By Scott Kearnan
“The sex-capade, and a subsequent tangent on pop culture divas…went over well with the packed audience, who was hooting and hollering its collective approval. Her political jabs, peppered throughout the show, were among her best and the show one of her consistently funniest.”
There’s a certain formula that comes with a Margaret Cho comedy show: combine one part sex talk, a teaspoon of potty humor, a hefty dollop of politically incorrect leftist opining, and a few shout-outs to the LGBT community (Cho is married to a man but identifies as “queer”). The result? A seemingly sold-out show at The Orpheum on April 5, a rabid fan base that hangs on her every word, and – if history is any indicator – a DVD special that will allow you to freeze frame any number of Cho’s uproariously contorted facial expressions (now in HD!) for maximum hilarity.
It’s a solid formula; in danger of growing old, true. But it works every time. “Beautiful” is no exception, a solid return to form after Cho’s last national tour of original material, 2004’s “State of Emergency.” That outing found Cho in fiercely political territory, and there’s no doubt that the comedienne is often at her best when she’s fired up over one hot topic or another. But the election-year immediacy of “Emergency” channeled Cho’s (admittedly righteous) indignation over the State of the Union into a rancorous, shrewish show that abandoned comedy for campaigning. Infrequently funny, it often threatened to turn her usually saucy soapbox into a bitter bed of nails.
Maybe it’s the impending departure of President George W. Bush (Cho’s least favorite, favorite target), maybe it’s her barely contained excitement over not one, but two groundbreaking Democratic nominees, but Cho is in better spirits with “Beautiful.” There are politics, to be sure; but this time, it seems the girl just wants to have fun, musing on about sexuality, body image and stereotypes, but with a much more lighthearted approach.
In typical form, Cho opened with a detailed description of her latest medical sojourn to the nether-regions, a G-Shot: collagen injections provided for G-Spot enhancement.
“It looks like Cape Cod,” said Cho of the hooked fingers needed to access the pleasure zone, one of several dashes of local color splashed throughout.
The sex-capade, and a subsequent tangent on pop culture divas – Paris, Lindsay and Britney all earned a moment of derision or, in Brit’s case, defense – went over well with the packed audience, who was hooting and hollering its collective approval even before the obligatory series of “Asian Laundromat” jokes.
Still, it was as if with bated breath that the audience waited for the bomb to drop: when, oh when, would the Patron Saint of Gay Liberalism drop her first political bomb? Would the first spit of venom be reserved for Bush? Larry Craig? Eliot Spitzer?
Don’t worry; they all got a turn to roast.
But most surprising was how seamlessly Cho wove her hot-button humor throughout the course of her show, peppering the personal with the political rather than – as in shows past – abruptly switching gears and letting the engine fall out. Compared to past tours I’ve witnessed, the audience seemed appreciative of the approach. It’s as if Cho finally recognized that the faithful flock in attendance are of a generally like mind, and that there’s no need to preach to the converted. Rather then lecture at us, she finally laughed with us.
Of course, her comments were long on LGBT humor: she called Craigslist the “Penny Saver” of online hook-up sites, confessed her attraction to butch lesbians (“The kind that roll their own tampons,” she gushed), and scoffed at the Catholic Church for trying to run out the gays (“Girl, please… not with all that stained glass.”)
And she elicited one of the biggest laughs of the evening with one of her bawdiest comments: “Jesus was such a bottom!” she asserted, citing her desire to see him “say the safe word” while flailed in Passion of the Christ.
Looking cool and comfortable, Cho’s state of mind was clearly reflected in “Beautiful.” Previously, she’s acted the role of funny-lady ringmaster, using barbed wit and acid tongue to fend off homophobia, body image woes and Republicans like lions in her three-ring circus. But by keeping the anti-right animosity more minimal and more good-humored, Cho succeeded in making it more pointed. And her relaxed demeanor did more to show us the joys of self-empowerment than all her previous tirades on the dangers of poor body image.
That’s not to say Cho dumbed it down. Her political jabs, peppered throughout the show, were among her best and the show one of her consistently funniest. She did drop a few clunkers; Cho has a tendency to provide pat, oversimplified responses to complex issues, as if reciting the progressive party line without much thought as to why. Issues like immigration, abortion, and war are complicated, and while I tend to agree with Cho’s perspectives on those issues, it’s never without some frustration for the bumper sticker sloganeering (“A woman has the right to choose!” “Unless you’re a Native American, we’re all illegal aliens!”) that stands in for reasoned arguments.
Whatever the means, Cho’s end is to impart a little of her own thinking on politics, self-esteem, and self-love to her audience. Filing out of The Orpheum after nearly two hours of pro-LGBT humor, the audience went back into the real world, where validation is harder to come by and laughs are usually leveled at, not with, the queer community.
Indeed, no sooner was one foot out The Orpheum door than we were confronted by a familiar Boston site: a certain disheveled man who bears a “Jesus Saves” placard and a fistful of maps to Salvation (once baseball season starts, he’s usually busy “enlightening” Fenway fans).
But try as he might to spread the gay-hatin’ gospel, this street urchin apostle was probably ill-prepared for one comment hurled at him, for once. It was uttered by what appeared to be a suburbanite soccer mom with her husband and teen daughter in tow. Without trading in un-Cho like stereotypes, she looked to be one of the unlikelier attendees, the kind of woman who only knows her gays from Will & Grace; her show tickets read Boston, but her pearls and pea coat said Wellesley.
“Jesus was a bottom!” she yelled, followed by a snicker and a sneer.
Before the show, it’s doubtful she’d know a bottom from a top unless they were hanging at Neiman Marcus. But tonight, she was giving it back to The Man and riding high on queer rebellion.
One rebel at a time, Cho’s Kingdom Has Come. Her Will Be Done.
By Scott Kearnan