Margaret Cho almost defies description: both icon and iconoclast, she is an artist, activist, comedian, actor, and musician who has become a sort of patron saint for outsiders with her groundbreaking, non-conformist, often controversial views. We caught up with the brilliant, brazen, wonderful and hilarious Cho before her new show, The PsyCHO Tour, at the Borgata in Atlantic City.
HT: You’ve said that you’re “green and sober.”
MC: I’m green and sober, which is not really true because I drink more than I should, but my goal is to just smoke pot.
That’s what I was for a long time: I was actually completely sober for about 10 years—and, you know, I think sobriety is great, but I really want marijuana in my life. It really helps me. I don’t think it’s an addiction, I think it’s a really positive thing—so “green and sober” sort of fits in with the ideal way I would like to live. [Laughs] When you can get to that pure state of just smoking pot, then that’s really the best for you. I mean, alcohol, there’s so many health issues that can come up with it. I was green and sober for a long time, so I’m trying to get back to that. That’s my ideal state.
You’ve always been an advocate for marijuana use.
I wasn’t necessarily when I was completely sober, but even then I always still missed pot, and I always thought that pot was never a problem. When you’re in these recovery communities, the focus is on total abstinence, which I respect. But I realize, now that I’m out of that community, that marijuana really enhances my life. It’s not a substance that is detrimental to my health or my wellbeing. It’s a perfect celebratory thing; it’s a perfect winding-down thing. You’ll find that most comedians smoke pot. It’s part of the profession, and so, in a sense, it’s why I was drawn to comedy. I always loved marijuana, and I was drawn to comedy because everybody there was a stoner, and then I felt like I was completely with my family.
When did you first smoke pot?
My first encounter smoking pot was with—I think his name was Adam Leffert. He was very awkward, and he sort of liked me. We went out to an abandoned bridge out by my old high school, and we smoked, and I didn’t really feel anything. It’s true: The first time you smoke, you’re not really sure what it is. You don’t know how to identify the high.
Then later I returned to it, and I realized, “Oh, I really like this.” I started doing stand-up, being around a lot of comedians who were stoners, and I realized it helped me. I have a lifelong battle with insomnia. Pot helped me go to sleep, and it helped me feel safe even when I was touring. On the road, it sort of helped me bring my home with me. So I had a little piece of my home—marijuana—everywhere I went, and I didn’t feel so alone.
It was hard being out on the road at a very young age. I was 17, 18, 19 years old, and in these very sort of scary places, doing comedy and feeling very isolated. So pot really helped me through that whole thing.
How did you find weed when you were on the road?
Well, there was a time—this was a long time ago; this was in the late ’80s, early ’90s, when you could carry it with you—I usually would put it under my bra wire. I always carried weed through [airport security] and on planes, and it was never an issue. It was only after 9/11 where you really couldn’t conceal anything—that changed the game a lot.
Did you ever get caught with it or get in trouble with the law?
No, miraculously, never. The only time I’ve ever had an altercation with the police for a drug-related thing was: I had a conversation with my tattoo artist, who had read an old manual that was, I think, memoirs of tattooists from around the turn of the century, and there was a story about using cocaine as a numbing agent. So I gave him money, and he purchased a baggie of cocaine, and he mixed it into the wash water and tattoo ink, and he tattooed my back with it. And it actually helped me sit for longer, because I can’t—I’m heavily tattooed, but I don't like sitting for tattoos for very long; I can only do an hour or so. But with the cocaine in my back, I was able to sit there for seven hours. I didn’t feel high off of it at all, but it definitely took the swelling down and lessened the bleeding. And then I was driving home, and I got stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. And I was so paranoid because I had cocaine in my back skin. They were shining a light in my eyes, and I was like, “Um … I don’t know what to do.” I was just really freaked out and paranoid. But that’s the only altercation I’ve ever had with the law in regards to drugs.
Do you perform high?
I don’t perform high, because I want to be entirely present for an audience. It’s not that I’m not present when I’m high; it’s just that I feel more of a sense of control if I don’t have pot in my system.
Pot is for after. Pot is for my life. I’m definitely very creative with it; it’s something that enhances my life and makes me notice things in a way that I would not necessarily do—so that’s good. But in terms of performance, I think it’s just kind of weird. Comedy is so … you have to have so much control over the audience, and they have to really understand you as being in control. That’s what makes me want to be very sober. I mean, I’m not sure if it would necessarily affect my performance—I’ve been a stoner for such a long time, I don’t know if anybody can ever really tell I’m stoned.
What’s your favorite way to get high?
Lately, I’ve been so drawn to dabs. I started to work with a company called OrganiCann. They launched a whole series of different kinds of pot endorsed by celebrities and comedians. They brought over all of these different products of theirs to try, and they had a concentrate called the Lizz Tayler concentrate. Actually, Lizz Tayler herself—she’s a beautiful young woman model—showed me how to use it. She gave me a rig … I was really intimidated by the blowtorch. But when I started to do it regularly, I realized that it actually was a very efficient way of ingesting. It’s such a good delivery system, because you get so much THC, you don’t have to inhale as much. I really found that dabbing was a new way to discover marijuana; I was so much higher than I could get by smoking flowers. Edibles, for me, are not necessarily the best delivery system.
Why is that?
You know, every formulation is different: Everybody cooks differently, and everybody extracts the THC differently, and so you don’t have a very clear sense of the dosage.
What I will do, as a specialty cocktail at my house, is an absinthe/marijuana hot toddy. It’s like the Green Fairy—a green tea with absinthe, finished off with a lovely cannabis butter. It’s quite a treat around Christmas.
