Margaret Cho defends her North Korea Globes jokes against racist claims

I dig Margaret Cho. One of my favorite parts of her standup routine is where she pokes fun (in a loving way) at her Asian mother, which reminds me of the Asian women in my family. There’s some familiarity there, and it’s comforting. Cho has always used her Asian-American experience as an element of her comedy. I was disappointed by her short-lived 1990s sitcom, All-American Girl, but I blame that on network producers. Long story.

Anyway. Cho ruffled some feathers when she showed up on the Globes stage as Cho Young-ja, an unsmiling North Korean general & the “newest HFPA member.” This character wasn’t the best part of the Globes (not even close); but Cho’s performance was topical, thanks to the Sony hack that ate Hollywood last month. The jokes were also a throwback to Cho’s 2012 appearance on 30 Rock as Kim Jong Il. Unsurprisingly, some Golden Globes watchers called Margaret’s jokes racist. She defended herself on Twitter:

(1) I’m of mixed North/South Korean descent – you imprison, starve and brainwash my people you get made fun of by me #hatersgonhate #FreeSpeech

(2) I’m not playing the race card. I’m playing the rice card. #hatersgonwait #winnersgonpun

[From Margaret Cho on Twitter]

Margaret also did an interview with Buzzfeed, in which she talks about stereotypes against Asian-Americans:

Cho was asked to participate in the ceremony several weeks ago, and worked on the jokes with Fey and Poehler. “It was just a lovely opportunity to spend a couple of days with my friends,” she said. As for the reactions, she said: “I feel if there’s negativity, it’s other people’s judgments about what they feel that Asian-Americans are allowed to do, really. You’re putting expectations on us that we have to remain Asian-American, that we can’t actually play people from Asia.

“When we have British people playing American icons, there’s no backlash. But for Asian-Americans, it’s a very particular set of expectations that we are set to maintain, and that in itself is racist.”

She added, “If it’s Asian-Americans making fun of Asians, we’re claiming our own voice, we’re claiming our heritage. We’re claiming all of the aspects of our own culture, and we’re allowed to. Even though it may get us put in a labor camp.”

[From Buzzfeed]

I think Cho defended herself adequately. Some people believe she doesn’t have the right to make these jokes because she was born in San Francisco, not North Korea. She grew up as a 2nd generation American. But … Americans tend to be PC to the max. It’s hard to accept how a lot of Asian-Americans (my own relatives included) are laid back about poking fun at aspects of their heritage that they find troublesome. Cho was using humor as a form of criticism against the North Korean government, but I can see where it would make people uncomfortable.

Margaret Cho

Photos courtesy of Getty & WENN

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32 Responses to “Margaret Cho defends her North Korea Globes jokes against racist claims”

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  1. Rachel says:

    The only thing I had to say about it is, I didn’t actually find the bit all that funny. It just went on too long.

    But I also didn’t find the Wiig/Hader bit funny and people are raving about it. So maybe my sense of humor is defective??

    • QQ says:

      THIS on top of the fact it FELT gross.. IT WASN’T FUNNY

      • Renee says:

        I didn’t watch the clip but I have seen/heard Cho perform as a “Korean” person before, and I agree that it made me feel extremely uncomfortable and gross. The thing is she’s not performing as an East Asian person in Korea, she is performing as “foreigner” in the United States who is considered backwards/amusing because they’re not from here…they speak broken English, have a “funny” i.e., non-Western accent and aren’t familiar with Western cultural norms…that’s pretty racist. And it would be one thing if she were doing this among mainly Koreans, the fact that she performs these caricatures before is comprised of primarily non-Asian audiences is what bothers me…and if she is going to go there with the “blaming people who kept me apart from my North Korean relatives” ish, um, Korea was bifurcated into North and South factions after US intervention in the country. Maybe she should read a history book or talk to her Korean relatives.

        I have mixed feelings about Cho because sometimes she can be eloquent certain issues of discrimination and body acceptance but my issue with her, apart from her problematic, f * it – stereotypical, representations of Asians is that she is just not funny and I’ve never found her to be. On the comedy tip to me she is the equivalent of going to an accountant who can’t add numbers properly.

      • Blythe says:

        The only thing funny about Kristen Wiig was her dress and hair. She looked like a dust ruffle. Let Kevin Hart host next year.

    • Kiddo says:

      I agree with you on all points.

      As to Wiig and Hader, I think they had great chemistry (accentuation on the chemical part). But after about 2 seconds, it was as much fun to watch as being the only sober person in a house of full of seriously stoned partyers (sp?) riffing on the hilariousness of a (normal/uninteresting) baked muffin.

    • LadyMTL says:

      Rachel, I’m with you on both counts. I didn’t find either of those bits very funny, though I did chuckle a bit when Margaret Cho showed up the first time, with that “fan magazine”. It did go on too long, though, and overall I thought it was kind of dumb.

    • tifzlan says:

      Yeah, it really wasn’t funny at all and the second time they brought her out, i was groaning. Also, i only realized it was Margaret Cho when she came out the second time, haha.

