Inside Late Night With Mark Malkoff Ep 8: Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho is currently receiving rave reviews for her dramatic starring role in the film All That We Love (the film has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating), but she’s best known as a trailblazing comedian and comedic actor who first burst into the national consciousness when she starred in the 1994 ABC sitcom All American Girl.

She also goes way back with late night, and she’s got the guest robes to prove it. Over the years, she’s appeared with everyone from Arsenio Hall and Jon Stewart to Letterman, Leno and Conan O’Brien (with whom, despite rumors to the contrary, she has no beef).

In this episode of Inside Late Night with Mark Malkoff, Margaret Cho takes us back to when she was first discovered by Bob Hope (yes, that Bob Hope, who was 90 years old at the time), through her many late night appearances, including the one that got her banned from performing stand-up on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show

She also recalls first meeting her longtime comedic mentor Joan Rivers and young fans throwing themselves at Jon Stewart’s feet back in his MTV days when the two did a number of college gigs together.

Click the embed below to listen now, or find Inside Late Night on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Margaret Cho is currently touring with her one-woman show. Visit her website for tour dates, and follow her on Instagram, Facebook and X/Twitter

Show Transcript

Mark Malkoff: Margaret Cho, thanks for being with us. 

Margaret Cho: Thank you! 

So, you’ve had this amazing career. When you did the Bob Hope special, did that come from opening up for Jerry Seinfeld a year or so before you won that contest? The college contest, you weren’t in college. They didn’t know that. And you opened up for Seinfeld, did that? 

Yes. Not directly, but it may have something to do with it. I think there were a couple of other factors at play, but when I did that opening for Jerry Seinfeld, what that did get me was an appearance on Half Hour Comedy Hour, which at the time was a very popular stand-up comedy show on MTV. And then I got seen there by bookers for Bob Hope’s Young Comedian Special, not booked by Bob Hope anymore, but it was people that were looking for comedians to have on that, it was sort of a young comedian launch pad that would happen at Christmas and it was a very big deal. So I got to go, Bob was very old, and so was Phyllis Diller, who was also on the show. They were very old. We went to the studio and all of the people behind the cameras were the same age as Bob and Phyllis. It was like all the same crew that they’d all worked together since the “road to” movies, you know, the 1950s, those movies with Bing Crosby. They have all had, like, this time in Hollywood together. So, every week, as I heard from the other staff who were the younger staff, somebody would die. So, you have to get a replacement. 

That happens when you have people working… Hope was, I guess, in his 80s by then you do the Hope special, the next year you make your national TV debut for late night on Arsenio and you do it in ’93 and ’94. Did that have anything to do, the Hope thing, with you getting Arsenio? 

I think so. I think also one of the details of that was I lived really close to the studio. I lived really close to where Arsenio was filmed every day. So, at a moment’s notice, I could be called to do a set on the show, and I know that they did call me in at least once or twice to do that. And I always had material prepared to go on another talk show. You always had, it was four minutes and 40 seconds about. That’s as much material as you would need to do a talk show at that time. So I always had that prepared. I always could be ready. Yeah, Arsenio was great because they had the best food in all of late night. Of all of the late night shows, they had the most jammin’ dressing room food area. Almost nobody was in there, because often the stars that were on Arsenio would just come in, do their shot, and then leave. So you would have a ton of delicious food and a ton of, like, whatever drinks they would also often leave behind their Arsenio robe, which was a really fancy item. I still have mine somewhere around here. It was black as opposed to the white robes that you would get at some of the other talk shows. So this is a very fancy gift. It did create a lot of lint in your dryer, but I would never wash it. 

I want to mention your mentor Joan Rivers was famous, when she had her Fox show, for  having the best set-up. She had waiters and waitresses for the guests and emulated very much what you were saying and we’ll talk about her in a little. So you must have done very well with Arsenio. You did your second appearance in ’94 and then soon after that you make your debut on Letterman in September of ’94. How was that going on Dave? I’m guessing you were a fan? I don’t know. 

Such a fan, such a fan. Well, Letterman was different because it was so cold. The audience where they were shooting, all of, and even the dressing rooms to some extent, were very, very cold. I guess he would keep it that way ’cause when you’re filming a comedy show, you want people to be alert and excited, and so it was freezing cold. David Letterman was just, it was so amazing to be on that show. It was so iconic and so exciting. And truly, one of those dreams, especially like in the 90s, like there was just this luster around that show, you know, and to be able to be on it in like the early 90s was just an incredible thing. 

