Comedienne and raconteur Margaret Cho has been filming a new show for Lifetime called Drop Dead Diva in Peachtree City. The show is the story of a vapid model who dies, reborn in the body (and with the mind) of a brilliant plus-size lawyer and has to cope with being treated differently. Cho plays the main character’s assistant on the show, and we talked to her about the show, Atlanta traffic, the lack of minorities in Peachtree City, and racist Southern accents.
Margaret Cho: Hi! How are you?
Lucas: I’ve got this recording thing and it makes me sound like a robot, I think.
Cho: You sound kind of like a robot!
Lucas: I’m not a monotone talker, but it sounds that way…
Cho: That’s okay!
Lucas: If you want to make the interview better maybe you can pretend you’re talking to a robot.
Cho: A hyper-intelligent robot, android being?
Lucas: From the future, if you want.
Lucas: From France. There was a band I knew who said they were from France of the future.
Cho: That’s like the coolest; that’s like the band Air.
Lucas: Daft Punk? They’re French, right?
Cho: They’re French.
Lucas: And they wear robot heads!
Lucas: Anyway, Drive A Faster Car is an Atlanta-based blog, so we wanted to ask you about some Atlanta stuff. You’ve got a new show called Drop Dead Diva, and it’s filming in Peachtree City. What are your impressions of it, what with the golf carts and the strange retirement communities.
Cho: Well, I have yet to see any people of color. I don’t where they are! I’m the only one, apparently. No, I did see some people of color! I did go into a Chinese restaurant, and they were so excited to see me that they asked me to go play cards with them! They were super-excited.
Lucas: So no black people… no Hispanics?
Cho: No! I don’t know where they are. I don’t know what they did with them. Where are they? What’s going on? [laughs] I’m the whole ethnic minority here. And, you know, I don’t think there are any gay people here, which is a little disturbing to me, too. But then, there are plenty of people of color and plenty of gay people in Atlanta proper. So, I find myself there every weekend, if not during the week as well.
Lucas: It certainly has a large African-American population, and, take away Miami, I’d say it’s probably the gayest city in the Southeast. Growing up in nearby Alabama, I remember coming to Atlanta and being astounded by how gay it was, being a kid. People around me used to call it the San Francisco of the Southeast.
Cho: It is incredibly gay. And it’s also a very multicultural, very diverse city. Thankfully, I still have Atlanta, and I’ve been going there. I’ve going to Mary’s, El Myr… El Myr is sort of my hangout. Also, the Porter a lot. And going to shows. Lots of shows at Lenny’s… I’ve been going to so many shows. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been to the Kills, and Jane’s Addiction, and Nine Inch Nails, which was crazy. Any show. If it’s Hall and Oates or Coldplay, I’m down.
Lucas: Did you go see Hall and Oates?
Cho: [laughs] I made it almost all the way there, but I got caught in a… hmmm… I can’t really explain it, but you know the way traffic is. Sometimes you can’t do anything, and you just shut down. If I get in that kind of traffic, I just shut down, and I should be used to it, but I’m not.
Lucas: Atlanta traffic is particularly soul-crippling. You’re from San Francisco… I got into a traffic jam on the 101 there, but it was kind of a nice. I was looking out over the Mission District, and it was interesting and even pretty. In Atlanta traffic, you’re often looking at the ugliest parts of the city. It’s soul-crushing.
Cho: It is! It’s really soul-crushing; it’s really hard. Sometimes you just can’t deal with it, and you turn around and go farther out of the Perimeter because it’s too much.
Lucas: So no Hall and Oates.
Cho: Yeah, I missed Hall and Oates because of the traffic. I just couldn’t take it. And I feel like in the future — or in the France of the future? — I could take my car and park it in a garage and sit there, and it would be the same as sitting on 85.
Lucas: I grew up off 85, and I can honestly say there’s not a nice part of it anywhere.
Cho: It’s very utilitarian, and it does what it’s supposed to, which is clog up the whole city.
Lucas: You travel a lot for your comedy tours, do you think Atlanta traffic is different or worse?
Cho: LA traffic is bad, but I like it okay because I have my car. I don’t have my car here. I have a horrible rental and I despise it. It’s cheap, and it’s just not a good car. I think what you’re sitting in has a lot to do with how you experience it. In LA, my car has a great stereo, and I love to listen to music, which is a joyful thing for me, so I don’t mind the traffic so much. But here, I don’t have anything in my car, and it’s awful.
Lucas: Speaking of traffic, or lack thereof, have you ridden in a golf cart yet in Peachtree City?
Cho: I have seen them quite a lot. They are everywhere here. They are prevalent, the number one choice for transportation. I have not ridden in one myself. I have not explored that possibility because I actually have a car, and I want to go to Atlanta, so I’m not going to drive to Atlanta in a golf cart.
Lucas: What’s weird about Peachtree City is that there are black people and other minorities and I’m sure gay people there, but they seem to be hidden on this other side of the town. It’s like you have to access them a different way.
Cho: I haven’t seen any evidence of them. I don’t know where they are.
Lucas: I’m conflicted about the golf carts because they are symbols of affluent white people and yet they’re environmentally friendly because they’re electric. In the end, I decided they were weird when I saw everybody pulling up to a Chili’s in one.
