you all right?
I feel really good.
Okay, great, that is good to hear, but it certainly
sounded like your body went through quite a ringer.
I wanted to ask you a bit about the fact that your family
is in a lot of your material. I take it youíre an only
No, actually I have a brother.
And heís younger and heís an actor.
Ö I havenít seen a lot of your work, but Iíve heard
about your mom--everybodyís heard about your mom-- and
Iíve seen comments youíve made about your father. I
was kind of wondering about your mother. I see and hear
a lot of her in your routine, not so much about your
dad. Whyís that?
Oh, just because sheís just the voice that I think is
the most interesting and fun for me to do, and it just
exists in me as a very natural part of my performance.
Thatís why I talk about her more. Her voice is funnier
to do. My father doesnít have an accent or anything.
His humor is very subtle. Heís more of a brain.
Iíve often wondered, because many comedians mine their
family experiences for material, when you get ready
to do something like that, do you give relatives warning,
or do they just take it that they know this is your
job and they expect it? How does that work?
Well, my parents really accept what I do. They love
my career and theyíre really excited for me and they
know that everything I do is really in the spirit of
love, and in embracing them, and in loving them, and
so itís not an uncomfortable situation. Itís very easy,
you know, itís not something thatís like Iím making
fun of them or you know, anyone is ridiculing them,
or anything like that. It is very light. So I donít
warn them... They like it. They even suggest things
for me to talk about, so thatís kind of funny, too.
They do like it then, yeah. So is there anything
you would consider off-limits for comedy or something
you just couldnít joke about?
I donít think so. I think everything is certainly fair
game. Itís all about where it comes from, you know,
a place of love and a place of helping people, instead
of anger or you know, rageÖ Itís not subject matter,
what it is, itís how you approach it.
And I always do things with the intention of helping
others, with the intention of educating, with the intention
of explaining love, so thatís what itís all about.
Okay. I was wondering if you could let me know about
anything or any comedians who totally crack you up,
or any movies that just laid you out.
I really love Eddie Murphy. Ö I think heís great. Iíve
always loved him, all of his comedy and also the stuff
on "Saturday Night Live," and then of course
all of his films, which are just all really varied and
interesting and all great, and Iím really looking forward
to The Klumps (laughs). Canít wait.
Your one-woman show, Iím the One that I Want,
is extremely successful. Itís had incredible reviews,
itís won awards, and I was wondering if you could tell
me why you think itís touched such a collective nerve?
I think because itís an honest show. It is very real...
Itís really talking about things that I think are difficult
for women to talk about--things like weight issues and
addiction and disappointment and recovery. And all the
stuff thatís very, itís very ugly to deal with actually,
and I think women donít like to be ugly in a sense,
and I for some reason, really embrace that. I really
love it, and itís [the show] not afraid to be ugly.
Itís really not afraid to be beautiful, and the show
is for me, you know? I think it hits a core of people
because itís true and itís really my experience and
itís really like my need to share that with other people,
and my need to help others through my experience, and
I think itís really funny, so people respond to it on
a lot of different levels. Itís also entertainment,
itís also politics, itís also therapy. Itís a lot of
things to a lot of people, and thatís what makes it
such a successful show.
Okay. I thought that your story about weight and about
lookism is really a cautionary tale, especially for
women and girls everywhere and one that I think, you
know, that girls should hear. It seems like a lot of
your audience is a gay audience that you came up in,
in the neighborhood, but I wonder also if you have a
lot of young girls in your audience. Do they get to
hear this story, because I think they should.
Yes, there are lots of young women, lots of women. The
show is really very important, I think, for women, because
womenís culture is just the opposite, you know. We have
womenís magazines that are all directed at a different
goal, you know. They really promote this anorexic body
in subtle ways and not-so-subtle ways and in a sense,
make us feel uncomfortable with ourselves, no matter
what weight weíre at, and itís a very devious and subtle
process of being, really under the systemís thumb, and
itís sexism at its worst because it masquerades within
us, you know, the enemy resides within us and itís really
hard to root out. You think itís self-loathing and you
think itís not being thin enough and all this stuff,
and itís just another way for sexism to rear its ugly
head, and so itís incredibly important for younger women
to see the show. I wish I had seen it when I was younger,
it certainly would have affected the way I view myself
and probably would have colored my experience. Eating
disorders and the like are so common among college-age
women, itís an epidemicÖAnd itís not really addressed
as much as it should be. I think a lot of the press
is directed at how skinny actresses are and how bad
that is, and yet weíre blaming the actresses, weíre
not actually going into the system and looking at whatís
wrong and trying to correct it somehow.
