The most star-studded day on the local comedy calendar this fall has to be Sept. 23. Great talent will be competing for your attention from various stages across the Twin Cities on the very same night.
Jackie Kashian, whose material is so smart that it can make your head hurt, is back at Acme Comedy Co., the Minneapolis club where her career initially took off. "The King of Queens" fans will want to head to nearby State Theatre to see if star Kevin James, who is on his Irregardless Tour, is just as relatable in person as he is on screen.
And there's Dave Chappelle. Despite the controversy that swirls around him, he remains immensely popular — and unpredictable. For his last arena show in the area, he brought along surprise guests Justin Bieber and Usher.
Just a few blocks from Chappelle's show at Xcel Energy Center, another marquee name will be at work at the Fitzgerald Theater. Margaret Cho has been doing stand-up for 40 years, breaking numerous barriers along the way. Her sitcom, "All-American Girl," may have been canceled after just one season, but it laid the groundwork for everything from "Fresh Off the Boat" to "Crazy Rich Asians."
Cho, 54, spoke by phone last month about her career — and Chappelle — as she drove to the doctor's office in Los Angeles. It was a rare moment where she wasn't with her dog, Lucia, a Chihuahua and Dalmatian mix who will be in the wings during Cho's St. Paul gig.
Q: I guess you've really made it when you can travel with your dog.
A: It's great that I get to take her on tour with me. It's very lavish compared to the early days when I would rent a car and drive from one side of the country to the other, doing shows along the way.
Q: Is there any part of you that misses that scrappy period?
A: Absolutely. At the time, it was a real gamble, whether this career would work out. although I had a fairly good level of success right out of my teens. But we were all struggling. Everyone shared hotel rooms or apartments, did shows together.
For one TV show, Janeane Garofalo, Karen Kilgariff and I could only afford one dress, so we bought one that fit us all and shared it. We all wore it a little bit differently on stage. I don't know who ended up with that dress. It should probably be in the Comedy Museum.
Q: Was there a period in comedy that was your favorite?
A: I think the '90s, when we created alternative comedy. When grunge was happening in music, comedy was having its own grunge experience. "The Ben Stiller Show" and "Mr. Show" were really important and you can see the lineage in today's sketch shows like Tim & Eric. Janeane was really influential. I idolized her and wanted to be just like her.
Q: Don't downplay your own contributions. Can you see your own influence on today's comics?
A: When I started out, it was very homogeneous. Very white, very male. What was good about it was that being different made it easier to get stage time. They would remember you because no one looked like you.
I love the current Asian American comics like Ali Wong, Ronny Chieng, Sabrina Wu, Sherry Cola, Bowen Yang. They're my children. I was so young when I started this long history with comedy and they got to see someone that looked like me leading this very exciting life. I think my greatest achievement is inspiring a whole generation of comedians.
Q: In terms of diversity, is there still room for improvement?
A: I would like to see more queerness on stage. More transgender and gender-fluid voices.
Q: Dave Chappelle will be performing at the same time you are, just down the street. He's taken a lot of heat from the transgender community for some of his material. What's your take?
A: I would like to hear from more trans comedians. Society is changing and their voices need to be a part of stand-up.
It's interesting with Dave. That issue has come to define him. There are so many things about his comedy that can be talked about, but that's the one issue he has to keep fighting. The controversy does him a disservice because there's a lot more that he's saying.
Q: So you don't have any problem with people going to see his act?
A: I don't have a problem with anyone going to see anything. I think there's value in seeing an artist that doesn't necessarily share your same point of view. Maybe you walk out feeling even more strongly about your position.
Q: Did you imagine starting out that all these years later, stand-up would still be a major part of your life?
A: I think even way back then I knew I would be doing this my entire life. I love the art form. Every day I'm doing something in service of my craft. Last night, I did a show at a bar. I just did a couple sets at the Comedy Store. When I'm not on stage, I'm uploading videos on YouTube or TikTok. You have to engage constantly to stay really good.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23
Where: Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul
Tickets: $35-$150, first-avenue.com