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San Francisco According to Comedian Margaret Cho

San Francisco According to Comedian Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho, known for her politically and socially charged stand-up comedy, was born and grew up in San Francisco. She’s currently traveling the country with her new one-woman show Psycho.

What was it like growing up in San Francisco?

It was an exciting place. When I was a kid, a lot of my friends and I were going to see Harvey Milk. It was really a magical time in the ’70s. Being there in the ’80s was really different because of AIDS.

Tell us about the bookstore your dad owned on Polk Street.

It was a gay bookstore with a lot of gay literature and art and memoir. Armistead Maupin did a book signing there, so it was books like “Tales of the City.” I grew up there at Polk and California streets. The one gay neighborhood that everyone knows is the Castro, but before, Polk Street was a very big gay neighborhood.

Where did you start doing comedy?

I started performing when I was just 14. I was doing comedy in class and signing up for open mics, and I just never stopped. There was a place called the Holy City Zoo, which was a big deal. That’s where Robin Williams used to be the doorman, and he would always come back later on. There was the improv at Other Cafe, which was a major, major place. The Punchline was the most important place.

Margaret Cho on stage
Margaret Cho on stage (©Lindsey Byrnes)

How has the city influenced your work?

It’s such a progressive city, and it always has been. And it’s also a city for new frontiers.

Tell us about your new album and your new show.

It’s called Psycho. Actually the full title is There’s No I in Team, But There Is a Cho in Psycho, and it’s about the craziness of the world and the craziness that is the passing of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, people I loved very, very much. It’s kind of ranting and raving about a lot of things, about the injustice and violence that we’re seeing. It’s talking about race and society. It covers a lot of different subjects, but it’s very edgy and it’s very fun. It’s all new material, and some of it’s really hard-hitting.

What do you miss about the city?

I love Haight Street. I love to do my San Francisco homeless outreach called #BeRobin, which is dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams and his philanthropy. It’s a really beautiful experience. I have a lot invested in the city emotionally, and I want to see things improve.

What are your favorite hangouts?

I love Kate’s Kitchen in the Lower Haight. They have breakfast every morning. My favorite is the Cafe International across the street for coffee and eating and just hanging out. If you want to get to the heart of the Lower Haight, just go there.

What neighborhoods do you like to explore?

I really like Hayes Valley. Haight Street’s always really fun, just for shopping and people-watching and food. Nothing beats a Mission burrito. You’ve got to have one of those when you’re there. Taqueria La Cumbre at 16th and Valencia is absolutely delicious.

Where can visitors find great comedy or music?

My wonderful flat mate and “daughter” comedian Kate Willett runs a show on Thursdays at Lost Weekend Video, and it’s really always the greatest people. I’ve done little secret shows there. There are always great shows happening at The Fillmore. I just sang there with Ozomatli. I love the acoustics.

You were a friend of Robin Williams, another local. What might readers not know about him?

For every project that he was a part of, he made sure he had a clause in his contracts that stipulated that a certain percentage of the crew had to be homeless workers. And he spoke in front of Congress to help get more homeless people rights. He brought homelessness to the forefront as a social issue that we need to deal with.

Margaret Cho’s Perfect San Francisco Day

The Church of 8 Wheels
The Church of 8 Wheels (©Aimee Bruckner)


I’d start off with something relaxing like Kabuki Springs & Spa in Japantown. On Tuesdays, couples are allowed. It’s a beautiful way to relax and detox. They have saunas, wonderful massages and give beautiful salt scrubs, but I just love it for the hot and cold pools.


I’d go splurge at the House of Prime Rib, which is such a crazy great restaurant on Van Ness Avenue. It’s very old-school San Francisco.


I always want to go to the Church of 8 Wheels roller disco that’s on Fillmore Street near Oak Street in an old church. You can go in there and do your cardio as it was meant to be done, on wheels, with disco. Or I’d go to a show at the fabulous Punchline, where I really learned how to do comedy. There are always amazing people coming through there. Cobb’s Comedy Club is also great.