Comedian Margaret Cho and I have a few things in common. We’re both 43 years, born in the Bay Area in California and we’re both Asian American. I remember watching her one-season show All-American Girl back in 1994.
For the past 15 years, my life has been, in the most positive of ways, dominated by caring for my now-teenage autistic son Charlie; by being a mother. Cho is promoting a new standup show, MOTHER!, which she says will “[offer] up an untraditional look at motherhood and how we look at maternal figures and strong women in queer culture.” The show is, she says, probably her “edgiest show to date, filled with riotous observations on race, drugs, sexuality – gay-straight-everything in between, celebrity, culture, politics – nothing is sacred – least of all this MOTHER.”
On an appearance in May on Bravo TV’s “Watch What Happens Live” talk show with host Andy Cohen, Cho noted that MOTHER! is dedicated to her own mother and that she addresses her own desires to be a mother in it, along with her fears at becoming pregnant in her 40s. As noted on Fox News, Cho then made some statements that, call me over-sensitive — I am a mother — were simply uncalled for. Said Cho:
“My period comes like twice a month. My eggs are jumping ship. Seriously, they’re like, ‘the last one out’s a retard.”
“I get worried about that, as an older woman, I don’t necessarily want to have a retard.”
Cohen reportedly said “you can’t say that” after which Cho said “You want your kid to have the best chance at life. I’m trying [to get pregnant]. It’s hard for a lesbian.”
Shortly afterwards, Cho said that she was “sorry”:
…I’m so sorry for my insanely offensive comments on Watch What Happens Live. I certainly didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and this is a good lesson for me to make sure I’m aware of the power of negative speech. Please forgive my ignorance as I have little experience with children and mothers and I’m often likely to act very childish myself. All my love and apologies to anyone who may have been hurt by my statements and my inexcusable remarks.
While I am very glad that Cho issued this apology and wish her all the best in her efforts to have a child, I still feel troubled by the implications of her words. Ellen Seidman of Love That Max points out how deeply unfunny Cho is:
Even if I didn’t have a kid who was cognitively impaired, I know I still wouldn’t get what’s amusing. I am weary of comedians who use the word “retard” as a crutch in their routines. (Hel-lo, Tracy Morgan and others.) Sure, comedians sling around other slurs, too. But I say that if you make people with special needs a punchline, you have a humor disability.
Cho’s comments also grate on my ears as the mother of an Asian American son who is disabled. For years, Asian Americans have bristled at the stereotype of being members of a “model minority” who routinely get straight A’s, get into great colleges and never get into trouble. Cho’s work as a comedian has, indeed, attempted to question and critique such stereotypes. But her comments about not “necessarily want[ing] to have a retard” play right back into the model minority stereotype. The pressures on Asian American kids to be successful academically and to be smart are intense. As exemplified in Cho’s comments, they are deeply rooted.
Cho’s excuse for saying that she doesn’t “necessarily want to have a retard” is that she has “little experience with children and mothers and I’m often likely to act very childish myself.” One additional lesson I hope she might take time to consider is that the “r-word” is hateful speech not only to children with disabilities, mothers and fathers. The word hurts just as much when said in reference to individuals with disabilities of every age. Ending the use of the r-word is about creating more understanding of individuals of disabilities of all ages, whom we are all doing our best to help have the “best chance at life.”
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