Interview: Margaret Cho Talks "Fingerbang" at Largo
L.A. Weekly got a chance to talk with Margaret Cho about "Fingerbang," her upcoming March 24 musical show at Largo, before she headed over to South by Southwest last week. With an album of comedic songs in the works, Cho has been learning the guitar and working with an eclectic collection of musicians. "Fingerbang" is a roundup of the people she's worked with each month and a preview of their collaborations. Here, Cho speaks about the challenges of songwriting and some of the people and shows that inspired her to put her jokes to music.
Erica Zora Wrightson: We want to talk to you a little bit about "Fingerbang." We are excited about you being at the Largo. I was actually there last night for Zach Galifianakis.
Margaret Cho: I love him.
Yeah, he was great. There was a heckler at the show last night. Do you ever have to deal with hecklers?
MC: Oh, I don't really have to deal with that. People are really terrified of me. I don't know why, I'm very nice, but people are very intimidated by me. I've never actually had that problem.
That's good. Well, why don't you tell me a little bit about the concept behind "Fingerbang," and just how it works, I know a lot of different musicians have been in attendance with you.
MC: I'm writing a record of comedy songs. I'm doing all these collaborations with artists. I bring them lyrics and they write the music to it. We sort of just work together and I get a guitar lesson and I learn how things work. I don't really write music but I want to do this project so I'm working with a lot of different people. So "Fingerbang" is sort of the roundup of what I did that month with different people and it's a lot of different collaborations. People like Jon Brion, Grant Lee Phillips, Jill Sobule, Ben Lee, Kaki King and Susie Suh, Garrison Starr and a ton of different kinds of artists. I was working with A.C. Newman from the New Pornographers and Jay Brennan and Bitch, from New York, and Patty Griffin and Lloyd Cole... all these different types of people and you never really know who's gonna show up. The show is constructed like Hee Haw, which I'm totally obsessed with, and so it's crazy to watch it because it's just very strange. I love country music but I wanted to do it like that show because they have great country music and they have comedy. What I'm doing isn't country music, per se, but that influence certainly is running through it.
Why is it called "Fingerbang?"
MC: I don't know why. I had it in my act, and I was like, well, that's kind of offensive, but it's kind of a good show title. And then Liam Sullivan, who is part of the show, has this song called "Dry Fingerbang." It's kind of nonsensical.
And do you find that the "Fingerbang" audience is different from your usual audience?
MC: Yeah, I guess so. It's a mix of people because it's a different kind of a show altogether and also it's a very Largo kind of thing. Largo is the sort of a place where a lot of people collaborate; where a lot of musicians who don't normally play together, come together. So this is sort of a marriage of what I do as a comic and then also what I'm learning as a musician. I'm taking a lot of my favorite artists, different people, my favorite music and marrying that with what I do as a comic. It's very collaborative, arty, fun and cool.
Do you find that it's different writing for music, when you know that your words are going to be put to song?
MC: It's very different. It's much harder actually, because you have to do it in verse and in time, and you have a limited number of words. In some ways it's much harder than doing comedy and much harder than doing music, because in music you don't have to be funny and in comedy you don't have to be in time. It is basically putting comedy to a time constraint, which is a very difficult mathematical equation. Every time I write, when I come and collaborate with someone else, they're like, "Oh my god, that's so hard. How are you gonna do that?" And I go, "I dunno, how are you gonna do that?" We figure it out as we go along. It's fun because it gives these musicians a chance to be funny, too. And that's a new thing for them and so we're all discovering something through the process. Working with all these different people has been really fulfilling and exciting. People who are coming up like Rachael Yamagata and Tegan and Sara and I'm hoping to have some other people like Neil Finn. It's gonna grow. If you look at the Largo roster, I go after just about everyone that plays there.
Do you find that L.A. is a pretty good city for "Fingerbang"?
MC: Yeah, L.A.'s a perfect place, because everyone comes through here at some point, so I can kind of catch them as they go and that's been pretty remarkable. I've been loving that.
Are there specific songwriters you appreciate who are humorous? Folk singers or country singers...
MC: I really love Steve Martin and all the stuff he did in the '70s. I think it's really great. There's also another guy - he's not old time, he's actually modern day - named Red Peters. He's amazing. And of course, Weird Al Yankovic, who we all look to as the dad of all this. But his stuff is more based on song parodies, and mine are not.
Do you find that there is overlap between the two genres? You're saying that time is not as important in comedy, but in a lot of ways, timing is really important.
MC: Yes, timing is very important. There is a bit of overlap there which is why I like someone like Elvis Costello, who is really a comedian too. I think there is a lot of overlap there but I want to make music that is really legitimately good. I don't really have the ability to do that myself, which is why I'm enlisting the help of people.
Cho's show on March 24 at Largo will be the last time to see "Fingerbang" until the fall. For more information go here.