      As for Wiig-Hader, i thought it was funny and i love the chemistry they have with each other. I watched The Skeleton Twins last year and it was a surprisingly good movie and now, after their Globes bit, i’m convinced they were siblings in a previous life. They are perfect together.

    • Alicia says:

      I think the first one (the one where she wanted to take the photo with Meryl Streep) was kind of funny but the ones after that were painfully unfunny.

      I normally like both Wiig and Hader but their routine fell flat as well. Wiig did a similar presentation with Will Farrell two years ago and it was a hit.

      Even Amy and Tina seemed to run out of steam halfway through.

    • BengalCat2000 says:

      Add me to the defective sense of humor team. I like Margaret Cho a lot, but that was just terrible. As for the SNL cast all over the place, I don’t get it. I mean, Seth freaking Meyers has his own crap show. Kristen Wiig is always awful, Imo. Maybe it’s me!

    • Agreed. Neither bit was funny–they felt like Weekend Update segments that didn’t work and went on too long. And Cho’s went on longer.

  2. neelyo says:

    Yes, but can she defend the bit for not being funny? That’s what offended me.

    • joan says:

      When I heard someone on the radio today quoting her lines, they were actually funnier than when she said them. On TV, her costume and stern look just killed the humor.

      If she’d done running bits with the hosts, with all of them dressed up and looking great, it would’ve been less jarring. Cho looks cute doing standup and does Korean jokes there, she doesn’t need the distracting costume.

      Tiny and Amy disappeared for most of the show, so having ongoing, short bits with Cho would’ve been funny.

      It was so refreshing to see those two pretty women all dolled up yet being sharp, witty, funny and aggressive — they should have dolled up Cho too.

  3. LAK says:

    In the current PC climate, ‘Goodness gracious me’ would not be allowed nor would ‘the Kumars at no 42’ or even things like ‘Keeping up appearances’. All of them skewer cultural norms, but in a PC world, many, many people would be offended.

    • bettyrose says:

      Keeping up Appearances is the best thing ever. But I tend to think the term “PC” is more of a Fox news mythology about liberals being too sensitive, since the term was first coined by conservative media. Having said that, a lot of people do seem overly concerned about North Korea’s feelings. The joke was about a totalitarian society not a culture.

  4. RobN says:

    Not offensive and, unfortunately, not really very funny, either.

  5. Lisa says:

    Haha, American opinions. no1curr.

    Edit: To clarify, her defense is a good one. It would be a different story if Tina and Amy put the character together as a “lol Koreans” joke. I don’t think White Americans get to decide how someone jokes about their background. Was it funny? Not really.

  6. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I didn’t see the bit on the GG, but I’ve always thought her imitation of her mother was funny, then wondered if it was racist to think it was funny. I don’t think so – I think she touches on universal “mother” issues with an accent. But it’s easy to get tangled up in all of this. I guess I think it’s ok for a person to make fun of their own culture, but not for someone to make fun of a culture other than their own.

    • woodsstock_schulz says:

      Exactly, it’s her own culture and her own experiences as a member of that culture. I remember “All American Girl” and it was pretty funny and relateable.

    • Kittén says:

      That’s how I feel.

    • OhDear says:

      I get that, but I think the people who didn’t like the joke are thinking of the “Chappelle effect” (just made the term up) – Dave Chappelle had quit in part because he realized that a significant number of people who were laughing at his jokes/sketches were laughing at the stereotype, not what he meant.

  7. scout says:

    I didn’t mind the act. She is usually very funny, love those “my mom talks like this” jokes she does. But this time at GG it was just blah.. just staring, nodding and stand there blank.
    She doesn’t need to defend herself though, haters will hate. LOL @ “I am playing the Rice card”.

  8. Miran says:

    My grandmother raised my mom and her siblings growing up to reject the idea that the people in the North are fundamentally different than us, which for a long long time in South Korea was something that we were taught to believe. I grew up in Seoul and for those not as geographically aware, it is actually quite close to the DMZ and the border. My mom made sure we knew that ‘we are all Koreans’ and the people cannot be held responsible for what their government does. Most of them are not there by choice. So I understand what she says when saying if you imprison ‘my people’, especially if she is indeed mixed North and South. It would probably be different if it weren’t an Asian comic making the joke. Sometimes humor makes it easier to deal with the unfortunate aspects of reality :/


  9. BGirl81 says:

    Margaret Cho’s bit about her Korean name and the fragrance ad it would inspire never fails to make me fall over laughing. That is all.


  10. Pinky says:

    Where’s the backlash to the portrayal of Kim Jong-un in The Interview? There really was none. But people are ready to rip on Margaret Cho–a woman–for some reason, who is doing a similar “caricature”/lampooning/send-up. Be consistent, racists. Be consistent, PC-people.

  11. Blythe says:

    It wasn’t funny. That’s the thing. It was uncomfortable for me to watch and it wasn’t funny. They stretched it out for too long. The Cosby bit wasn’t funny. The Taylor Swift diss two years ago wasn’t funny. Who writes for Tina and Amy?

    • RobN says:

      Yeah, at some point, these bits just seem to go on forever and I just start to cringe for all involved.