Margaret Cho's career took off in the early 1990s as an opening act for Jerry Seinfeld and as a frequent guest on "The Arsenio Hall Show," but after her ABC sitcom, "All-American Girl," was canceled in 1995, she went into a downward spiral that included alcohol abuse and self-doubt. She bounced back with the 1999 one-woman show, "I'm the One That I Want," which was made into a film, and continues to tour as well as advocate for gay rights.

After a decade of success with their Canadian cult hit TV show and a short writing stint on "Saturday Night Live," Kids in the Hall disbanded in the mid-'90s. Cast member Dave Foley quit, both in frustration over the group's infighting and to star in the NBC sitcom "News Radio." The troupe's five members settled their differences in 2000 and now tour every four years, bringing their Monty Python-style absurdism to packed houses.

We talked to Foley and Cho about their up-and-down journeys.

Dave Foley

Q What do your audiences look like these days? Are they old fans or new ones?

A They're mostly septagenarians. We have a lot of walkers and scooters, a lot of handicapped people.

Q Do you have to worry about your own advancing age? I heard that Scott Thompson pulled a calf muscle during the first show. Are there physical bits you can't do anymore?

A We have artificial limbs to replace broken body parts, but we don't use anesthetics because we're Canadian.

Q You guys were doing absurdist humor before it was hip. Now there are countless acts like that all over cable TV. That must be gratifying to you.

A I think we feel like victims of copyright infringement. I'm pretty sure we have a patent on it. Actually, it's nice to think how we influenced people. I think a lot of groups would cite us as inspiration.

Q When you're dealing with the ridiculous, it must be harder to determine what will work and what won't. How do you know?

A I think it's just the stuff that naturally makes us laugh the hardest. The ideas we come up with are not parodies. We steered away from that deliberately, because we were big SCTV fans and why compete with them on celebrity impressions?

Q Do you do any impressions?

A One. I was doing a Christmas special for Canadian TV in which we did a parody of "The Christmas Carol." Dave Thomas was the ghost of Christmas Specials of the Past and took me to a Bing Crosby special. Joe Flaherty played Crosby and I did David Bowie. It was pretty good. If I had been on 'Saturday Night Live,' that would probably have been my only character.

Q How do you decide among the five of you what's going to make the cut?

A It's about trusting each other. There's a piece that Bruce [McCulloch] brought in and right up to the first performance, I thought it was going to bomb. I told him right up front that I did not get it. But people have loved it. In the old days, we would have fought to the death about it.

Q Have you ever brought in anything that met great resistance?

A Back when we were doing the TV show, I had an idea called 'Girly Drinks Drunk,' which was about a nondrinker who kept getting pressure from his boss to have a drink. He finally tried a sweet cocktail and he became a chronic alcoholic with these bizarre girly drinks with little umbrellas in them and crazy names. It became one of the most popular sketches on the show, but it took me two years straight of fighting for it to get it on the air.

Q Do you need conflict to create good comedy?

A To a certain extent, conflict is necessary. It makes you hone your ideas. Debate makes you smarter. If you just agree on everything, you don't push yourself. But at a certain point, it becomes destructive. We were not physically violent, but the verbal attacks and insulting got very personal. There was a point where it just got too unpleasant. It was easiest to walk away because I had 'NewsRadio.'

Q During 'NewsRadio,' you got a chance to be with Paul Westerberg in the studio. What was that like?

A I was a huge Replacements fan. When Paul was guesting on 'The Larry Sanders Show,' Maura Tierney and I got out of rehearsals early and drove over to that studio to watch the taping. After we saw him play, I said we should go over and say hi. Turns out Paul was a big Kids in the Hall fan. A little while later, he was recording "Suicaine Gratification" with Don Was in Los Angeles and he called me up and invited me to come in and listen to some demos.

Q Shortly after that, the Kids got back together. What prompted that?

A For five years, we didn't do anything together. Then Kevin [McDonald] moved to L.A. and we started hanging out again. We ran into Scott and talked to Bruce and then in 2000, we decided to see if we could still work together and be happy. The conflict is still there, but it's at a healthy level. No matter how rough things have been between us over the years, there's never been a time when they didn't make me laugh. That's the thing that has held us together, this shared comic vision. We're no longer conjoined twins. We're just siblings. The product that the five of us put out together gives me the most satisfaction.

Margaret Cho

Q Network television has changed quite a bit since 'All-American Girl.' Do you think it would have worked today?

A Things have changed pretty dramatically, but I imagine it would still be difficult to find my voice. My point of view is so hard to explain. It's very hard to have it filtered through a staff of writers. That's why I'm excited about my new reality show for VH1.

Q Why would you want to be part of the same genre as Flavor Flav and Ozzy Osbourne?

A Well, it's more of a hybrid show that allows me to do what I want to do. It doesn't look like anything else on TV. I get to bring my perspective into a lot of things. It's not evasive. I remember when I was doing the sitcom, I tried to get one joke about vibrators past the censors over and over again and I couldn't. On the new show, no one gets in the way.

Q You turn 40 this year. Aren't you supposed to get more sophisticated as you get older?

A Worse, it's getting worse. My current show is probably the filthiest I've ever done. Things that are super private, like sexuality, is so funny to me.

Q Were you more cautious when you were younger?

A Not cautious. It's just that you really don't know what sex is until you're 40. I never thought about age when I was young. I was never considered the pretty girl, even though I'm very pretty. Age only matters when you're super hot. I know one woman who was super beautiful when she was young, like a beauty queen, and she aged super fast and got angry at men because they treated her differently. No one treats me differently. In fact, I'm legitimately more attractive now than I ever was.

Q You've gotten into tattoos the last five years. How is that part of feeling better about yourself?

A In a way, I want to celebrate my body and celebrate that it's changing. Plus, I'm lazy and I don't want to put on makeup and jewelry. About 30 to 40 percent of my body is now tattooed.

Q A lot of people these days think of you more as an advocate for gay rights than a comedian. Are you all right with that?

A I think that's fine. I don't think about it very much. I'm political about certain things, but at the same time, I don't want to get too far away from being an entertainer. Gay people are my audience. They have meant everything to me. I don't even know what a heterosexual crowd would be like. I've never seen one. Oh, wait. I did go to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert once. Turns out they're fans of mine.

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431