Jon Stewart, I know you did the Jon Stewart syndicated show and then did the Daily Show. Did he open for you? 

I opened for him. I opened for him at these universities, and then also worked with him in New Orleans. But yeah, I opened for a few dates when he was doing colleges and the college girls on campus were crazy for him and they would jump on our car. They would, we would try to leave in like a town car and they would jump all over the car. They were like clamoring to get to him. I loved doing his first show, which was for MTV, which was great. I got to do that one and then I got to do The Daily Show later. I also did The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn.

You went to Conan three times, starting in ‘95. What was it like doing Conan as opposed to some of the other shows? What stands out? 

Conan was far more relaxed. There was something about Conan, I think because he was like our generation of comics, you know? And so when you went on Conan, there was a sense that you could really, like, do things that you hadn’t discussed with the talent booker, you know, or the producer. Your segment producer didn’t have to necessarily be involved. The guy that was segment producing was John Groff, who is also a friend of mine. 

He’s really funny. 

He’s really funny. 


Really funny, cool guy. Not the famous… he’s famous in a different way. He’s not Jonathan Groff.

Boston stand up. Very, very gifted. Jeopardy! winner. 

Yeah, great, really brilliant guy. And so I was close with him. So I always felt like, oh, you don’t necessarily have to worry. Or, like, Louis CK would be like this segment producer, you know, like you wouldn’t have a sense of needing to test run material for them. Like it didn’t have the gravitas of like The Tonight Show, where it was like, you know, they were word for word checking over and what to do. I’m banned from doing stand-up comedy on The Tonight Show. I mean, it doesn’t exist anymore, so it doesn’t matter, but I could go on as a sit-down guest. 

What happened? 

I diverted from my set because I panicked midway through my comedy set and did jokes that had not been approved. And so that ended my career as a stand-up comic on that show, but that didn’t affect my going back on as a guest. 

Did Jay call you the next day, or how did you hear about that they weren’t thrilled? 

I think Jimmy Brogan told me later, because Jimmy Brogan and I work together as comics. 

Yeah, he’s great. I know Jimmy Walker, allegedly they said to the same thing. He went and did something. And a lot of shows, it depends on the show, are notorious if you don’t do everything like that. 

But it doesn’t affect your being on the show. That’s the thing. It’s like you just can’t stand up.

Yeah. I mean, the panel is more prestigious, they say anyway. I have to ask you, I don’t know much about this, but I, you know, I do really deep digs. And there’s a lot of people who talk online about you going on Conan, talking about his documentary [Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop] and Bonnaroo, what happened? There’s people online that said that he they thought that he was maybe rude to you or maybe it was an inside joke. What exactly happened? Did he ever reach out to you afterwards? 

Oh, no, I love Conan. I don’t know 

People said that the documentary made it a point to just kind of ignore you or dismiss you or something. I don’t remember anything like that, but there’s a… 

I don’t remember anything like that. 

Right, okay. 

I did squat in his bus because I didn’t have my own bus and he never used his bus at Bonnaroo. And so I took it over, which may or may not be something that is bad or good. I don’t know. But if somebody’s not using this air conditioning, I’m gonna use it. But no, I don’t remember even what that was.Yeah. 

It made some headlines. When Jay Leno, he apologized for doing some Asian jokes, you said you forgave him. Did he reach out to you personally, or was it just that he said, you know, to the community and you were appreciative of it? 

Oh, well, we actually talked, because I was on his show with the cars. I had to drive a vintage car, which was terrifying. I hate driving vintage cars. I’m not built for that. I’m scared to do it. But it was during the course of that, and I appreciated him. I love him. And jokes are… whatever, and times change, and it’s okay. It’s cool. 

So how did Joan Rivers become your mentor? When did you first meet her? 

We met in the ’90s in New York City, and she was such a supporter of mine, an early supporter of mine, and she would come to my shows and she wanted to present me with an award that I had been given for the show that I was doing off-Broadway then, and so she came, and we met and I just fell in love with her and we just stayed in close touch over the years until her death. But she was such a, she was such a wonderful person to be friends with and I just admired her so much. 