Cho: They have preferential parking next to the handicap spaces. But they’re not as bad as the Segways. There are quite a lot of them here. And that’s disturbing to me. I had a boyfriend who had one, and he was really proud of it, and, well, yeah, we broke up. It just looks so dorky and stupid. It looks like you’re delivering a speech from a podium, but you’re also in motion. It’s horrible.
Lucas: So, the TV show, Drop Dead Diva, is a body-switching type of thing, except not with Fred Savage or Judge Reinhold. A model passes away and is reincarnated as a lawyer, is that correct?
Lucas: I have a sci-fi nerdy question for you. Is this a new person or has this person been around? Do they share personalities?
Cho: The dominant personality is the model personality, but she still has the knowledge of the lawyer in her brain. It’s like she has a hard drive of all of the lawyer’s information. She has the body and mental capacity of the lawyer.
Lucas: The show hasn’t debuted yet, so obviously I haven’t watched it, but the crux of it is that they use the term “plus-size” for the main character’s new body. The press materials talk about it in terms of “she’s brainy… and plus-sized!” as if that could never happen in the real world!
Cho: I know, but I think [the show] does a great job of showing that women are really valued in our society based on they how they look, and if they look a certain way, there’s a higher value placed on that. It’s a very interesting dissection of the way women are viewed and how value is placed on it.
Lucas: I assume with your politics and books and comedy works that you wouldn’t sign onto a show that took a facile look on this sort of issue. I’m kind of a fan that you use the term “zaftig,” right?
Lucas: I’m kind of a fan of women like that, and when I went and looked at pictures of the star Brooke Elliott on the web, I thought she was very pretty.
Cho: She’s just beautiful. I think of her as beautiful, and I think people are going to fall in love with her. People assign values on people based on how they look, and we’re going to take a look at that.
Lucas: You just have to read message boards on Dlisted or Perez Hilton, and you see the kind of vitriol spewed out at people who are 10 pounds overweight or something.
Cho: I feel really bad that we have that kind of consciousness and that people are so judgmental about it. Why do these standards have to apply to people? It’s weird.
Lucas: You’re playing the assistant, the “Moneypenny” character.
Cho: It’s cool. It’s a great part. I give her assignments for the week. I think that in future scripts, she’s going to be allowed to get a lot wilder than we initially thought.
Lucas: It’s a long commitment, shooting a show like this. Was it hard to make that decision?
Cho: Yeah, we’re shooting for five months. It’s quite a long shoot. I love it. I’m very happy to do it. I love the show, and I love the role. I think it’s a really great thing to not have to carry the whole show, to be able to be a supporter. I love my strong presence there. To me, it’s a little bit of a break. It gives me a chance to work on my acting and have fun. I loved the script and I just jumped right into it because I thought it was such a great project. It’s nice to see real people on TV, and I think it’s going to be very big.
Lucas: Atlanta… what do you think your favorite thing is about it?
Cho: I like the porch-sitting. That to me is a lot of fun. It’s a big benefit to be able to sit out on your porch. There’s a game that we play. We sit out on a friend’s porch – he lives right off of Little Five, off of Euclid – and we watch people walk by every day and we yell out names at them to try to guess their names. We have about 10 seconds to do it for each person. If we get it right, usually they’ll come up and say hi. It’s called The Trick Game. We try to find tricks that way!
Lucas: Is it like Wheel of Fortune? Instead of R S T L N E, do you start off with James or John?
Cho: I start real basic, but then I go into real Southern names like Trey and Travis. I usually win.
Lucas: Are the people friendly when you get their names right?
Cho: Yes, because they think you know them from somewhere.
Lucas: Do they recognize you?
Cho: Sometimes yeah.
Lucas: I notice that you twittered/tweeted? that you thought biscuits in the South were good.
Cho: So good…
Lucas: … but that Southern accents reminded you of racism.
Lucas: We’re not all racists, really, but I’ve lived in the South for 34 years, and when I want to make someone sound racist or dumb, I affect a Southern accent.
Cho: I know plenty of non-racists! The kind of accent I’m talking about is the one you see on Channel 2, on fishing shows and stuff, where you cannot even understand what people are saying. They are so country. It’s like another dialect, a different language. Only when I Channel 2.
Lucas: Why do you have this association?
Cho: I think it’s from being a city dweller my whole life and the stereotypes we all have about the South.
Lucas: I swear we’re not all racist.
Cho: It’s only the ones where I can’t understand. I assume they are talking about racism.
Lucas: Those fishing shows are just a coded language of transferring secret messages between KKK members.
Cho: That’s what is!
Lucas: I’ve met as many racists in Michigan and the North as I have down here… well maybe not.
Cho: Oh, they’re everywhere, but the stereotype is Southern.
Lucas: You have a real world-class bigot on your hands in Carrie Prejean.
Cho: Oh, she’s horrible.
Lucas: She went on James Dobson’s show that Satan tempted her but then she made the right decision to honor God and Jesus or something.
Cho: I hate that she is representing California and that’s really disgusting to me.
Lucas: People think California is all San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Cho: It’s not. It’s not. And that’s why Prop 8 passed.
Lucas: One more thing: I was wondering what your plans are for your collaboration with Girlyman. Are y’all going to release stuff soon?
Cho: I am working on a really great song with Girlyman. Will most likely be playing with them at some point this summer at Eddie’s Attic…
Lucas: Is it just for fun or do you see music as something that you could be moving towards?
Cho: It is for fun, but I will be releasing a record next year of all the music I have put out so far.
Drop Dead Diva premieres on Lifetime on July 12 at 9 PM.