Margaret Cho is having a very busy 2013. In addition to co-starring in the Lifetime series “Drop Dead Diva,” she’s doing a world tour of he stand-up comedy act, a YouTube series (“In Transition”) and a podcast with Jim Short (“Monsters of Talk”). On July 25 and July 16, she returns as a guest co-host of ABC’s “The View.” She will also be a guest on the nationally syndicated “The Arsenio Hall Show” on Oct. 1, and on E! Entertainment Television’s “Chelsea Lately” on Oct. 10. Lifetime cancelled “Drop Dead Diva” in January 2013, but then in March 2013 decided to bring back the show, due to popular demand.
In “Drop Dead Diva,” a beautiful-but-vapid model wannabe Deb has been re-incarnated into the body of plus-size attorney Jane Bingum (played by Brooke Elliott). Cho plays Jane’s loyal assistant Teri. In the episode that aired on July 21, 2013, Jane’s law firm represents a gay baseball player who is accused of murder. It’s one of several “Drop Dead Diva” episodes that address lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) issues. In a July 2013 telephone conference call with journalists, Cho (who is openly bisexual) and “Drop Dead Diva” Josh Berman (who is openly gay) talked about the show, why it’s important for “Drop Dead Diva” to include LGBT issues, and how these issues relate to their own lives.
Josh, you tackled gay proms and gay sperm in “Drop Dead Diva.” Was gay sports just the next arena that you needed to dive into for this episode?
Berman: I think the gays in sports is certainly a hot topic right now. We started working on this episode before it became such a prominent issue and getting such coverage in the news. So I’m thrilled that we are hitting this zeitgeist shed again with gay and lesbian issues. I do think that sports is one of the last frontiers where men and women feel they unfortunately need to be closeted. So it was important for me to address that issue.
Margaret, you’re all over this episode whether you’re helping Stacy with sperm donors or helping Jane with her case. Can you talk about what Teri does in this episode?
Cho: Teri is always doing anything and everything. She’s kind of like a cross between like Miss Moneypenny and like Alfred and like Batman and like she’s kind of like the enabler for everything. But what I really love about this episode is that it really talks about an issue that’s very timely, which is athletes being able to come out of the closet.
And I must note that there is a lot of sexism when it comes to this kind of stuff because Martina Navratilova came out as a lesbian over 25 years ago. Martina Navratilova came out when Reagan was in office. And so I really want to make sure that her contribution to sports, to the LGBT presence in sports is really noted. And I’m really, really proud of this episode because it goes into the story about how we look at men in sports and we have to sort of have an idea of who they are and what they’re supposed to be.
And I think sports in general is quite a homoerotic art form into itself. So it’s surprising that there’s not more out actually but I love this episode because it really it talks about some of these very current and obviously Josh had been working on it before we even heard from Jason Collins. So this is a major thing I thing I think he’s psychic when it comes to these stories.
When is Margaret getting her own spin-off show?
Cho: Gosh, I don’t know but I’m ready to go anytime.
Berman: And I am ready to write that.
Cho: We would have so much fun, Josh and I have been having such a great time for the last six years and will this make more but I would love to do another series on my own. Teri is a great character, she’s private eye, she’s sort of an every and sort of everybody’s best friend and I think it would be awesome.
Berman: That would be the most fun I could ever have writing if I could write the Teri show about the Diva.
Cho: Yes let’s do it.
Berman: I don’t know if you guys I don’t think I ever shared this story or if I do I haven’t done it enough of Margaret is the only actress that when the show started I everybody else was just normal casting.
But I wrote the part of Teri with my fantasy actress Margaret Cho in mind — never thinking that it’s kind of the pie in the sky when you sit down and you’re looking at a blank paper and you’re like well who could I get for this role. So I really, really wanted Margaret for this part and obviously I had never met her before and everyday I kept hearing that she was considering it, she was considering it, she was considering it.
And coincidentally I had gone to a Jay Brannan concert and this was now six years ago and Margaret happened to be there and I literally and I’m not usually an aggressive kind of guy this way but I literally followed her out to her car. And said, “My name is Josh Berman, and I wrote the script.” And I’m sure she thought I was crazy but because she’s Margaret she’s so nice to everyone, she was super polite.
And she’s like well I don’t know anything about the script but I’ll ask my agents and sure enough she hadn’t read the script and the next day she got the script from her agents and it was probably sitting in the piles of material that she gets sent. And she responded to it, so if I get to write the Margaret show one day I would be thrilled it would all come full circle.
