"The Cho Show": The new "All-American" family
We all know Margaret Cho inside and out, but who are the queens behind the comedic superstar? We get to find out on “The Cho Show,” VH1's new reality sitcom. The Asian-American version of Kathy Griffin's "My Life on the D-List" features Cho's "Glam Squad," an A-list team of wardrobe, hair and make-up stylists, as well as her fabulous real-girl assistant. Gay.com chatted with this fierce foursome and asked them how they keep the "All-American Girl" looking and feeling her best without tearing each other apart.
John Stapleton, 39, has worked with Pam Anderson, The Go-Go's, Jennifer Holiday, Fergie, Michelle Williams, Saffron Burrows, and Robert Downey Jr.
How did you get involved with the show?
Well, I helped write a project for Margaret, called 'This is Hollywood,' because as well as being a make-up artist, I'm also a writer, and helped work on the pilot with Executive Producer Rico Martinez. When that show didn't go, Rico called and said 'Wanna be involved in this?' I thought it would be a great opportunity to do some make-up and be funny... But with that bitch around, it's kinda hard.
What is Margaret like as a client?
What I love about her that makes me laugh when I'm doing her make-up is someone says to her, 'Margaret, you look so beautiful,' and even though she can't see herself cause we're doing on the fly stuff and there's no mirror, she'll say, 'Oh my god, it's beautiful.' She jumps on board with anything. She's the easiest client to work for, because she's so secure and trusting that everything will come out great. She has a certain style that looks really good on her, the smoky eye and the nude lip. She's a confident woman, and it's always a love fest, and my ego soars.
How would you differentiate yourself from the Glam Squad aka the other bitches on the show?
Wow, as far as when on the show, it's interesting because it's set up as sort of an Improv. We all go at it, take our bites, and throw out our best jokes... but I tend to be more of a listener. When I get the opportunity to throw something out, I will. But I think I am more of an observer first, and then I'll jump in. John Blaine is really quiet. He's really shy on the show, but once he has a couple drinks, he gets real loud. Margaret described Charlie like he lit a stick of dynamite and needs to get you dressed before it goes off. He's super sweet and a darling.
Who's the top queen in the house?
Well, I think there's a pecking order in any situation, where you have your alpha dog. In many situations, I'll roll over, and say, 'It's all you, go ahead.' With us, we're very careful about being fair with each other. It's weird because it's a reality show, but many of the situations are scripted. But we try to be diplomatic with sharing lines. We're one unit on the show, where Selene and Margaret are the stars, and we're co-stars. We all wanna be seen, and it feels great to deliver a funny line, but I don't see it as greedy. We have known each other for years, and each of us has full careers. We mostly want to see Margaret succeed because she's a lovely person and an advocate for our community. She's the alpha dog and I'm there as a willing puppy.
What will gays get out of the show?
We're all different types of people, and Margaret, like all of us, faces the struggle of being herself and being ok with that. Ok, so she's not the perfect size four, but she looks good with all the right accoutrement. It's about because good enough as you are, finding support from your friends when it can be difficult to bring things back to your family -- the things they don't wanna hear, finding humor about things that are cliche, and just laughing through life and living it. There are tender moments where if you feel like you didn't belong, because you're too skinny or the one on the team that no one picked, well, we have a clubhouse and we want you to join. You might be fucked up, but so are we. I've never met a more fair or honest person. Being a member of her club is an honor.
John Blaine, 38, has worked with everyone from 90's supermodels to Pam Anderson, Paris Hilton, Ben Affleck and Luke Wilson.
How did you get involved with the show?
I got a call from Rico Martinez. He has known us for years, and when I met Margaret and her husband, they were lovely. It was very organic.
What is it like working with Margaret Cho on the show?
This is my first opportunity to be on this side of the camera, because for the last 20 years, I was on the other side. For the first episode I was very nervous, so I talked to Margaret. She told me to be yourself, and say whatever you want. We had fun on every episode, but the funniest is the one where we go get a colonic. It was definitely a new experience. I don't think I ever laughed as hard as that, because I've never been in a room where someone sticks something up your butt that out in the open. On another episode, Margaret does a sex tape, and it's a riot. We were on the outside, and just hearing them, we laughed so hard. What's special about it is that it's genuine. We went into it not knowing each other, but we became friendly really quickly. I had a really good time doing it. Even when we got mad, we were not upset for very long.
What's she like as a client?
Well, she's a very nice lady to start off with. She's extremely professional and a joy to work with. There are not a lot of high-maintenance issues with her. She trusts everyone around her, and is very low key which is great. But bitch needs to learn to not be so tender-headed -- and she's been using extensions for years. I've never honestly come across a client so tender-headed. It's like, 'OK Margaret, today we're putting in extensions, are you ready?' Then you have to break out the Aleve.
What's it like working with the other bitches on the show?
All of us are gay and approach our gaydom differently. The three of us span the whole gay world, as far as attitudes. We each have particular personalities. I come off as the spoiled bitch, Charlie is cuddly and slutty, and John is very sensible. I think that out of us three, he's extremely witty. He and Selene have a line for everything.
Do you compete with each other?
Not at all. Well, it's hard to say, because Charlie and I have been friends since we were 18, and he tries to beat me in everything in life, but I always win. John is sweet and giving, so he never wants to come into conflict. We're like brothers. One reason the show works well is because no one tries to get one over on the other. We look after each other like family.
What can straights learn from the show?
People who haven't grown up with gay people have a base of hatred that comes from being uneducated and not exposed. The idea that this type of person is this or that comes from fear. But the more you watch the show, the less fear you'll have. I think it'll broaden a lot of people's minds. For people from the Midwest, it will show that we're human and just like everybody else, but more funny and more stylish.
