Events: Cho-Zen One

Comic Margaret Cho promotes equal rights with stand-up comedy

Margaret Cho takes noprisoners when it comes to her stand-up comedy.

"For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution. And our revolution is long overdue!"

At the closing of her last one-woman tour-de-force, Notorious C.H.O., Margaret Cho embodied the spirit of self-help gurus like Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil and, more recently, some rather interesting political candidates in California. "I urge you to love yourself without reservation and each other without restraint," she preached. "Unless you're into leather. Then by all means use restraints."

Margaret Cho for Governor of California? How would this L.A. resident stand up against Ahhnold, the movie star, Angelyne, the porn queen, and Larry Flynt, "the smut peddler who cares"?

"I'm watching it all unfold, and it's like The Gong Show," Cho says of the gubernatorial shenanigans in her home state. "It reminds me of 'The Myth California Pageant' in Santa Cruz.

It's this huge anti-beauty contest spoof with drag queens and total freaks."

Perhaps Cho should consider throwing her own hat into the ring. The 34-year-old comic was recently honored by the National Organization for Women, GLAAD, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and several others for her work in promoting equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. She was also included in Entertainment Weekly's "100 Most Creative People in Entertainment."

About to embark on the second and final leg of her Revolution Tour, Cho will continue her descent farther into the joy of bodily functions (not for the squeamish), her mother, the axis of evil, bartering sex for household chores and other things that aren't appropriate for print.

"It'll be more overtly political this time," Cho promises. "There will be more emotion in general. My audiences have become more familiar with my material. I'm just going deeper now."

Cho entered the stand-up comedy trenches while still in high school in San Francisco. One of her first regular gigs was at a club above her parents' bookstore. Her previous concert film, I'm the One That I Want, chronicled her experiences as the star of the 1994 sitcom All-American Girl, the first to feature an Asian-American TV family. Network brass so intimidated her about her weight that she lost 30 pounds in two weeks and burst a kidney. When her show was cancelled after one season, she spiraled into a haze of alcohol, drugs and sex to mask the pain of what she felt was an abysmal failure.

Now clean, sober and at a comfortable weight, Cho's journey to self-esteem has become one of the cornerstones of her comedy.

"I finally realized that I literally thought about nothing else for 20 years, and that made me sick," Cho says. "Now some days I don't feel as beautiful as others, but I don't care anymore."

What Cho does care about is her work — reaching the masses with her take-no-prisoners brand of comedy, which is often delivered in shades of deep blue. Her fiercely devoted following of gay, straight and all ethnic and gender persuasions have been flocking to her shows in droves.

"The same type of audience with the same frame of mind from each community comes to see me, and it's great. People are very relaxed with me now," she says.

But for Cho, unable to rest on her laughing laurels, the work never stops. "The initial rush of discovering the germ of this thing you're going to do, that's the greatest. But the editing and re-writing takes the biggest part of your heart."

Cho is critical of President Bush's recent stance against gay marriage.

"He's totally crossing the borders of church and state, quoting scripture, then asking lawyers to 'codify' it and do his job!" Cho spits. "He's inept, inarticulate and has totally lost the gay vote."

Cho's "Bush-whacking" has only just begun. "Why are we wasting so much human life on something we don't really understand?" she demands to know, referring to the war in Iraq and its aftermath. "There were no weapons of mass destruction — just a sling shot and some rocks!"

Cho would like to throw a few rocks at the media. "The backlash against the Dixie Chicks is a perfect example of what I'm talking about," she continues. "That's not the people. That's just stupid right-wing radio DJs and TV doing mass promotion and showing one image of a guy stomping on a CD. I think it gave the Dixie Chicks a broader range of fans!"

As far as her own critics are concerned, Cho could care less. "I don't even give a shit enough to give a shit. That's too reactionary."

Cho's reaction softens when asked to share what being a stand-up performer means to her now. She was deeply moved by a fan who recently died of AIDS. Cho visited him in the hospital, giving him her scarf as a gift. The man insisted on wearing it from that moment on. When she attended the funeral, the scarf had been laid upon his ashes.

"It was very humbling," Cho says quietly. "You can never anticipate what you're going to get from your efforts to touch people."

MARGARET CHO appears at the Taft Theatre on Sept. 10.

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