Cho: I really fell in love with the story, I really fell in love with this idea about this character who is used to living the life of the mind and suddenly she’s living the life of her body and then also sort of vice versa. Women area always trying to like decide whether to be beautiful or smart and here’s somebody that can have everything and I love that idea and I love the premise of the show and we’ve had a wonderful time on it together, working together so we want to make more.
Margaret, how does “Drop Dead Diva” parallel with your own coming-out story. And as somebody who’s openly bi-sexual, you address it in your stand up career, but do you think that you would ever want to play an openly gay character in a show?
Cho: Absolutely. I would love to play a queer character. I would love to use my life and my work as there’s so very few cinematic or ideas of what bisexuality is and I mean for sure I’m definitely bound to be out in any way that I can be. But unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of visibility for bisexual characters in movies. The only one that I could say would be that I know of would be like Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.”
But I would be proud to play queer in anything, I would be proud to be able to represent who I really am in my work. I do that in my stand up comedy and I talk about being out and I talk about how it would feel like it’s very important for people to acknowledge and be proud of themselves and so I’d be really grateful to do anything like that.
My coming-out story was really more different. I came out really young and then I was also like when I was younger I just assumed that I was a lesbian. And then later on, in my 20s, I realized that I had a lot of feelings for men and then being like a lesbian at that point and then realizing, “No, I like guys,” It’s really scary because you have an identity in the queer community and then it’s very hard to kind of go, “Well, I’m actually more than I thought I was.”
And then I think that in the gay community there is a lot of suspicion about you if you are bisexual because then people are like, “You’re just going back in the closet or you’re just you’re confused or something.” For bisexuals there’s a lot of distrust because we do operate and kind of universally in both arenas. And so I think that’s hard for people to grasp and I think it’s certainly easier for men than it is for women.
But my own coming-out story is really kind of a reverse coming out because I came out as gay first and then I realized my God no I’m actually kind of bi so it’s something that I’m still discovering and I think it’s something that’s probably fairly unusual.
Several baseball players have come out, but only after their baseball careers have ended. Was baseball always the sport you had in mind for this episode?
Berman: To me, baseball kind of represents an American pastime. I grew up collecting baseball cards. I played baseball. It’s the only sport I played. I was never very good at it, but I tried. My dad coached the team. I’m openly gay now, and to me that kind of had a personal resonance to kind of telling this kind of story.
I also thought it is interesting that no gay baseball players have come out while playing. I actually know Billy Bean who came out, and I read his book and I just think there’s something very iconic about a baseball player. And in writing this episode and attacking this issue, I thought it was the right sport to explore from the very beginning.
Also we had a consultant in the writer’s room while we were breaking this story — a guy name Sid Ziegler who is the president of Out Sports. And so we were able to ask him a lot of questions about sports and he agreed that this seemed to be right on target for a sports arena to conquer, to discuss/
Cho: I think it’s the almost all-American sport; it’s the most heterosexual sport. It can all be argued that hockey is maybe the most heterosexual sport. But I don’t know baseball is the most kind of like traditional kind of all-American, very family-oriented sport. So maybe that sort of lends itself to going, “OK, well here’s somebody who really meets the need, sort of needs to feel closeted or needs to like uphold this idea of heterosexuality.” So that sort of was what made sense to me in the story.
Berman: That was great Margaret I agree with everything Margaret just said.
There was a marriage equality reference in “Drop Dead Diva.” Is that something that’s very conscious when you’re creating and working on episodes to put these little subtle references in the dialogue?
Berman: To me, the show is about an underdog and it’s a show about a woman who feels isolated for the first time in her life. When Jane was Deb, everyone loved her and she didn’t give two thoughts about it. And now that she is different than the norm, people look at her differently and her journey her trajectory in the story is one of self-acceptance. So I think it’s still parallels what gay lesbian bi-sexual youth go through in their life and in their coming out process.
But although we don’t necessarily consciously say we are going to explore gay and lesbian themes in every episode there’s a natural parallel to do that. And I will say that throughout the season those are themes that are explored. We have a couple of very poignant themes later on in the season where although it’s not explicitly about a gay person there’s no doubt that anyone who is gay will relate to those scenes.
Margaret you referred to yourself recently as the prime minister to the gays, which is a correct title I would say. When you’re looking at roles and you’re looking at projects, do you really search out diversity?
