Cho's parents, Young-Hie and Seung-Hoon Cho, ran a bookstore on San Francisco's Polk Street. Her father writes joke books as well as a newspaper column in Seoul, South Korea. After Cho expressed an interest in performance, she auditioned and was accepted into the San Francisco School of the Arts, a performing arts high school. While at the school, she became involved with the school's improvisational comedy group with Sam Rockwell.
Cho has expressed subsequent regret for much of what transpired during the production of the episodes of the show.
The show was quickly canceled after suffering from poor ratings, and the effect of major content changes over the course of its single season.
Following the show's 1995 cancellation, Cho became addicted to drugs including alcohol. As detailed in her 2002 autobiography, I'm the One That I Want, in 1995, her substance abuse so degraded a performance in Monroe, Louisiana, that she was booed off the stage by 800 college students.
In 2003, she made another stand-up film, Revolution, released in 2004.
In late 2004, Cho began work on her first self-written and starring film role. The movie is called, Bam Bam and Celeste, and is a low-budget comedy about a "fag hag" and her gay best friend. The film co-stars Cho's friend and co-touring act Bruce Daniels. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, in 2005.
In 2005, Cho started promoting and touring with her new show, Assassin. The show became her fourth live concert film, and premiered on the gay and lesbian premium cable network Here! TV, in September 2005. In this DVD, she notably includes herself when talking about gays, saying, "we," and, "our community." Posters for Assassin feature Cho in paratrooper gear holding a microphone in the style of an automatic rifle, a reference to the infamous 1974 photo of heiress Patty Hearst.
Also in 2005, Cho released her second book, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, a compilation of essays and prose about global politics, human rights and other topical issues. Cho launched a national book tour in support of the collection. An audio reading of the book was also released. A DVD of a live taping of the Assassin tour was released in conjunction with the book.
Cho launched "The Sensuous Woman burlesque-style variety show tour in Los Angeles, California on August 10, 2007 with tour dates scheduled through November 3, as of October 10. Past and scheduled tour stops after Los Angeles are Chicago, Illinois and New York, New York. On August 10, 2007 the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed the show, Cho's work, key events in her personal life and characterized the show as, "In fact, as bawdy and bad-behaving as the cast gets, the whole show feels more like a crazy family reunion than a performance.
The premiere performance of Cho's "Beautiful" tour was on February 28, 2008 in Sydney, Australia as part of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. Cho was also the Chief of Parade for the festival's annual parade along Oxford Street on March 1. During her stay in Sydney, Cho was filmed shopping for parade outfits in a drag store with Kathy Griffin and Cyndi Lauper for Griffin's reality series Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List. The episode featuring Cho aired on June 26, 2008.
Cho has her own reality show The Cho Show, which premiered on VH1 on August 21, 2008. Cho and her family and friends will also appear in an episode of NBC's new series Celebrity Family Feud which premiered on June 24, 2008.
Cho's comedy routines are often explicit. She has covered substance abuse, eating disorders, her bisexuality and fondness for gay men, and Asian-American stereotypes, among other subjects, in her stand up.
The poster for her first one-woman show (and film), I'm the One That I Want, featured her holding her arms out as if gripping a steering wheel but with her index finger extended, an allusion to a long joke she tells involving the rides home after using digital rectal stimulation while performing fellatio in order to expedite her partner's orgasm.
Cho also became well known for portraying her relationship with her mother in her work, particularly in imitating her mother's heavily accented speech. Her depictions of "Mommy" became a popular part of her routine.
A substantial segment of her material and advocacy addressed gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. When San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom directed that San Francisco's city hall issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco in 2004 (until reversed by the state supreme court), Cho started Love is Love is Love, a website promoting the legalization of gay marriage in the United States.
Cho has also been outspoken about her dislike of current President George W. Bush. She began to draw intense fire from conservatives over her fiercely anti-Bush commentary; a live performance in Houston, Texas was threatened with picketing. Although protesters never showed up, she held a counter protest outside the club until security told her she had to go inside.
In 2004, Cho was performing at a corporate gig in a hotel when, after ten minutes, her microphone was cut off and a band was instructed to begin playing. Cho claims this was because the manager of the hotel was offended by anti-Bush-administration comments. Cho's payment, which was issued by way of check directly to a non-profit organization, a defense fund for the West Memphis Three, initially bounced but was eventually honored.
In July 2004 during the Democratic National Convention, Cho was un-invited to speak at a Human Rights Campaign/National Stonewall Democrats fundraiser out of the fear that her comments might cause controversy. In November 2005, she campaigned to pardon Stanley "Tookie" Williams, an early Crips gang leader, for his death sentence for four murders. On December 13, 2005, after exhausting all forms of appeal, Williams was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison, California.
She emceed the multi-artist True Colors Tour, which traveled through 15 cities in the United States and Canada. The tour, sponsored by the Logo channel, began on June 8, 2007. Headlined by Cyndi Lauper, the tour also included Debbie Harry, Erasure, The Gossip, Rufus Wainwright, The Dresden Dolls, The MisShapes, Rosie O'Donnell, Indigo Girls, The Cliks and other special guests. Profits from the tour helped to benefit the Human Rights Campaign as well as PFLAG and The Matthew Shepard Foundation.
On January 25, 2008, Cho officially gave her support to Illinois Senator Barack Obama for the nomination on the Democratic ticket for the 2008 U.S. presidential race. After Republican Presidential candidate John McCain announced his running-mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, Cho said of Palin, "I think [Palin] is the worst thing to happen to America since 9-11.
In 2004, Cho took up bellydancing and started her own line of bellydancing accessories (sold through her website). She also had extensive tattooing done to cover the majority of her back. She co-wrote and starred in a sitcom pilot based around the "Mommy" character of her stand-up, but it was not picked up. She began releasing comedic rap animated videos on her website under the moniker "M.C. M.C." (MC Margaret Cho) including the tracks "Finger" and "Roofies".
In April 2006, Cho started "The Sensuous Woman," a monthly burlesque/comedy/bellydancing show at Largo, a restaurant in California. In July 2006, she directed the music video for the song "Former Miss Ontario" by The Music Lovers. In October of that year, she appeared as a dominatrix in the Liam Kyle Sullivan music video for the song "Text Message Breakup and has a cameo appearance in Sullivan's "Let Me Borrow That Top" clip.
In November 2006, Cho joined the board of Good Vibrations. She co-wrote a rap song with fellow comedian Diana Yanez entitled "My Puss", which was recorded by the duo as "Maureen and Angela"; she then appeared in and directed the music video for the song. In December 2006, Cho appeared on the Sci Fi Channel (United States)'s miniseries The Lost Room as Suzie Kang, a tough, chain-smoking independent operator who will sell information to anyone about the motel room's Objects — for the right price.
In 2007, Cho appeared in The Dresden Dolls' video of their song "Shores of California", which was MCed by Amanda Palmer and in The Cliks' video for "Eyes in the Back of My Head", in which she played Lucas Silveira's lover. She also voiced a character, Condie Ling, on the Logo animated series Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World. Her episodes began airing in 2007.
Recently on an episode of The Hour with host George Stroumboulopoulos, actress/comedian Cho mentioned that she loved Broken Social Scene and wishes to be a part of the band (offering to play the rainstick or the triangle). On air, Stroumboulopoulos called Kevin Drew from his cellphone and Cho made her request to join the band via his voicemail.
Cho began getting major tattoo work done in 2006 and has become an enthusiast; as of March 2007 she estimates that 15-20% of herself is currently tattooed. She was interviewed by comedian Dawn French in her television program Girls Who Do Comedy, which profiled thirty female comedians.