By COLLEEN CREAMER
For The Nashville City Paper
My editor threw down a challenge. Review, she said, Margaret Cho’s new film without being blue. I went through my short list of Latin words to see if I could them get by her. “No,” she said, “This is a family paper.” Nonetheless, Notorious C.H.O. opens today at Green Hills, like it or not.
Like it I did. As a matter of fact, I screamed out loud and often. My Southern-born boyfriend cringed, but eventually howled—from the kitchen.
If ever there was a female, sexually ambivalent, Korean answer to fellow comedy outlaw Richard Pryor, it’s Margaret Cho. The film starts out cutting back and forth between Cho’s flagrantly loyal, and mostly gay, audience and an interview with her polite Asian parents.
This should be good, one muses. Cho’s “Asian” voice is a hysterical mix of Suzy Wong and Edith Piaf. She cuts to the chase with a bit about Sept. 11. “You find out a lot about yourself in a time of crisis,” Cho says. “We all have to do our part.” Of her tithing, she purports it was not water she had given the workers at Ground Zero.
This is not a first date movie unless you’re from Fire Island. An eating disorder, bad and good sex, self-loathing and addictions all factor into her act. There’s the too feminine, and consequently ineffective, dominatrix, the dumb white everyman, and a bit about the difficulty in finding that coveted area made famous by Ernst Graffenberg. “Take a right at the Shell Station,” she says, turning to show varying angles of approach.
The nice thing about Cho’s act is that it’s not mean. There’s a hard-won sweetness to her humor. She has grown to love her chubbiness and, consequently, doesn’t find it easy to take cheap shots. It’s unclear what team she bats for sexually because it shouldn’t matter; She’s already been stereotyped.
She recalls wanting to be in show biz early on and believing only parts as extras or hookers would be available to her. “Me love you long time,” she says.
If Cho’s acid humor burns a wide swath, you get the sense it’s a set up for a good landing. She ends with an effective diatribe on the billion dollar marketing industry that exists on suffocating what little self-esteem the less than perfect have in order to get them to part with their money. But it’s as if we are hearing this for the first time. Cho manages to unify those who feel totally lost with those who just feel marginally lost, and by doing so she elevates the shock of her act to something transcendent.
“Our revolution is long overdue,” she says. “I urge you all to love yourselves without reservation and to love each other without restriction, unless, of course, you’re into leather.”
After years of trying to fit into a world that refuses to make room for a square peg, Cho, it seems, has found her place in the world.
Welcome home, Margaret Cho. We love you long time.
–From The City Paper