Before there was Amy Schumer or Whitney Cummings there was Margaret Cho, a hilarious comic who was not afraid to push the envelope. Nothing was off-limits — and it still isn’t.
In advance of the tour of her latest one woman show, “PsyCHO,” which hits the District’s Warner Theater Oct. 9, Miss Cho reflects on her worst gig ever, her mentor Joan Rivers, comedy apprentice Amy Schumer and causing an international incident in Scotland.
Question: How many one-woman shows have you done?
Answer: I think it’s probably six or seven at this point. I’m constantly working, so I can’t really tell if it’s a show or just a night of stand-up.
Q: Is there a process you go through where you say, this is the theme and this material will make a show?
A: I think you just tour and work through material till you think, “OK, I guess I could turn this into a show. This is about an hour.” [laughs] It’s always different. I never know what constitutes a show exactly. I come at every performance as if it’s a huge big deal. Whether it’s a casual thing or a big event, it’s all exciting to me.
Q: Why is the new show called “PsyCHO?”
A: The subtitle of the show is “There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is a CHO is psycho.”
Q: What is the most psychotic thing you have ever done?
A: I think probably deciding to be a stand-up comedian and devoting my life to it at age 14 was pretty psychotic, when you think about what the business of it is. I look back and think, “That’s really too big of a life for a kid to take on.” But I didn’t really know. I just knew that I wanted to do it.
Q: Do you remember your first comedy gig at 14?
A: I was part of a comedy duo with Sam Rockwell, who is now a famous actor. We were doing sketch comedy at The Other Cafe, which was a big comedy spot in San Francisco. It was really well received. It was actually very easy in the very beginning, which was weird. It shouldn’t be that easy.
Q: Are you worried at all that the show being called “PsyCHO,” people might get confused and think it’s a night of duets between you and the “Gangnam Style” guy?
A: Oh, I hope they do! That’s actually his name too. His name is “Cho,” and he called himself “Psy-cho.” Then only the “Psy” part stuck.
Q: What was your worst show ever?
A: I was friends with a psychic, and he called me while I was in Scotland the day of a show. He said, “I was really worried. Something horrible is going to happen!” I said “OK.”
And that night I had the worst gig of my life. This was not that long ago, maybe three years ago — 27 or so years into my career. So I couldn’t blame it on inexperience. It was such an insane night where the crowd was so angry with me. I have the tendency that if an audience is going for me, then I get really angry. I will then antagonize them, and I won’t leave the stage. It was a bad combination of my own tendency to take it out on people that are not into it and their not understanding they are fueling the fire. It became a very bad cultural situation.
Q: You sparked an international incident?
A: Unfortunately. To end it somebody was going to have to go to the embassy. But it wasn’t going to be me.
Q: How do you deal with hecklers?
A: It is just part of live performance. To me it’s not necessarily a negative thing. In general, any kind of live performance is a dialogue between yourself and the audience, whether that is verbalized or not. Or just taken as cues, like laughter. These kinds of things are part of what we signed up for as performers and audience members.
Any conversation is valid. Heckling is part of that.
Q: Has Amy Schumer ever sent you a thank-you note for paving the way for her career?
A: She does all the time. And she’s wonderful. I see her and think, “That’s my kid.” She seems like my daughter. I definitely see a line from Joan Rivers to me and to Amy. With Amy it is really gratifying. You see someone who is doing so remarkably well and is taking cues from things you’ve done. It’s a gratifying thing. Very exciting.
Q: You mentioned Joan Rivers. Was she your main influence?
A: Joan was a major influence. As were Rosie O’Donnell and Roseanne Barr for sure. But mostly Joan Rivers. She was the most important.
Comedy is kind of a mentoring art form. You get a mentor for a while, then you have an apprentice. That’s kind of the way this business happens.
If you go
WHAT: Margaret Cho on her “PsyCHO” tour
WHERE: The Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20004
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m.
INFO: Tickets $27.50 to $57.50 by calling 202/783-4000 or visiting LiveNation.com