x
Breaking News
More () »

Margaret Cho on How Awkwafina and Bowen Yang Are Breaking the Mold for Asians in Comedy (Exclusive)

Margaret Cho on How Awkwafina and Bowen Yang Are Breaking the Mold for Asians in Comedy (Exclusive)

Margaret Cho drops by Comedy Central's Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens as a caftan-wearing commune member who crosses paths with Nora (Awkwafina) in the final two episodes of the season. For the veteran comedian, boarding the series -- which airs its final episode of season 2 on Wednesday -- was a no-brainer. Much of that had to do with Awkwafina and the comedy's impressive ensemble, which includes BD Wong, Lori Tan Chinn and Saturday Night Live's Bowen Yang.

"It's just so exciting to see -- and I've known [Awkwafina] for a long time -- what she's been able to do in her work and create so many different, incredible characters. This one is basically her story. So it's different from Shang-Chi or Crazy Rich Asians or The Farewell. Even her music. It's very much very true to life, very funny presentation of her as this iconic, struggling kid. I was excited to be a part of it," Cho told ET, adding that she's well aware of how long and arduous the journey has been to get to this place of notice for Asian American talent, particularly in the comedy space.

"We had to work so hard to get noticed as Asian Americans in comedy, and queer Asian Americans in comedy in particular. Especially for me and Bowen and BD, that's a very big deal. To be queer and Asian American is tough because they're very classically patriarchal cultures that don't accept outsiders," she said. "Nora and Lori also fit in there with [having] different kinds of personalities, that we don't sit with the majority of what Asian Americans would say would be successful or look like -- those doctor, scientist, engineer, lawyer professions that we're continually encouraged to go into, which is the immigrant story. To be able to create a new lane and a new space for Asian Americans to grow into, it's really powerful."

Ahead of Wednesday's finale, ET spoke with Cho -- who next stars in the anticipated romantic comedy Fire Island with Yang and Joel Kim Booster -- about taking a page out of her real life to play her Nora From Queens character, why she believes Fire Island will be an important film and her personal wish to become the Diahann Carroll of Asian American film and TV.

ET: How are things going on your end? It seems you've been keeping pretty busy, especially with your latest role on Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens.

Margaret Cho:
I love the show and it's really exciting. I love her and I love everybody on it. Everybody I've worked with before, except for Lori Tan Chinn, who I just really met for the first time, but I'm a longtime fan of hers. BD and I, even though we're not together in the episodes, we are long, long, long-term friends. We've played every relationship onscreen. And then Bowen and I just did the movie Fire Island, which he's amazing in. And Nora's such a [powerhouse].

Your character on Nora From Queens is quite memorable. What excited you about playing a member of a cult-like society?

I love the world of it. I love any kind of alternative society feast. I love a caftan and jewelry made out of weed. To me, it's just a fun role to play. I always wear caftans anyway, so it's appropriate. I'm covered in animal hair and I'm very much a homesteader. I mean, I don't really live on a commune, but I wish I sort of did. To me, it's all very exciting fashion because anything that's kind of caftan- and long shift-adjacent, that's my jam.

Awkwafina and Margaret Cho in Comedy Central's 'Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens.'

Zach Dilgard/Comedy Central

You share the screen with Awkwafina in several scenes. Were there any memorable moments from the set?

I love her and it's just so exciting to see -- and I've known her for a long time -- what she's been able to do in her work and create so many different, incredible characters. This one is basically her story. So it's different from Shang-Chi or Crazy Rich Asians or The Farewell. Even her music. It's very much very true to life, very funny presentation of her as this iconic, struggling kid. It's really cool. I was excited to be a part of it. And Lori Tan Chinn came out to L.A. to hang out and so we got to talk about cats, and that's always my favorite. It's amazing to be in this new generation of Asian American television and to be able to see the difference. BD and I were together in 1994, and it was so different and so hard. And Lori even before that. It was just a different [time]. So it's interesting to talk about all those times with Lori and with Nora.

The cast is an embarrassment of riches. You have Awkwafina, BD Wong, Bowen Yang. Is there a sense of pride being welcomed into the party?