Charlie Altuna, 37, has dressed such celebrities as Diana Ross, Christina Aguilera, Selma Hayek, Charlize Theron, Bruce Willis, and Will Smith.
How did you get involved with the show?
Well, I worked with Margaret in the past. She used to shop at a store I worked at called 'Eros' when I was 24. After that I styled her for 'Interview' magazine, and then I lost track of her. Then Rico Martinez brought me on the show.
What's it like working with Margaret on and off the show?
With Margaret, it's like you're hanging out with your best friend, as if she's never been on TV. She's one of the most real celebrities I've ever worked with. Even before we started shooting, when we sat down for our first meeting, we became friends instantly. It was the weirdest thing, but you know when you have those instant connections? It's like that. It's crazy, but really, really nice. We hang out a lot; we went to [Los Angeles gay bar] The Spotlight together and hung out with hookers, and we went to the True Colors show together. It's not only a work thing. Margaret really wants to go out and do things. It's so refreshing.
What will people take from the show?
Oh god, a million things. It's such a great outlet for a bunch of stuff that Margaret has to say, a lot of trans issues and gay issues -- there's definitely a lot of that. Margaret's whole thing about everyone being beautiful, I'm getting chills right now just thinking about it. Watching the trailer makes me want to cry. Everything that happens has a good outcome. It's positive for gay or straight people. For VH1 to have us three fags on, queening out, I'm so excited to be a part of it.
How would you compare yourself to the other bitches, personality-wise?
Well, I think I'm a bit crazier. I'm a total loud mouth. They can't shut me up.
John is a bitch and Stapleton is hilarious. No, I would be a bear, Stapleton would be the total alternative tattooed Silver Lake type of guy, and John Blaine would be the Eurotrash Asian twink.
So it sounds like y'all compete with each other?
Never. We've known each other for a super long time. Being in this industry, one day you can be working with Madonna and another day you're going to Coinstar, cashing coins because you're broke. Sometimes John Stapleton's working on visuals for Elton John and I might not be working. But you get kinda numb to it, like he's just on a job. I get more jealous of jeans that John got. Not really, because he's a total skinny bitch.
Selene Luna, 36, is a stand-up comic, and an entertainment industry veteran from numerous film and TV projects.
How did you and Margaret Cho start working together?
Margaret and I have been working in various capacities for two to three years, and the assistant position, that's very recent. It's been a win/win situation. I have been a performer doing my thing and we have a lot of friends in common. I don't have big success quite yet, so I still need a day job for now and then, and she offered me to be her assistant, providing me with a day job. It doesn't feel like a job, though, because so much of it is hanging out. But we really roll like that.
So what do you actually do as her assistant on the show?
It's non-stop shenanigans. It's a lot of just me and Margaret, because she does sound off a lot. I'm her confidante, so there are a lot of personal conversations that affect her. It's hard to describe it as a job, because it's us hanging out. I try to keep things organized and schedule stuff for her, but it's a sister-woman mother-daughter relationship. That's exactly why I love being her assistant. My job is to make her life easier, and when you genuinely love someone, it's the little things that make things easier for her sometimes. She's a workaholic, and hasn't had a day off since 2003, and she's so low-maintenance. Sometimes I want her to yell or throw a cell phone at me, because she makes life too easy. So the least I can do is provide a relaxing outlet and a little comedy relief.
Now Selene, I know you'll tell me the truth. What's it like working with the Glam Squad, cause I know those bitches lied to me. They told me that John Stapleton was the quiet one, and after watching the first episode, I found him to be the one that can't shut up for two seconds.
I certainly wouldn't classify him as the most quiet. That was probably how those queens know how to translate someone having an indoor voice.
OK, so you set the record gay for me about each of them.
Oh my god, it's so difficult because I love each of them so much. Each guy is so completely unique. John Stapleton is one of the most amazingly talented artists. He's a writer, painter, sculptor, and make-up artist. He is like the golden child, not to mention the fact that he's totally hot. Charlie is my little cuddle bud. I wanna be his lap dog. He's a sweetie puppy dog, with a fierce sense of style. He knows what me and Margaret like and dresses us so perfectly. Now John Blaine, that bitch is a hair genius, that's his gift to the world. With hair, John Blaine challenges me and I'm open to the creativity.
How will "The Cho Show" with its multi-cultural and sexual cast of characters inspire the gays and other under-represented minorities?
We have a future episode that takes place in San Francisco where we go to Trannyshack and get to meet that fine-ass Gavin Newsom. This week's episode is pretty gay, because Margaret puts on her own beauty pageant. It was really funny when we were doing it, and I hope it translates, and gays will get that.
And I'm Mexican, straight up, and in my lifetime, I don't think I've ever seen a show that reflects the true population of the U.S. But this is a program that real people can relate to in this melting pot we live in. This is what the population of this country really looks like. People will relate to that diversity.
Margaret Cho seems to see beauty in all different types of people. What makes her beautiful to you?
There's so much about her that makes her beautiful. I'm getting so choked up formulating my response. She's so incredibly big-hearted and generous. Just being around her, there's this unspoken peace. Being around her is calming. I'm a big spazz and she takes me down a lot. She has a great perspective on life. She's had so many challenges and done a lot on her own. That really inspires me. She's like my Yoda. She's my mentor, sister, girlfriend, wife, life partner. I started doing Improv like 11-years-ago. But I was too insecure, young and dumb to continue. She sparked a fire in me, and is getting me back into it. Margaret's made me fall in love with the craft all over again.
Now, that's truly beautiful.
Check out "The Cho Show" each Thursday at 11p.m. ET/PT on VH1.