SheDot is Toronto’s festival of funny women. One of those funny women is Margaret Cho, a fearless American comedian who idolized perhaps the most fearless of them all, Joan Rivers. Ms. Cho, who closes SheDot with a show at the Danforth Music Hall on Sunday, spoke to us about the late, great Ms. Rivers.
You were close to Joan Rivers. What was the connection you two had?
Before I met her, my whole life was devoted to becoming her. When I finally met her, she had actually sought me out. I was doing a show in New York and she came backstage and said she loved it. Later we had dinner at an event. We were at a table with Sarah Jessica Parker and Lil’ Kim. That’s the era it was, the late ’90s. We talked all night. She didn’t eat a thing, except a whole box of tiny sugarless mints. She said [adopts raspy Joan Rivers’ voice], “I love you, I love you, I’m going to send all of my jewellery.” Then I told her that I don’t wear jewellery. She turned her back on me and didn’t speak to me again for two years.
A woman of principle.
[Laughs.] She eventually sent me lots of gifts. She came to my shows and did everything I asked of her, showbiz-wise. She was there for me when I had an issue with a man. She was there for me when I asked her to do Drop Dead Diva. She was there for me if I bombed and needed a shoulder to cry on.
Do you have a sense of why she took to you?
She saw herself. She saw herself, and she saw someone who idolized her. She felt it, she knew it and it made her feel good.
What was it about Joan that was attractive to a young Margaret Cho?
I wanted her strength. Her bravery. Her comedic chops. Her fast wit. Her tireless work ethic. Her incredible drive. Her wealth. Her vision – I mean, her funeral was so beautiful.
Can you talk about the funeral?
The seats were sprayed with her perfume. When you sat down, you smelled her and felt her presence. She had curated the whole thing, and paid for it all. She had a bagpipe ensemble who played New York, New York. Right now, just thinking about it, it makes me cry. She knew it would kill us all.
You later wrote that one doesn’t know heartbreak until you have seen John Waters in tears.
Howard Stern was crying. Which is so sad. We loved her. It was so hard to say goodbye. Even though she lived a full life. And she was exactly who she wanted to be.
Howard Stern made an off colour remark as part of the eulogy, which reminded me of John Cleese and his brash humour at fellow Monty Python member Graham Chapman’s funeral. Even at funerals, is it important to keep on being comedians?
Comedy is a noble profession. I don’t believe anything is offensive. The true heart of comedy is to make somebody forget their troubles and laugh. Whatever that takes, whether it’s offensive or not. That’s my take. And I think it’s Howard’s take, and Joan’s too.
Margaret Cho, May 3, doors at 6:30 p.m. $61 to $76.25. Danforth Music Hall, 147 Danforth Ave., ticketmaster.ca