You know, Iíve read that under the age of 16, the number
of young girls who are dieting is, you know, is exploding,
And itís not necessarily because you know, thereís diabetes
in the family and you need to lose weight, or thereís
heart problems in the family, but just lookism, you
know, the idea that youíve got to get that Barbie body.
Yeah, and it doesnít exist. Itís insane. Itís just Ö
I donít understand why the system is like that, but
it is, and we need to fight it.
Well, I think your show is a good start and I understand
youíre writing a book. Can I presume then there will
be more about your experiences with lookism in there?
Oh, absolutely yes, and in much greater detail, and
itís treated in a similar way and lists the same sort
of honesty and funÖ The book is actually finished and
is coming out in the spring.
Oh great. And the publisher is?
Ballantine. Great. Okay. Well, I definitely would have
wanted to read something like that when I was younger.
I was wondering, you started doing stand-up when you
were 16. I mean a lot of young people donít know what
they want to do with their lives even after college,
but apparently you knew rather early. So when did you
know you were funny and that you wanted to be a comedian?
I think I always kind of knew it and that I didnít reallyÖ
I didnít really start performing until I was a teenager.
I always had the desire Ö it was just the truest desire
of my heart, and a chain of events, a very unfortunate
chain of events happened to me when I was a teenager,
which led to me really needing to focus on the truest
desire of my heart. You know, I was expelled from my
school for really bad grades and bad behavior and I
just, I disappointed my family so much, and didnít have
anywhere to go but to myself, basically. I basically
was cut off from my family, cut off from school, and
I had to make some choices pretty quickly about what
I wanted to do and because I didnít have anywhere else
to go, I just went to the trust desire of my heart which
was performing and being a comedian, and it was very
easy for me to do it. You know, I just went on stage
and started it, and so I always knew that I could. It
wasnít something I thought about, or wondered about.
I always knew that that was in me and that would be
my true lifeís purpose. I just didnít want to waste
any more time, and I just got started as quickly as
It sounds in some ways, I mean, thinking back on things
you said in Iím the One that I Want, it sounds
from what Iím hearing here, you really knew yourself
better as a very young woman in some ways and then after
you had toured and come back and been offered this show
and become more successful, you kind of lost your sense
of yourself a bit.
Yes, I really did, because it just ... I think that
I was just, you know, still trying to grow up. I mean,
I still needed some growing up to do, even though I
was like half done, basically, and so even though I
had the conviction and knew that I wanted to chase my
dreams and knew that I wanted this for myself, I still
got a lot of my self-esteem and my self-worth from the
outside. I never looked within for any of those things
that are so important to have.
Ö I notice in other interviews and in the show, you
talked about acceptance and feeling like you fit in.
Now that youíve accepted yourself, is that pretty much
off your agenda?
I think so. I think that weíre constantly in need of
acceptance of ourselves, no matter what, because lifeís
changing, and from day to day we feel differently and
we always need to accept what weíre feeling and you
know, that itís part of us and our experience, but you
know that self-acceptance is a goal and every day we
get closer to that goal.
Okay, Iíd like to talk a little bit about your show,
"All American Girl" which I have to confess,
I never saw. But now that Iíve seen Iím the One that
I Want, it kind of struck me that a lot of your
really funniest stuff that seemed, from the audienceís
reaction, to be sort of your signature material, wasnít,
shall we say, material that would translate readily
to network TV? And I was wondering how it was that a
comedian who was known for this sort of material would,
why would someone think, "Oh, candidate for prime-time
series?" I mean, how did that come about?
