By Alison Tracy Photos by Kimber Price
April 12, 2015
Before Maria Bamford and before Amy Schumer, there was Margaret Cho. A brutally honest, unapologetic oversharer who isn’t afraid to make fat jokes about herself, tell you about the time a diet made her shit her pants, and drag out her family’s skeletons and parade them around for us all to enjoy.
As a kid, I used to binge watch stand up specials on Comedy Central. I had so many favorite comedians, but didn’t truly identify with many until seeing Cho’s special. Seeing a woman being as snarky and clever as her male counterparts made a huge impression on me as a child, and I used to re-watch her special just to see the moment where she makes fun of pretentious commercials, and her mother shrilly screeching her Korean name when she was younger. It was so important to me to see a woman talk bluntly about the fallacies of womanhood and how ridiculous and objectifying it is to try to achieve being “ladylike” at all times.
While Cho has always been socially outspoken and undaunted by holding a mirror up to the business she works in; over time, she has become somewhat of a social justice warrior. She uses comedy as a platform to talk about things she is genuinely passionate about such as feminism, gay rights, self-love and being a person of color in America. She has been very vocal about how her mocking impersonations of Kim Jong II on American television is her own form of protest against the current political state of North Korea, an open rebellion to the message of compulsory conformity that silences so many North Koreans.
On April 9, I was able to catch her in her in the flesh, in the first of three shows at the Comedy Zone. Opening for Cho was Selene Luna, a sharp female comedian who had some biting jokes about the shortcomings of being a little person, and what it was like to be an atheist who is completely freaked out by fake ghosts on ghost hunting shows. As a fan of the ludicrous yet entertaining show, Ghost Adventures, I know exactly what she means. Honestly, who doesn’t want to watch a show about a guy in 20 year old Jnco’s and a chain wallet stumbling around in the dark while his friends get freaked out by a paper ball blown through the hall? That is prime unintentional comedy.
Selene’s set had a somber moment, where she talked about being born in Mexico, and how antiquated medicine was in Mexico at the time. The doctors actually told her parents that she may never walk, or live past the age of 20. However, Selene Luna is doing just fine at the age of 43, and giving audiences everywhere the mental image of a pompous S&M blowhard walking into party city for their gimp mask.
When Cho came out, clad in leather pants and a t-shirt, she came out with the aura of a Comedy Queen. Sometimes comedians talk about their lack of chemistry and charm in bits, but in order to get a whole room on your side and laughing with you, there has to be a certain amount of that in your act, or you’re just an alienating sideshow like Tiny Tim with your ukulele making everyone slightly uncomfortable after five minutes. This is not an issue for Cho. She immediately asked at the start of her set for all of the Asian people in the crowd to raise their hands, relieved that she wasn’t the only Asian person in the room. She used this as a segway to give props to the currently running sitcom, “Fresh Off the Boat,” which she said is only the second Asian American comedy to ever be on television.
It’s hard to really describe how her set went from there, as it took a lot of turns and trails of thought. She talked at length about losing her “father of comedy” Robin Williams, and how being so wrapped up in her grief she barely had time to process losing Joan Rivers, who she considered to be her “mother of comedy.” When talking about Robin Williams, she spoke with great admiration of his charity work for the homeless. She also started working with the homeless at length. This somehow ended up in her shitting her pants again, multiple times. She spanned subjects from the potential legalization of marijuana in North Carolina, to inheriting Anna Nicole Smith’s pill hoard, to wishing she could pull off being a really butch lesbian.
Overall Cho maintained the oversharing that makes her a truly skilled comedian. She manages to mingle in self-deprecation and socially bold statements with such fluidity that you feel more like you just had a conversation with someone rather watching a comedy set full of punchlines. For a comedian that has been in the profession for 22 years, she is still very much on her game and definitely someone you should go out of your way to see if given the opportunity.