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Grammy Nominee Margaret Cho Recalls San Francisco Childhood

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- On Sunday night, KPIX 5 will broadcast the 55th annual Grammy Awards. Among the nominees for Best Comedy Album is homegrown comedienne Margaret Cho.

She would be thrilled to win. A woman comedienne hasn't won the prestigious award, said Cho, in nearly three decades.

"This is something that I've wanted for a long time," Cho said with a laugh.

Cho is nominated for "Cho Dependent – Live in Concert."

On the album, she riffs on everything from Sarah Palin, gay politics, to Asian stereotypes.

What fuels Cho's raunchy, passionate and quirky sense of humor? Look no further than her childhood. In fact, her new concert tour is called "Mother", and it is based on her upbringing by a traditional Korean mother.

Cho was born in San Francisco in 1968. She grew up in three places, but primarily near Ocean Beach in the never sunny Sunset District.

"When I go to England," Cho exclaimed, "I'm like Oh My God! This is exactly a big country that is made up of the Sunset District."

Cho went to grammar school in the Haight district, where aging hippies, dope smokers, drag queens and punk rockers mixed. The punk rockers made a big impression.

"They actually did put safety pins in their cheeks and stuff and it was so dangerous and exciting and for a kid it's really alarming to see that," she said.

At school, another influence entered her life: bullies. Cho was tormented. At an early age, she knew she was different and most likely gay.

"That's sort of why I started doing comedy early on cause I just didn't want to be a child anymore," said Cho.

Cho's parents owned a bookstore called Paperback Traffic on Polk Street. They served a vibrant, growing gay community. Tattooed punk rockers worked there and her parents were accepting and tolerant. These experiences made a lasting impression on the young Margaret.

She remembers seeing gay men dress just like the Village People. But then, amidst all the exuberance and freedom, the AIDS epidemic changed everything.

"This whole place being turned into a ghost town by this disease so that that was my childhood was really watching how AIDS really ravaged San Francisco," Cho said.

But Cho marveled at how San Francisco and its citizens rose to the occasion and in her mind and heart became a model for tolerance and independent thought.

She said San Francisco is her ancestral home and even though she now lives in Southern California, she visits when she can.

"It's the greatest," said Cho.

Cho faces tough competition on Sunday. Kathy Griffin is also nominated in the same category. Cho said it would be great if either of them won, since it would be a great honor.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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