Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho grew up in an ethnically diverse and culturally vibrant neighborhood in San Francisco. As a teenager, Cho began performing standup routines at a comedy club next door to the local independent bookstore her parents owned and operated. The family’s deep bond played a central role in the development of Cho’s career – not only was her father famous for his popular series of South Korean joke books, but much of Cho’s writing stems from her interpersonal family relationships and experience as a first generation Korean-American.
Throughout the early 1990s, Margaret Cho enjoyed success on the comedy circuit, opening for such popular acts as Jerry Seinfield and making frequent appearances on “The Arsenio Hall Show.” In 1994, ABC offered the young, outspoken comic her own sitcom. “All-American Girl” starred Cho as Margaret Kim, a modern, 23-year-old Korean-American who often struggled with her conservative, traditional family, and was loosely based on Cho’s prior standup routines. The show made waves as the first major network sitcom to focus on an Asian-American family.
ABC canceled “All-American Girl” after two brief seasons, citing poor ratings. Despite the setback, Cho career continued to blosso. She returned to standup and used her comedy as a platform for advocacy, championing fat acceptance, LGBTQ rights, feminist issues and racial equality on stage. Cho went on to produce two best-selling non-fiction books, a comedy album and several wildly popular comedy specials.
Margaret Cho as “All-American Girl”
With her groundbreaking sitcom “All-American Girl,” Cho wanted to provide television audiences with an image of an American family that more accurately reflected the one she and so many other Asian-Americans had grown up yearning to see. Unfortunately, the young, ambitious comedian was met with immediate, stifling pressure to conform to mainstream standards.
“I didn’t have these attributes that they think of when they think of a female star of a show. I didn’t have these attributes that they think of when they think of a female star of a show – I wasn’t thin, I wasn’t white,” explained Cho, describing the network’s concerns. “The major problem was that I was too overweight to play the role of myself, which is insane if you think about it. But I didn’t know that was crazy then. I just wanted to keep my job.”
Bending to the network’s demands, Cho went on a crash diet and lost a remarkable thirty pounds in just two weeks. As a result, her health failed, leading to years of serious kidney problems and shaking Cho’s onscreen confidence. Ultimately canceled after a two-season run, “All-American Girl” suffered from poor viewership, uninspired writing and continued strained relations between the cast and the network.