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Margaret Cho didn’t win the Grammy for Best Comedy Album this past Sunday — Patton Oswalt took the honor — but the five-time nominee did have a speech prepared in the event that she won the award during the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony.
Luckily, she was also host of the pre-telecast ceremony, so she was able to deliver at least some of that prepared statement. “What I was going to say during my acceptance speech was ‘Fuck Donald Trump,’” Cho said plainly, prompting the audience to burst into cheers. It was one of the first among many politically charged moments of the evening.
The morning after the Grammys, Cho told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview why she made it a point to call out Trump before the ceremony wrapped. “This is not a presidency I am excited about, nor do I think is right to be happening, so that was the right thing to do, I thought.”
Sunday was her first time hosting the Grammys Premiere Ceremony; asked if she was the first Asian-American to host the event, Cho laughed and responded without hesitation: “Oh yeah.” Indeed, it’s no surprise, considering the entertainment industry’s overall indifference toward Asian-Americans entertainers, who have struggled to break into mainstream media. But that clearly hasn’t stopped Cho, 48, from making herself heard about issues ranging from Hollywood “whitewashing” to Trump.
Cho has let the public know her feelings on Trump since well before he entered the White House: She blasted his appearance on SNL in 2015, she roasted him at the Trevor Project gala this past December, and she has since continued to fire off tweets slamming the president and his proposed policies.
She’s not the only celebrity vocally denouncing Trump’s administration. Many public figures in Hollywood turned out to the Women’s March in January to voice their discontent, and the outcry has boiled over into awards season, from Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes attack on Trump to the BAFTAs this weekend.
“Maybe it would make sense to separate entertainment and politics if we didn’t have a reality show president,” she said. “He’s not a politician … He’s never, ever served any kind of public office. He’s only coming from a background of entertainment, so entertainment has the right to take it out on him as well as they can.”
Using her platform to call out the president is the comedian’s way of grappling with reality. “I’m not dealing with it well emotionally, but artistically, it’s a nice shot in the arm,” she said. In her opinion, “That’s all we can do, write about it, make jokes about it.”
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Producing her own art is something she has done for over 20 years as a way of forging a career in an industry that has traditionally excluded Asian-Americans. “Creating your own work when there are no opportunities available … different kinds of work [in which] you are able to use your voice and use your creativity to make things happen — that’s really what I’ve relied on as a stand-up comedian all this time,” Cho said of promoting inclusivity in Hollywood.
“I think nowadays it’s gotten a lot better, but of course we still have movies like The Great Wall starring Matt Damon,” she said with a laugh, though she did express admiration for “the very revered and very important Chinese director” Zhang Yimou, who helmed the film. After the trailer for the monster movie debuted last year, many people criticized Zhang for casting a white actor in a film set in China and for not extending roles to Asian-American actors.
“Sometimes this happens [when] you have people who are from Asia, from China, who don’t understand the importance of Asian-Americans in the process,” she said. She told an anecdote about how Chow Yun-fat, when he was just starting to find work on films for American audiences, was paired up with Wayne Wang for a project. “Chow Yun-fat said, ‘I want to work with an American director,’ not even really understanding that Wayne Wang is an American director.” (Chow did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.)
Although Hollywood has been slow to include Asian-Americans in their stories, Cho said there is “a sense of understanding and a sense of people being very proactive about looking towards an Asian-American identity” in television. Cho praised Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken and the figures behind them, as well as Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, who created Master of None. “Whenever they win big awards,” she said of Ansari and Yang, “they make a big statement about how we need to have Asian-American heroes.”
As for the Grammys on Sunday, “Even though there were not a lot of Asian-Americans there, it was actually better than most [awards shows],” Cho said. “There actually were quite a few Asian-Americans behind the scenes playing in the background for sure. But still, there’s not a lot in awards ceremonies in general.”
The lack of Asian-Americans in entertainment is likely a result of the “model minority” myth, which perpetuates the idea that Asian-Americans are neither creative nor political. “Oftentimes, our participation in politics is miniaturized,” Cho said.
She pointed to the band Cibo Matto, formed by two Japanese women in the early ’90s, as an example of how Asian-American activism gets diminished. “When they came out, there was this press push about them to radio stations about how, ‘Oh, this is a really cutesy little band, and it’s two Japanese girls,” she said. “This music was really political, really mind-altering, genre-bending, incredibly influential later on, but because it was Asian women … their contribution was miniaturized, and that’s this weird thing that people do to Asian women: miniaturize our achievements as being ‘cute’ or ‘kawaii’ or somehow related to Hello Kitty. It’s not even that they’re sexualizing us. At least with sexuality, there is some power attached to that. The cuteness thing … it neutralizes any sort of any kind of power that we would have.”
The notion of the apolitical, unthreatening Asian woman is something Cho has challenged through her work — just see the collaboration she did with comedy rapper Awkwafina last May.
“Green Tea,” a collaboration between Margaret Cho and Awkwafina.
All in all, Cho feels optimistic about the future of Asian-American activism thanks to social media, which has helped Asian-Americans mobilize and take on both systematic racism in the world and in representational issues in Hollywood too. “There’s much more of a really avid push to just talk about these issues, to talk about whitewashing, to talk about what’s been happening [in politics].”
Asked what she’d tell young Asian-American activists, Cho expressed hope. “They are really creating change by doing their thing, by speaking up for themselves. They are really making a difference — it’s happening, and it shows.”