I know that she gave you a lot of advice. You were close. And you talked on your, I think, I don’t know it was your blog, ’cause I went through, yeah, you have all these archives, which is amazing from 2003, I think, up until, yeah, recent couple years back. But you talk about her funeral, it was pretty infamous. What do you remember about it? 

Well, I just love that we didn’t know, the main eulogist was Deborah Norville and none of us knew that she was so close with Deborah Norville, which was very funny. And Howard Stern delivered another eulogy and he was just crying. It was just very interesting to see somebody like that, who we just think of, you know, as such a, he’s such a, like a, comedian’s comedian and then would not like that, like like have give in to that kind of emotion, but he was just really devastated. I mean, we all were. Her funeral was just really incredible too, because she was like the mayor of New York as well. So everybody from New York was there and it was really, it was powerful. 

And some people honored her by saying inappropriate things that she’d known that she would like. 

Dirty jokes, she would love it. I mean, that was like the filthiest, filthiest jokes. I mean, often when I would go see her perform, she was so raunchy that even I would be embarrassed. And I’m like the most raunchiest of ever, but she was the worst. I love her. 

Yeah, I didn’t know this until your blog, but she had a big crush her entire life on Paul McCartney. 

Yeah, she always wanted to f*ck him. 

That’s what she would say. That’s what you wrote on your blog. 

Yeah, she’s like, oh yeah, I want to f*ck him. She just wanted to f*ck him like like her whole life, which is, you know, too bad. 

I want to talk about Richard Pryor because he was a big influence on you and your style of comedy. You actually met him. 


At a benefit, and this was when he really couldn’t talk, but you had this connection with him. What happened? 

Yes. Well, he was, I actually got to go and do like this interview thing with him, which was at the Coronet, which is where Largo is now in LA. So it was just an honor to meet him. And I’m also close with his daughter, Rain. So I have some familiarity with their family. And like, it just was just a really special thing. You know, like he’s just, you know, he has so much to say, but he was just trapped in to that wheelchair with the MS, you know, it affected his speech and his ability to communicate. But I felt like, you know, I understood, you know, and I just always loved him. Like he was always my favorite. And his material still, like I still go back to it all the time, you know, it was just such a force in comedy. 

You wrote about the night, and this was an amazing night. That night Paul McCartney kissed you and told you were pretty, But that was like secondary to Richard Pryor. You basically said your knees were shaking, hand sweating, and just everything he did. And obviously, you know, his movie is Live at the Sunset Strip. You must have been eight or nine, it was a big impact on you. And you were just saying that on your blog about how you just couldn’t believe it. So I thought that was great. And then McCartney thing is true, right? 

Yeah, that’s true. That was at the PETA event where he was being honored, and it was a big, huge thing. And he played and The B-52s played and it was really, really special. 

David Bowie did a bunch of late night shows and this was February 2004. So you go to see him play at the Shrine and at one point do you find out that he’s a fan of yours and wants to meet you? 

Well, it was a little bit before then because he had taken some things from my blog and used them as press releases, because he wasn’t doing any press for the Reality Tour. So there was a couple of occasions where my stuff would wind up in the newspaper. This was really before the internet was really big. And he was a big internet guy, early adopter before anything. He had his own domain and you could actually have a David Bowie email address. If you search, you have email address. I think I had one briefly. But he invited me to that leg of the West Coast shows and then I got to meet him. And I know there’s paparazzi photos of us backstage because I see the ones, because Bjork was there too. And she’s got one with him. And I think Patricia Arquette was there as well too. He’s got one with him. So I know there’s one that exists, but I haven’t been able to find it. 

He thanked you for your writing. He really read all of your things. 

Yeah, he was really, he was just so warm and, you know, I’m lucky that I got to meet some of the most amazing artists and I’m really grateful that I got to meet him. 

I have to ask this. So a lot of people within the Tonight Show with Carson said one of the best shows they did was Kermit the Frog, guest hosting. I read an interview that you went to this thing hosted by Ted Turner and Jane Fonda and you were Kermit was there, and you were doing shots with the Gorbachevs, Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife and Kermit was telling you to drink. He was encouraging you. 

