When the producers of her short-lived sitcom “All-American Girl” told Margaret Cho to lose weight, the Korean-American comic launched a starvation diet so severe it landed her in the hospital.
Cho, known for her politically charged comedy and sassy satire, has struggled with body image issues for decades. She’s battled bulimia, anorexia and substance abuse.
Now, thanks to a renewed commitment to healthy living, “I feel better than when I was 20,” she said.
“I feel a definite sense of peace and satisfaction and joy with my body, which is intensely gratifying,” Cho, 41, said. “I’m really happy, and I’m lucky that I can feel so good in my skin at a time when most people don’t.”
Born and raised in San Francisco, Cho started performing standup comedy at age 16.
She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, quickly establishing herself as a fixture on the college comedy circuit.
Her bittersweet experience on ABC’s “All-American Girl,” which ran for one season in 1994 and 1995, inspired the off-Broadway one-woman show “I’m the One That I Want.” That 1999 show led in turn to a national comedy tour, a best-selling book and a popular concert documentary.
“Notorious C.H.O.” came in 2001, followed by the comedy tours “Revolution,” “State of Emergency,” “Assassin” and “Beautiful.” In between, Cho participated in the True Colors Tour; created and starred in “The Sensuous Woman,” an off-Broadway variety show featuring vaudeville comedy and burlesque; and published a collection of essays, “I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight.”
She also made her first foray into reality television with VH1’s “The Cho Show” in 2008.
Cho’s current stand-up comedy tour, “Cho Dependent,” deals with such hot-button issues as gay rights and immigration.
She’s also promoting her new album, also called “Cho Dependent,” which features musical collaborations with artists including Fiona Apple, Ani DiFranco, Grant Lee Phillips, Tommy Chong and Tegan and Sara.
“They all helped me tremendously to become a better musician,” said Cho, describing her collaborators as a mix of new acquaintances and old friends. “They also taught me everything I know about music.”
With tracks like “Lice,” “Lesbian Escalation” and “Calling in Stoned,” “Cho Dependent” toes the line between naughty novelty album and lush, honest pop record.
“That’s what I really wanted. It had to sound amazing,” said Cho, who sings and plays guitar on the album.
The comedian said she’s happy to be returning to the road after so much time spent working on other projects — including a recent stint on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
“The show gave me a huge head start in being physically active and learning to take care of myself and my body,” Cho said about “Dancing,” which pairs celebrities with professional dancers.
Although Cho loved cutting a rug with dance partner Louis Van Amstel, she had difficulty finding her stride on the air. The couple was eliminated Oct. 5 after performing a spirited samba in rainbow-colored costumes.
“I actually am a good dancer, but I could never replicate what I could do in rehearsal on the show,” said Cho, who has extensive experience in burlesque and belly dancing. “I could not get over the weird stage fright. I was so frustrated when I went out on the floor.”
Cho also dealt with the trappings of reality-show fame.
“I thought it was weird being chased by paparazzi because I have in show business so long,” she said. “There were always weird pictures of me coming out of the rehearsal studio. The worse you look, the more they get paid, and I can take a bad photo.”
As much as she enjoyed being a “Dancing” contestant, Cho said being an audience member is just as fun.
“I just gloat because I don’t have to be on it,” she said. “It’s a tough show to be on and a tough show to stay on.”
Cho has had better luck with Lifetime’s “Drop Dead Diva,” about a vapid model who is brought back to life in the body of an intelligent, overweight attorney. She plays loyal assistant Terri Lee.
Cho said the show, renewed for a third season, has “a great message.”
“It’s really about feeling good in your body,” she said. “A lot of women, if they aren’t a certain size, feel invisible. That’s why I think the show is so vital.”
Cho said she’s enjoying her journey as a seasoned entertainer.
“I just get to do so many different fun things,” Cho said. “That to me if the ultimate, when you can choose and do all different kinds of work.”