The year was 1994. A budding young comedian from San Francisco named Margaret Cho landed the lead in her own show on a major network. The show was called “All-American Girl” and the network was ABC — it followed a fictional Korean-American teen, loosely based on Margaret herself, as she navigated her complicated family life. And then… everything went wrong.
Margaret’s show was not picked up for a second season and the comedian very publicly accused network executives of causing her permanent health problems by forcing her to lose weight for it. She claimed that before the show’s premiere, the execs forced her to lose 30 pounds in two weeks, causing her kidneys to collapse. She also claimed the network hired a consultant to make her seem “more Asian” and to promote Asian stereotypes. She detailed the entire crisis in her 2000 comedy tour (and subsequent film), “I’m The One That I Want.”
Sixteen years later, Margaret is back on the network that caused her all of this strife, as one of the competitors on the wildly popular reality show, “Dancing with the Stars.” Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson was inside rehearsals leading up to the show’s September 20 premiere, talking with her and “Dancing” partner Louis van Amstel about what this return has been like for her.
“It has been 16 years since you were on ABC, how does it feel to be back? Because there was so much controversy surrounding the end of the show, what is it like being back?” Shaun asked.
“Show business has changed a lot too, so it’s a different kind of thing,” Margaret responded. “So, I’m really excited I think it’s great, I love the show, it’s a totally different thing though. I was a really young person then and now, you know, now I’m more experienced and now I’m doing something different — I’m dancing, which is new also for me.”
Shaun asked specifically about the pressures placed on Margaret to lose weight back then.
“When your show ended, I remember the controversy about the executives pressuring you to lose weight,” Shaun recalled. The very funny Margaret proved able to laugh looking back at the situation, hindsight 20/20.
“Yeah, that’s why they put me on this show so that I would have to lose weight. Now, I don’t have a choice,” she joked. “I can’t help it now. They want me to lose weight no matter what. It’s taken this long, they’ve finally figured out a way to make me go on a diet. This is how they did it. Thank you (ABC).”
Despite her past weight issues, Margaret has no health concerns heading into “Dancing” – her kidneys are fine nowadays, as they have been for some time.
“That was really solved by eating, gluttonously for 17 years. So, I’m over it. I’m really over it… I’m fine. The doctor cleared me and I’m ready to go,” she explained.
Margaret has always worn her life on her sleeve, and she didn’t shy away from her past battles with drugs and alcohol (she’s been sober for many years now). It’s a topic that she highlights in her new comedy tour, “Cho Dependent,” which just launched last week. Louis will be traveling with her for rehearsals throughout the tour, as it overlaps with “Dancing with the Stars” this season.
“You get very personal in your shows — your battles with drugs and alcohol?” Shaun asked.
“Absolutely yes, it’s not really a battle. We’ve actually made peace,” Cho again jokingly responded.
“What is the biggest lesson you have learned from going through those dark times and then emerging on the other side?” Shaun asked.
“I think to eat food, the only time that I ever had trouble with alcohol and drugs is when I wasn’t eating ‘cause I became very anorexic and bulimic for a time and it was because I felt that I was trying to stop my hunger, so the fastest way to do that was to either drink or take drugs and really it’s actually better to eat,” Margaret quickly responded.
Margaret also opened up about her sexuality – a topic she’s never been afraid to tackle – she’s a long-time icon in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“You’ve been open about your bisexuality, but you’re married to a man, explain that to middle America,” Shaun asked.
“Well, I think that you can have sex with more than one person in your life, just because you got married doesn’t mean you haven’t had sex with anybody before then. So, I had sex with lots of different people before I got married,” Margaret said.
“Will your husband be here cheering you on?” Shaun asked.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Margaret assured.Shaun. “He’s very excited!”