Margaret Cho isn’t a Buddhist (as far as we know), but that doesn’t stop her from using profound Buddhist ideas to make her comedy freaking hilarious. In a new interview, above (warning: NSFW language), with The Village Voice, Cho calls herself “the Pema Chödrön of butthole comedy” and describes her comedy in terms of suffering, healing, and breathing. If you think that sounds like tonglen — the Buddhist practice of breathing in the suffering of others and breathing out compassion — that might be because Cho has actually discussed it before, as Andrea Miller recounted in a 2013 Q&A. In that conversation, the comedian said that beauty is peace, tranquility, compassion, and kindness. “Laughing is an expression of beauty because it can’t be faked. Something is funny when it’s deeply truthful.”
Many Buddhist teachers would agree. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught that humor is about appreciating the wholeness and frustration of daily life at the same time. That yields an attitude of openness and lightheartedness. As we recounted in our essay on humor in Buddhism, “Wise Fools“, Trungpa once said “If there were no humor, it wouldn’t be Buddhism.”
In this video, Cho says about her own comedy:
“It’s just trying to use my pain to heal others. Because that’s all I have — the knowledge of my own suffering, and so I can amplify that and hopefully make it somewhat entertaining so that other people who might feel the same way feel free.
I definitely don’t want to invite suffering into my life in order to create, but somehow none of us are immune to it. We all take on a certain amount. It’s inevitable in the human experience.
Sometimes, when I perform, I feel like people have a release, and that it is helpful to them, spiritually, somehow. I kind of think of myself as a yoga instructor. If I can just get you to breathe for an hour and a half, that’s all I ask.
I’m like the Pema Chödrön of butthole comedy. I think of my third eye as a butthole that just opens and closes.
I hope that people breath, and they take in laughter and oxygen and ideas and joy and freedom. And that’s, to me, is the most valuable gift I can be given, is for people to breathe.