4 min

Battle him of the republic

Comedic firebrand demands new voices be heard

MEOWS LITTLE RED BOOK. The kitten is ready to explode more social and political myths in Margaret Cho's new live show Cho Revolution. Credit: Xtra files

It’s 8am, Los Angeles time, and Margaret Cho, a comedian famous for speaking her mind, is wandering through her apartment tripping over household pets and unspecified debris, coffee in hand, politics on the brain.

The politics part is not surprising, since, at the moment, Cho is in the process of plotting her Cho Revolution, her latest tour, which kicked off Mar 1 in Chicago.

The motto for this revolution? “Wake up! Speak up!”

“There aren’t enough voices out there,” Cho charges, between sips and stumbles. “You have to get your voice out there.”

Words of wisdom from the notoriously notorious Cho, high priestess of the underrepresented, who has made a name for herself by standing up and speaking out.

Born in 1968, Cho started her career as a stand up comedian when she was 16 years old, performing at a comedy club called the Rose And Thistle, right above the bookstore her parents ran in San Francisco. Rumour has it she would run up and do her set during breaks at the store.

It wasn’t long before her brassy sense of humour got her noticed. She won comedy contests and acclaim and eventually moved to Los Angeles, where the funny people go to get money and attention. Cho hit the college circuit, got television bookings, and more acclaim. She won the American Comedy Award for best female in 1994. The same year, she was given her own sitcom, All American Girl, cancelled in 1995.

What followed, in addition to several successful film roles, was undoubtedly a period of emotional turmoil, and the kind of personal struggle you go through when you’re on top of the world and then, suddenly, too fat to play yourself on TV. Fortunately for us – and Cho – this period also yielded Cho’s smash-hit one-woman show I’m The One That I Want. Cho’s off-Broadway triumph, later made into a film and book, mixed stand up with the story of her life before and after All American Girl. I’m The One That I Want was not only a critical success but a political/feminist victory as well. People may remember the show for the infamous “assmaster” bit (part of Cho’s brilliant parody of her mother), but this monologue was also a clever and unique way to expose and critique the hazardous body politic imposed on women in show business and in general.

Cho took the bold step of naming names in her rant against the Hollywood anti-cellulite machine, and the risk paid off. The show and tour set records and received rave reviews. The film, which Cho produced, made more money per print, according to her website, than any movie in history (with only nine prints it grossed $1,300,000).

Cho proved with I’m The One That I Want that not only was she an incredible comic, but that she was a social commentator as well, a woman who understood the power of a good blow job joke for getting a political message across.

Of course, Cho can thank her fag hag connections for her more than adequate blowjob savvy. In past performances, Cho has defined herself as “slutty,” which any good queer can appreciate. And Cho has received a number of awards from US groups for promoting queer rights.

Given Cho’s flare for social commentary, it’s not shocking that Cho has given her current tour a revolutionary zing with the current state of world affairs. An avid CNN fan, Cho admits to being deep into politics at the moment. At a time when US citizens are realizing that everything is political, she says, it’s high time we heard a woman talk about politics.

“After 9/11,” says Cho, “you only ever heard men’s opinions.”

And Cho has some opinions of her own, especially about the impending war against Iraq. “This whole country does not want to go to war. All the people in this country who want to go to war aren’t sacrificing a thing. It’s the people who need the army, for a job, that make the sacrifice.”

Not all the politics to be discussed in Cho Revolution are White House related. In addition to the axis of evil, Cho also plans to talk about her travels through Thailand’s red light district, bartering sex for household chores, the joy of bodily functions, her ex-boyfriend, and of course, her world-famous mother, who made her video interview debut on the release of the Notorious Cho video from Cho’s 2002 tour.

When asked why she thought people responded so strongly to impressions of her mother, Cho laughs. “She’s funny!”

But why the universal appeal, spawning millions of Korean-mother answering machine jokes across North America? Cho notes the gap that exists between all parents and their children. “[When you’re younger] I think your parents are foreign to you. I used to get mad at my parents for being Korean.”

This, of course, would be before Cho matured and realized her parents were a comedic gold mine. Today, a large part of the success of Cho’s humour rests in her ability to play with the racial stereotypes involved in her identity as a Korean-American.

Standing on the stage of New York’s Carnegie Hall, during her Notorious Cho tour, Cho grinned at the audience and said, “I’m pretty sure I’m the first Korean-American woman who has ever stood on this stage without a violin.”

This is not to say that Cho doesn’t still struggle under the weight of racial stereotypes. Cho admits that she is a “show business anomaly,” still, to a degree, limited by her race. In some cases it’s as if there has to be an explanation for her being on TV.

“I get called on a lot when they need someone to talk about Korea,” she notes, “PETA [People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals] asked me to talk about the issue of Koreans eating dogs.”


“People mean well,” Cho sighs, “it’s just ignorance.”

This kind of ignorance suggests how much we are in need of a revolution. And Cho is there to lead it, not as someone who can explain the Korean phenomenon, but someone who can dispel the theory that there is a Korean phenomenon that needs explaining.

Plus, what better excuse to have a Che Guevara-inspired poster made of yourself? It’s pretty stunning, I admit to Cho, and it makes great computer wallpaper. But what exactly would be the uniform of this stand up, be heard, speak out revolution? Army fatigues? Would that go over with her stylish fans?

“Oh I think, like, gunny sack dresses, and big ’80s [Debbie] Gibson hair. Or like Little House On The Prairie. Half-Pint style.”

And the anthem?

“Something from Queen, definitely: (She’s A) ‘Killer Queen,’ or ‘Fat Bottom Girls.'”

Power to the people.



7pm & 9:45pm. Fri, Apr 4.

Convocation Hall.

31 King’s College Circle.

(416) 870-8000.