August 02, 2006
Oh, What Heights She'll Hit On (And Off) With The CHO
On stage, Margaret Cho is an envelope pusher. Caustic and bawdy, she can be shocking and sexually explicit, take no political prisoners, or simply send up her Korean family with hilarious impressions. She's been repeatedly recognized with comedy awards as well as honors for her ardent support of gay rights from such groups as the ACLU. She's got a dizzying volume of efforts, achievements and interests under her belt . . . make that hip circlet. She recently launched her own line of belly dancing accessories.
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Off stage, Cho is anything but amped. At just 37, she's got a wisdom and laid back attitude most women don't find till well into their 40s. That's not surprising, since her career's been a precocious model of milestones reached and passed. At 16, Cho made her stand-up debut, taking the stage at The Rose & Thistle, a comedy club upstairs from her parent's San Francisco bookstore. Before she hit the ripe old age of 20, she'd won a comedy contest and a first prize opening for Jerry Seinfeld.
Cho hit the college circuit, racked up the most bookings in the market and was nominated for Campus Comedian of the Year. She was launched on late night by Arsenio Hall, appeared on prime time courtesy of none other than Bob Hope, and by the time she was 25, ABC lensed a sitcom based on her comedy riffs on family life.
A Korean reporter once asked her if she thought her Korean parents were ashamed of the things she said in her act. According to wikiquote, she replied, "I don't think they're ashamed because they're Korean. I think any parent would be ashamed."
Creative differences curtailed continuation of "All American Girl." Networks being what they are, the focus was placed on ethnicity and Cho complained of watered-down content. After just one season, the program was cancelled.
Testament to an indefatigable spirit, Cho took what many in the biz might see as a failure and turned it into success, chronicling the sitcom experience in her one woman off-Broadway show I'm the One That I Want. The film version of the show became the highest grossing film in history in proportion to the number of prints. In 1999, I'm The One That I Want toured the US and gave birth to a best-selling book.
Her next show, Notorious C.H.O. in 2001, ended with a triumphant sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. Two years later her Revolution tour sold out as well, grossing over $4 million. The New York Times extolled Cho's next tour, State of Emergency, as "murderously funny."
By then, her comedy's scathing focus on the Bush administration sparked no small measure of controversy, including the threat of picketing by conservatives. The website Right Wing news lists one of her remarks about Bush among its 40 most obnoxious quotes of 2004. The likes of Maureen Dowd, Al Gore and Howard Dean join her on the site.
Political commentary dominated Margaret's mien in 2005. Posters for her Assassin tour showed her posed a la the famed photo of Patty Hearst, a microphone where the automatic weapon would be. She authored and released a second book, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, essays on global politics, world topics and human rights.
A lifelong supporter of gay rights, Cho credits the assassination of Harvey Milk as a formative experience in her youth. The self-proclaimed "fag hag" has often been asked why, as a heterosexual, she is so passionate about gay rights. She likens it to white students who marched with Martin Luther King in the 60s and is bemused by those who don't get it. That's right. Speaking of what seems incongruous to some, Cho is bemused, rather than enraged. She's mellowed.
And how does a mellower Margaret progress from blistering political fulmination? (She called the last presidential campaign "the biggest dick contest in history.")
Why, belly dancing, of course.
This year Cho took up the ancient art, crafting both a custom line of accessories and producing The Sensuous Woman, a gender-bending burlesque/comedy/belly dancing showcase she hopes to host in varied locales across the country. Dubbed "the gayest show you could have with women stripping in it," the reception was "tremendous" when it debuted on Fire Island.
Given Cho's career path and its many disparate directions detailed herein, what can the audience expect when she takes the stage at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center this Saturday night? How about, "all of the above?"
Cho's not on tour per se. She's writing her next show and those in attendance this weekend will have the chance to see it in its earliest stages. It's an amalgam of all popular past focal points, as well as new material.
Relaxing in L.A. last week, Cho pointed out that comedians don't enjoy the same luxury musicians do. They can't perfect their material in a studio and need the live feedback from an audience. Lucky ticket holders this weekend will be among select audiences given the chance to help form the comedian's next direction.
She's been embraced by fans to the left, excoriated by critics to the right. Whatever happens next, those following her career know -- ahem! -- the Cho must go on.
For tickets and information, call the WHBPAC box office at 288-1500.