Some people use marijuana medicinally. You use it recreationally.
I get high to get high. Some people do it to treat illness, which I think is really important—but I don’t. [Laughs] It’s 100 percent recreational for me, and if it does alleviate pain, that’s a bonus. I respect and understand that a lot of people are in it for the health benefits, and that’s a really interesting part of this whole movement that I don’t know much about.
Your comedy is so raunchy and bawdy. What relationship does pot have to sex for you?
Pot puts me in touch with my body. It’s something that helps you let go of inhibitions, but in a way that’s safe, not in a way that’s like you don’t care what’s happening to you. You can just really feel and enjoy what’s happening to you; it’s a great enhancement and a great aphrodisiac. It’s something that puts you at ease and transitions you from whatever is the real world to the sensual world, which is all internal.
I think that marijuana is a very effective tool in dissolving all of the social constructs around sex. I would recommend pot for any kind of sexual encounter, or if you have issues in sexuality that pot might help you release.
All of my experiences with sex and pot have always been positive—I really couldn’t imagine sexuality without it. Why would you want to? If you have something that really works, you should utilize it. I think that people don’t connect sexuality and pot as much as they should. And the best thing: marijuana lube!
I used one that was sort of artisanal, small-batch, farm-to-table… or farm-to-bed. It was very new in its development, and I received a batch from a woman who was making all kinds of different things with pot. She gifted me with the lube, and I found it just phenomenal. It’s so wonderful, especially if you like anal. It’s a real enhancer, and it also eases any kind of the shock and sort of pain of penetration. I just can’t say enough. I think that it could be a real help for somebody like myself approaching menopause, where your body is not as amenable to invasion as it used to be.
Let’s talk about your tour. What’s happening in your comedy world right now?
All new material. The title of this show is There’s No “I” in “Team,” but There Is a “Cho” in “Psycho.” It’s a long title, but it encapsulates the weirdness of the world right now. Everything from all of the racial unrest—this difficulty with police brutality and how to deal with it, how to deal with it as a person of color, the difficulty of it in the sort of world that I’m seeing—and then also just crazy things like Rachel Dolezal and that kind of stuff, where it’s like, “Why is this going on? How is this happening?”
It’s a look at the world, and trying to find a place to go with my anger. I have a lot of rage about all of the violence against women. I have a lot of problems with the fact that Bill Cosby is not in prison. Why is he still out walking free? He raped so many women, and yet he won’t be prosecuted because it’s beyond the statute of limitations or whatever. As a rape victim myself, I understand what that does to you and what it feels like, and when you feel that powerless, you just … I don’t know. It’s so frustrating because we collectively feel it. It’s so upsetting.
So this is part of what I’m talking about. I’m talking a lot about sexuality in general and bisexuality, which is my sort of approach to sexuality. There’s stuff about people who I loved and lost, Robin Williams and Joan Rivers in particular—who, I think, would not approve of any of this conversation, but she was just so important in my life. When you get to a certain age, you realize that your mentors die—and that sort of not being a child anymore, in a way, is a big part of the show. So it’s many things.
I wanted to ask about your response to Robin Williams’s death.
You know, it seems so … I’m about to talk about something sort of serious, but it seems so stupid because I took a bong hit before. [Laughing] No matter what, you just can’t seem like you have any authority about a topic if you take a bong hit before—because if you take a bong hit, it’s like nobody’s going to listen to anything you have to say.
I think it lends you an air of authority, actually.
Well, the whole story is, I was very, very upset about Robin Williams’s death, and I kind of couldn’t get over it. I talked to his best friend, who said, “Don’t grieve Robin. Be Robin.” And it really struck me, because Robin was a great advocate for homeless people. He created Comic Relief with Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, which was a series of benefits that raised over $7 million for homeless people. He tried to improve the state of the homeless in America constantly. In his movie contracts, he had a clause that stipulated a certain percentage of the crew be homeless workers. He was invested in giving homeless people a way out. He really took care of a lot of people.
When he died, there was so much scandal about [his suicide], and people weren’t remembering what a great humanitarian he was.
So I created #BeRobin to celebrate his work with the homeless, and also to celebrate his work as a street performer. I would go out on the street with a bunch of comics and musicians, and we’d perform for several hours, and people would come and bring food and clothing and money. We had a sign that said, “If you have, give. If you need, take.” We did these events for over two months in San Francisco. We had hairdressers who donated their time; they would come down and cut people’s hair. We had a little beauty salon happening, so you could watch the show and get food and clothes and some money and a haircut, and they were doing manicures and pedicures.
It was really a wonderful thing to just get in contact with homeless people of all ages, of all different races, every sort of person you could imagine. It was mind-blowing, and it was a real celebration of Robin’s work. Sometimes we would have boxes of stuff people donated, and there would be a big fat bud in there. People were actually giving marijuana. The pot was always very, very, very fast to go.
What’s next for you?
I have a couple of very exciting things going on. I’ve sort of switched over into the role of producer: I have a production company called Animal Family, and it’s all television shows that are, for me, important to make. I’ve gotten to a place in my career where I’m able to create entertainment that includes me sometimes, but also is just what I would want to see. I’ve been in television for about 30 years, so I have a good sense of what will work, and I’m applying that finally. I’m going to do some programming that I can’t mention yet, but that I think this magazine will be covering a lot. We’ll see.
Check out video of the interview with Margaret Cho at hightimes.com/margaret-cho.
Photos by Gretchen Robinette