Cho: No, I just take whatever I like. I don’t think about the impact or diversity or whatever. I just take things that I like and I enjoy that make me laugh that are like things that I would be proud to do. But like what I was referring to in like the prime minister to gays is that people ask me because Kathy Griffin is my really good friend and we enjoy a healthy rivalry in comedy. And she’s also been in “Drop Dead Diva.” And she’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful person and a great, great inspiration for me.
But people always put us against each other because they can’t imagine that we can actually be good friends. And they always say, “Who is the queen of the gays? Is it Kathy Griffin or are you who is the queen of the gays?”
And I think Kathy Griffin is the queen of the gays I’m the prime minister of the gays. See I actually get things done. I’m not a false monarchy. I’m the real deal.
So I make the laws, I make the policy, I go to the U.N., but Kathy is all of the pomp and circumstance in the showbiz and so we have different purposes in our sort of a trajectory in show business. And on LGBT representation but she is really, really important to the gay community as she is to me.
Berman: I just want to say something about Margaret. This is something that I didn’t know about Margaret until I met her because her persona is she’s a comedian. I think she’s one of the greatest comedic voices of our generation. But there’s also unlike most comedians that I’ve worked with there’s a genuine kindness and sweetness to Margaret and that was not meant to slam comedians this was meant to separate Margaret.
Where when she meets someone for the first time she is so genuine and I feel like people are just so open with her and you meet her and you can’t help but kind of share your story and she’s such a good listener that maybe as a prime minister versus a queen you have to listen to the people more. So I think it’s a great analogy because she really does care and it’s lovely to see someone this far in her career who still has that kindness to her.
Can you talk about working with Sandra Bernhard in “Drop Dead Diva”?
Cho: Isn’t she great? I love her.
Berman: Big shout-out to Sandra for this episode and we hope to bring her back. Margaret’s the one that brought her onto the show and we just absolutely love her and it couldn’t be a more appropriate episode for her.
Cho: Yes, it’s perfect I love her, thank you.
Josh, you said you started working on the episode before Jason Collins came out. Did you incorporate anything from real-life events into this episode or did you keep the script pretty much the same?
Berman: Oddly enough, only one line had to change. At one point there was a line in the script that no professional athlete of a major sport had come out had come out yet. And we had to change that to a professional baseball player after Jason. So that was kind of a great edit for me to make and it felt really good. What’s also nice is because we had already been writing this episode prior to Jason Collins. I believe we’re the first TV show to take on an issue in this way.
Certainly there’s been other storylines, other gay storylines even other gay athlete storylines, but our episode, it becomes informed by the Jason Collins situation. And I imagine that next season I hope there will be more shows about – that incorporate these themes but we’re first and I’m thrilled to be.
Can you talk about Derek Smith in the role of the gay athlete and what he brings to the role?
Berman: God, I love him, Derek is fantastic. We there are parts that come along every so often on “Drop Dead Diva” where I become obsessed with making sure I find the right actor. And I feel awful because we put the actors through the wringer and we brought Derek back for his audition three times because we wanted to make sure he was the right actor and he absolutely is.
And yes, he’s sweet and he’s sincere and he looks like a baseball player. We spent a lot of time talking about the role because we wanted to make sure that he understood the importance of who he was representing. And he does he brings all the gravitas, we would hope. I love him and he’s lovely.
Cho: He’s just so great because he really satisfies this idea of like who a public persona is for that baseball player but then also he has the depth as an actor to play the reality of somebody who’s trying to live this double life. And so that’s something that it’s hard to know, like there is like people who are like beautiful and then there’s people who are good actors but then there’s also somebody that’s got to be able to portray that duality, which I think he does extremely well.
Would you ever consider bringing an out character onto the cast?
Berman: It’s a fantastic question and absolutely we would consider bringing on a series regular who is gay. It hasn’t come up at this point way back in the development stage there was actually an early, early draft of the script and I’ve never said this before, but where Stacy was a gay man and that ended up changing for creative reasons. But I would love to bring out a gay character at some point.
Can you tell us what that felt like to know that “Drop Dead Diva” was coming back?
Berman: Yes, I love the question thank you. I think there’s nothing in the world like a “Drop Dead Diva” fan and it was truly the fans that brought us back to life. I was pretty devastated when we were canceled I still had a lot of stories I wanted to tell. Our ratings were strong, so we didn’t see it coming and now I will say that being back on the air and getting a second chance at life kind of like Deb did as she came back as Jane I think has reinvigorated the show.
