Margaret Cho, that beacon of outspoken, free-minded hilarity, is on tour again with her newest show, Assassin. Rave reviews from the cities the tour has visited so far say Assassin sparked roaring laughter among the crowds, ridiculing President Bush and the Christian right more than ever. The fan mail that’s been pouring in since the tour began in March shows that her fan base supports her enthusiastically, like never before, and offsets the hate mail she’s also received. The tour will have gone to 26 cities by the end of June, and tickets are available through www.margaretcho.com.
A champion of gay rights, racial equality, and feminism, Cho dishes her humor with gusto, power, and little restraint. She’s a role model to gays, lesbians, “fag hags”, Asian Americans, women, and others who admire her candor and courage. Her voice cuts through sexual and racial taboos, and gives her audience more than a comedy show – it’s often a cathartic experience. “While you’re laughing, you’re learning,” says Danny Scheie, Professor of Theater Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz. It’s never been more true than when Cho is on stage.
Cho doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some fan letters tell how a few offended audience members, who probably didn’t realize what they were getting into when they bought tickets, left theaters early. Cho’s humor ventures into vulgar and sexually explicit areas at times. “Don’t go there,” squeamish audience members may be thinking. Cho might respond, “I live there,” as she stated in her hilarious 2003 show, Revolution. Others might see her banter as over-the-top liberal exhibition with few subtleties. Those who “get it” are often people who have experienced marginalization or discrimination, and others who recognize and are bothered by these problems. They belly laugh at Cho’s performances, which offer release from pent-up anger and irritation.
Her CD of Revolution was nominated for a Grammy as best comedy album of the year, but on television, Cho is best known for her short-lived 1994 sitcom, American Girl, the first Asian American sitcom on national television. The show was welcomed with delight by Asian Americans and supporters of minorities in the media, but it was cancelled by executives who disagreed about whether American Girl was too Asian or not Asian enough.
Cho revealed her feelings about the end of the sitcom in her first post-American Girl show, the 1999 tour I’m the One That I Want. Toward the end, her frank but funny reminiscing runs the gamut from her subsequent depression to remembering how media executives pressured her to lose weight for the show. (“Isn’t it true that [the show’s producers] asked you to lose weight to play the part of yourself?” she recalls a reporter asking.) In the aftermath of American Girl‘s demise, Cho made an expedition into movie acting. The experience gave her more comedic cannon fodder: the difference between the movie roles that have traditionally been available to Asian American women (“Welcome to owa country, Mista Bond”) and the roles Cho would like to play. She’s had a couple of small movie parts, but never held a starring role.
Nevertheless, her career has gone a long way, with three successful shows on DVD, and all that is about to change. Last year saw production of her first fiction screenplay, Bam Bam and Celeste, which wrapped up its principal photography in March 2005, just in time for her to go on the road with Assassin. The movie’s two main characters, played by Cho and her friend Bruce Daniels (her opening act for stand-up shows), escape the Midwest on a road trip to New York City, confronting sexism, racism, homophobia, and their high school nemeses who operate the famous Salon Mirage. The movie is directed by Lorene Machado, and produced by Salty Features and Cho Taussig Productions.
In addition, Cho is writing her first book since her best-selling debut, I’m the One That I Want, of 1994. The new book is to be published by Riverhead, a division of Penguin Books, sometime this year.