Well, the show actually was conceived outside, away
from me. Ö The network had wanted to put a show together
for an Asian-American family for a long time, and when
I came along as a comedian, you know, and I was doing
jokes about my family, in addition to the other material,
they just saw me and thought I was the missing link
to the part of the puzzle that they didnít have, to
complete the picture. It was that sort of a situation.
And because I had some family material, you know...
that just seems like, you know, that I was the perfect
choice. And I was young enough, and just the right age,
the right look, well, almost the right look (laughs),
except for my weightÖ They just saw me, and an idea
they already had.
Now when I was young, which was a long time ago, any
time there were black folks on TV, and they werenít
on the news, we ran to the set to see them, because
it wasnít usual to see someone like us on TV. And I
kind of think about those poor actors, you know, I mean
they were working, which was fabulous, but they had
all this weight to carry of being first, and opening
doors plus having all these expectations from every
African-American viewer across the land. Itís like,
"oh look," you know, and I wondered, when
you were on "All American Girl" did you have
this sort of pressure, you know, of being the great
Asian-American hope on this TV show...
Oh yeah, absolutely.
And how did you live with that and work with that?
Well ... again itís like that self-acceptance thing.
You just have to accept that itís there, and I mean,
I was always terrified that I was first and that I had
to be first, and I couldnít believe that I was
first, you know, and that was really terrifying, but
now itís just accepted. And then, it was on such a massive
scale and it was promoting a project that I didnít believe
in and I wasnít really good in, and so it was hard to
stand up for somebody that was not me, and thatís what
I was doing then. And thatís why the show is so important,
because the show is 100% me, you know? "Iím the
One that I Want" is exactly what I want to be doing
at this time Ö It feels very good to stand by my work
now and not be afraid to be first, and not be worried
about it or concerned about it. But you know, it is
amazing, the lack of images of people of color out there,
and how we really have to scrutinize and judge and mull
over the ones that we do have. And itís unfair, but
at the same time we need to do this so that there can
Okay, I was really just jaw dropping, part of your show
"Iím the One that I Want," you know, there
were many parts where Ö I was laughing but I was horrified
at what I was hearing, and I was very, very surprised
that a young [Asian-American] girl wrote and said she
felt shame [at your weekly portrayal on "All-American
Yeah. I know, itís shocking, but ... thatís really typical
of the kind of things that were happening during that
period. You know, there was a lot of Asian-American
backlash toward the show, which I think was generated
by the networkís insistence that this was Ö the quintessential
Asian-American family, and the way the show was presented
to the mainstream audience as, finally Asian-Americans
on TV, you know, and made it out to be this incredibly
humanistic effort to multi-culturalize the world and
it was, um, the show wasnít good. I mean, it wasnít
stereotyped, it wasnít racist, it just wasnít funny
Ö I donít know if people responded to that as much,
as they just felt dissatisfied by me, because my work
before had been so outspoken and so wild and so really
true and honest, and to suddenly have this mediocre
thing was really shocking, and so there was huge backlash.
I mean, although in a sense, like, those families, you
know, and the little girl letters, they may have been
worse had they really known who I was (laughs).
But you know, itís really like now, itís a great learning
tool and now itís great to just have that experience,
and Ö just to know that reaction is out there, and thatís
interesting, you know, and thatís great. And that weíre
discussing something is the most exciting thing because
that means thereís something to discuss Ö people of
color going out there and creating great work and people
commenting on it and thatís better than no argument
Yeah, well Iíd like to congratulate you again on your
movie, "Iím the One that I Want," and your
one-woman show. I understand that youíre attending,
I believe, is it the first San Diego Asian Film Festival
And how did that come about? Were you involved in the
organizing of the festival?
Was it a timely thing?
Yeah, so Iím coming with my film and Iím really looking
forward to it.
And then whatís next for you after that? More touring,
A concert tour--a brief one--for my new show, Iím writing
a new show, so thatís going to happen, within the rest
of the year Iím writing and then I will continue touring
with it next year. And then Iíll go on a book tour,
when the book will be released in the spring Ö
Sounds great. Iím looking forward to it.
Thank you very much for your time.