I think it’s our best season ever, I know it’s our best season ever from our production values to how hard everyone’s working. I feel like our cast is bonded like no other cast in television. I still get emails from our cast members saying how great a script is and for a fifth season in to get those kind of emails they give me goose bumps I just feel so luck to come to work everyday.
Even from our PAs [production assistants] to our department heads everyone feels lucky to be back and we all want to give the viewers a really rewarding experience and the only thing I wish is I wish more people knew we were on still. Even just sitting down here, I went on Twitter right before this call began, and I got an email from a young fan saying, “How can I help bring the show back?” I said, “It is back watch it Sundays at 9 [p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time].”
So not enough people know that we’re back on TV now. I’d love for all of you guys to mention if possible that Lifetime has been great in the sense that they just put on the first four episodes of Season 5 on demand.
So if people have missed the first four episodes they can catch up either on demand or on iTunes and then obviously new episodes Sundays at 9 [p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time], but it’s great, thank you for that question.
Can you talk about Barbara Corcoran being on “Drop Dead Diva”?
Berman: She has been on … You can catch it on demand or on iTunes. She was awesome I loved her, she was someone that I’ve been a huge fan of from “Shark Tank,” and we wrote it into the script that she played herself and we sent her the script and she immediately signed on so it really fortuitous.
Margaret, you have come out talking about the fact that you have an open marriage. How does that work for you? It’s not for everyone, but do you have any advice for maybe a couple contemplating it?
Cho: I think you have to have a lot of communication. It’s a lot of work, but the fact is that that’s the right thing for me. I mean it’s because I’m queer, and it’s because I can’t imagine not having honesty in my relationship and sometimes people question the idea of open marriage.
But my marriage has lasted 51 times longer than Kim Kardashian’s. That’s saying not just 10 times longer, 20 times longer it’s 51 times longer. Not to be critical of her she’s wonderful, she’s obviously a great person and a “Drop Dead Diva” alum.
But people talk a lot about marriage, and they talk a lot about how gay marriage is not completely legal yet [in all 50 states]. And yet we have like celebrities getting married for short periods of time and I think marriage is really you’ve got to make it work.
You’re got to really actually communicate and actually have trust and honesty and truth and that’s real romance that’s real, real love if you can be honest about what you need and who you are with your partner. So I’m a full advocate in honesty and I think of marriage as really an important kind of marriage and something that has worked for me since the 90’s. I’m into it.
How do you think LGBT issues in “Drop Dead Diva” will affect your younger gay viewers? Do you think that that will help some young gay viewers who would like to play sports or do things like that but feel like they can’t because they are gay?
Cho: I think it’s really great. I think that people should be encouraged to be athletic and I think that for young gay men it’s just as important as to understand like how the body has so much potential and your body has so much beauty and potential. And even if you feel like you’re different from everybody else that you shouldn’t be robbed of your potential. And I think it’s an important thing.
I think it’s something that we should encourage all children to do to be athletic and also to encourage more of an understanding of how we can work together in groups in the team mentality. I think it’s always been in the lesbian community it’s always been a very big thing to be active in sports, because the women that I grew up with we were all really into finding a way to power and finding a way that we could be powerful in the world where we were often considered second class citizens.
So athleticism has a great importance in the gay community and I’ve seen it over the years being host of the Gay Games all over the world and kind of being part of the community and I don’t even want to talk about how many softball teams I’ve been on. So the importance of sports and the athleticism in the community can’t it can’t be underestimated. And I think that this episode really does a good job in promoting it for all of us.
Berman: I’d like to just comment on the question about younger gay men and women. What I find is I learn more from them than they learn from me. So many people coming up today in a new world are empowered at such a young age and have so much self-confidence. And they have communities that support them and I just love to see it.
I love to get tweets from young men and women who tell me that they’re gay and they love the show and the themes resonate for them and they’re rooting for it whether it’s a gay storyline or they’re rooting for Jane and Grace. And there’s an openness to today, whereas I think 10, 15, 20 years ago young people grew up with more shame. And I’m so thrilled to see the degree of shame seems to be lessening by the day.
Do you have any closing remarks?
Cho: I think people should love the show it’s going to be great.
Berman: We don’t yet have another Season 6, but we need to get our ratings up to make that happen. So anything you can do to help us would be great.
For more info: “Drop Dead Diva” website