Absolutely. Everybody is so exceptional, and that's the story of us in entertainment anyway. We had to work so hard to get noticed as Asian Americans in comedy, and queer Asian Americans in comedy in particular. Especially for me and Bowen and BD, that's a very big deal. To be queer and Asian American is tough because they're very classically patriarchal cultures that don't accept outsiders. So we're entertainers and we're also queer and just different. I think Nora and Lori also fit in there with [having] different kinds of personalities, that we don't sit with the majority of what Asian Americans would say would be successful or look like -- those doctor, scientist, engineer, lawyer professions that we're continually encouraged to go into, which is the immigrant story anyway. To be able to create a new lane and a new space for Asian Americans to grow into, it's really powerful. That's really part of what we represent. And then in comedy, too. That's such an important step because comedy is such an American art form, really. It is also an outsider's art form, too. That's where we embrace both.

You mentioned working on Fire Island. What do you think of Bowen's rise and success, especially recently? 

He's so talented and he's so important to the legacy of Asian Americans in comedy because he's like our golden child. But in a sense, his presence, his writing style and his aura really reminds me of somebody like Truman Capote. There's something very erudite and elegant about his presentation that is like Tennessee Williams or Truman Capote or James Baldwin. Actually, James Baldwin is probably the closest approximation, I would say, because it is the queerness and the ethnicity that's presented with such incredible elegance and dignity that is a light. Which is one of the reasons why I think he garners so much attention, but also, it's a kind of sparkle and elegance that is sometimes missing from comedy and social commentary that we really have such a handle on, in so many ways. This is James Baldwin's legacy. I really think very highly of Bowen and I think he's remarkable as a comedian and as a friend. I'm really excited for him.

Margaret Cho and Fortune Feimster in Comedy Central's 'Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens.'

Zach Dilgard/Comedy Central

What does it mean to have a feature film starring two gay Asian men and directed by a gay Asian man?

It's amazing. It was really a special project and I love Joel [Kim Booster]. He's so imaginative and so thoughtful, but also so funny. There's so many things in it that really needed the comedy. It's a romantic comedy and it's a summer romantic comedy, but at same time, it addresses so many issues of internalized racism within the gay community. That oftentimes, when we're in the queer community, we can't imagine that we could be biased in any way. That we could be racist or discriminatory or sexist or misogynistic or any of these things. Yet they exist and thrive within the queer community because a lot of times, we can't accept intersectionality. The film is really about the nuance and intensity of intersectionality and how it impacts us who are a multi-hyphenated, minority identity. It's a really deep sociological study of who we are and how our identity fits in in other communities where we're also othered. It's actually really deep, but it's also really funny. And everybody's gorgeous. It's very intense, and Andrew [Ahn] is such a masterful director, and everybody's such a great addition to the story because it's all of our different perspectives on there. Being a queer woman with queer men who are 30 years younger than you, and everybody had veins on their stomach. Everybody also wore a Speedo for the entire shoot, so I was the only one consuming any kind of carbohydrates. But it was really fun and I really loved the making of this film. We're so thrilled to bring it to audiences. It's just really incredible. I think it's going to be a very iconic, important film.

You were also on Good Trouble for a couple episodes, and with Nora From Queens and Fire Island, you're picking impactful projects and shows to be a part of. What is at the top of the list for you when you do say yes to something at this point in your career?

Well, everybody's my friend. With Good Trouble, they're all my friends and with Fire Island, they're all my friends. I'm hoping to be on every Asian American production and be a guest star. Maybe it's Anne Bancroft or Glenda Jackson. You know, the grand dame that they bring in as their season closer. (Laughs.) Hopefully that will be my legacy whenever they have the Old Hollywood star on Dynasty. My goal is that kind of Diahann Carroll position.

The season finale of Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens premieres Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central. For more, watch below.

To stay up to date on breaking TV news, sign up for ET's daily newsletter.

RELATED CONTENT:

'Nora From Queens': Is Ross Butler About to Capture Awkwafina's Heart?

Why Awkwafina Is Proud of 'Nora From Queens' and 'Shang-Chi'

Margaret Cho, Jeannie Mai, Keiko Agena and Asif on Asian Excellence

'Good Trouble' Sneak Peek: Alice Asks Margaret Cho for Advice