Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, November 30, 2001


Harsh humor flows
from the Cho-sen

Nothing is sacred when comedian
Margaret Cho rips life for some laughs

By Tim Ryan

It's a bit difficult to imagine that the innocent, little-girl voice on the other end of the phone recently joked on stage about doing her part for the New York rescue efforts by performing oral sex on the construction workers at Ground Zero.

"I knew it was going to be funny and people would crack up," says Margaret Cho, in Montreal before her shows here. "Performers have to talk about Sept. 11 because of its timeliness and enormity so people can find a way to deal with this tragedy and alleviate some of the sorrow.

"That's part of my job."

Margaret Cho, who's been called the Korean-American Richard Pryor, performs her latest creation, "Notorious C.H.O.," tomorrow at the Blaisdell Arena.

A recent description of her as a "walking bundle of contradictions" is "right on," says Cho, who has spent half of her 32 years as a stand-up comedian.

Off stage, she is shy, sensitive and intelligent. But ask her if she also is bisexual, raunchy, vulgar, and rude, and Cho answers quickly.

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, but that's my onstage persona," Cho insists. "Everyone has all spectrums of emotion. I just to tend to express them all rather than not expressing one side. I celebrate everything."

Margaret Cho in 'The Notorious C.H.O.'

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $25 to $45; standing room only $15 at any Ticket Plus outlet
Call: 526-4400

The least of her "real personality" is the persona she expresses onstage.

"It's the only time I'm like that; the stage lets me be that way."

Cho's history has been chronicled many times. In 1995, poor ratings and public backlash caused ABC to cancel her sitcom "All-American Girl," the first network TV show to feature an Asian-American family. Cho fell apart after the show's failure.

"I was usually so drunk onstage I would have to hold the mic stand to keep the room from spinning," she recalled in her memoir, published earlier this year. "Waking up with a hangover was a regular, normal thing."

Cho also gained weight and used drugs. Her performances suffered to the point she was booed off the stage in Monroe, La.

Miraculously, Cho pulled herself up. In 1999 she had a huge hit with her one-woman show "I'm the One That I Want" and today has her hands full with several projects, including a new book, a new show on PBS and a pending children's cartoon. It doesn't mean she's giving up the stage.

"It's just branching out to expand, not instead of," she says. "I write a lot so I'm coordinating all the writings because some of it isn't appropriate for stand up."

For Cho, nothing is sacred: boyfriends, girlfriends, abortions, weight problems, drug and alcohol abuse. Embarrassing missteps from adolescence are now anecdotes; painful relationships are extended jokes.

At a New York City performance Cho candidly talked about having sex with a female midget, then said, "And then it started to get really weird."

"No, nothing really is off-limits but there is a time limit on when some things are relevant," she says. "To me, it's just self-esteem and social activism mixed with really good (penis) jokes."

She says in "Notorious": "Every (penis) is like a snowflake -- totally unique."

About the only ethnic-tinged laughs in the show come when Cho lampoons the Korean accent of a clerk at a video-porn store.

"Beaver Fever? You late with Beaver Fever? Come look at woman! She like Beaver Fever!"

Cho knows she doesn't match the self-image the mainstream Asian-American community wants to see.

"I'm sorry Korea has me to represent it," she said in her "Drunk with Power" comedy album.

In her memoir, Cho says attacks on her come from not fitting the Asian stereotype.

"I didn't play violin. I didn't f--- Woody Allen," she wrote.

Nevertheless, Cho always seems to have a place in Hawaii, and she loves this state.

"It's really, really Asia America and I love a place that sells sushi at 7-Eleven," she says.

Cho shares her Los Angeles home with her beloved Ralph, a 4-year-old German shepherd mix.

"I just bought a purple couch but Ralph thinks it's his," Cho says. "He doesn't like when other people sit on it, including me."

And where did the name Ralph come from?

Cho acts incredulous.

"From Ralph Fiennes in 'The English Patient!'"

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