Yeah Kermit was really encouraging. Well, the actor that was, and I guess we have to sort of all sign NDAs around it, so we weren’t, but it was the actor that was portraying Kermit, which I think was Jim Henson’s son at that time. But it was an event, it was an award show that Ted Turner was producing with Jane Fonda for environmental concerns. Like it was an award show giving out awards for people who were doing things for the environment. Mikhail Gorbachev and Raisa were in attendance. They were the guests of honor. And so we had to do shots of vodka and I, at that time, was not drinking alcohol and I was forced to drink a cold shot of vodka with all of these people and Kermit the Frog was egging me on to take that shot because he could not, obviously. He’s a puppet. So he’s just..

He was chanting “Drink it! Drink it!” On All American Girl, was Dolly Parton an uncredited producer? 

Yes. Well, it was Sandollar. 

Oh, it was Sandy Gallin. 

Sandy Gallin and Dolly Parton’s production arm. So she was definitely part of it, yes. 

There were so many people that went on before they were famous and some were. You had Jack Black that went on your sitcom. Quentin Tarantino, Daniel Day Kim, and you got Oprah. I mean, Tina Fey can say she got Oprah on her sitcom. But not many people can. Did you call Oprah? Did you know her to get her? I mean, 

I don’t know how she was… I think she was probably brought on by Sandy Gallin or like that whole crew. Because they had like a lot like a long reach, like I was in this very like large entourage when Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley. So I was sort of in that like pack when they were all backstage and getting ready to announce their marriage. And I remember them practicing kissing before going on. 

Oh, they rehearsed that. 

They rehearsed the kiss. And I remember them walking by laughing because they were just covered in lipstick, but it was very surreal. 

Did it occur to you at all when you were doing 30 Rock and playing Kim Jong-il, that you would ever get nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award? 

No, because I’m only on screen for one minute and 40 seconds. 

When you were on the ladder with the basketball. I lost it. 

Oh, thank you. I really look like him. And it requires very little hair and makeup to make me look exactly like one or both of them. 

And then you did it on the Golden Globes. Well, you didn’t play him, but a representative. Was that written by Seth Meyers? I know Seth was writing. 

Yes, it was. Seth wrote that. 

Yeah, it was really good. You were with Tina and with Amy. I know we only have a minute or two left. I just want to say, I was at Westbeth in ’99 when you started, when you did your one woman show. And I still have it ingrained in my head. I bought the book later at Astor Place. 

Oh, I love it. 

And it was one of those things like, I mean, you could just see the Richard Pryor… Not a lot of comics would really pour themselves out like that. Was it cathartic? Were you a little nervous before when you launched the show? Because you were laying it all out on the table. 

Oh, thank you. I think both. I think it’s cathartic, but you’re also a little bit like, oh, what’s this going to do? But at the same time, it’s just, to me, it’s really worthwhile. It was a worthwhile story for me. So yes, all of the things. But thank you. 

Forty city tour were sold out, film and a book. I want to mention two things. One, first of all, Hollywood Reporter, I read the review of ,you were just at Tribeca for the Film Festival premiere of All That We Love. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and The Wrap called your performance “Excellent and delightful.” How was that experience doing this film? 

So beautiful, I love this film. It’s really the first real exploration of pet grief, which was really profound for me. And I loved making it. Yen Tan is a brilliant filmmaker. He wrote and directed it. And I’m really honored to have been in it. 

Yeah, it has a big buzz. I want to talk about your upcoming tour dates,, Ontario, the end of June, Salt Lake City, in August. When you’re doing these dates, leading up to them. Sometimes do you go to the comedy store, the Improv? Anything else to… 

Yes, every day. There’s always something. I’m always doing sets, whether it’s, you know, like, yeah, I was at Largo last night, like every night, there’s something, you know, it’s a big part of my social life. 

The audiences must go so crazy when they get to see you. 

Yeah, it’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. 

Thank you for talking with us. I know… 

Of course. 

This was amazing. How was this talk for you? I know you do… 

Perfect. Well, it’s great because I haven’t gotten to talk about all of these things in such a long time, so it’s great to remember. 

I really appreciate it. I really admire you, and I want to thank Ken as well for all of his, so I really appreciate it. 

Thank you. 


Thanks. Bye.

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