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Margaret Cho gets every Tom, Dick, and Harry to laugh and relate

By Katie Heath

“Tonight’s “Beautiful” tour returned audiences to a more primal state, double-fisting drinks, hollering, and screaming alongside Cho as she performed her routine of confronting “hush-hush” issues with trademark acid wit.”

Despite the Chicago Theater’s attempt at well-mannered ambiance, there was no concealing the crowd’s Margaret Cho-–induced appetite for sex and booze in the sold-out auditorium.

Tonight’s “Beautiful” tour returned audiences to a more primal state, double-fisting drinks, hollering, and screaming alongside Cho as she performed her routine of confronting “hush-hush” issues with trademark acid wit. Her controversial reputation stems partially from her usage of bathroom humor — which may be why she was dis-invited from the 2004 National Democratic Convention — but also from her fierce activism, which addresses bigger issues such as what it’s like to be demoralized by your country and culture. No subject — be it Republican sex scandals, racism, illegal immigration, two-way dildos, anus bleaching, and/or personifying genitalia — was too taboo for the fearless stand-up queen of queasy.

This August the comedienne, actress, and burlesque dancer will return to television with VH1’s The Cho Show. Her experience starring on ABC’s All-American Girl, which was axed in 1995, was regarded by Cho as a disservice and fuels her activism, aggression, and punch lines to this day. During its course, Cho recalls having been coached to act “more Asian,” “less Asian,” and also inspired to undergo severe weight loss because her face was “too round.” Now wiser, armed and ready, Cho is bound to unpack a heavy punch if producer-types try to make her anything but herself.

Joined by openers Liam Sullivan and Kelly — yes that Kelly from the famed “Shoes” sketch ( “Let’s get some shoes”) — Sullivan’s one-man show roused the audience with his practice of playing multiple characters. Sullivan began as the character Pat (a very busty singer-songwriter and proud butch) before switching costumes to play the infamous Kelly (a platinum blond, shopping enthusiast, razor-edged valley girl). It’s clear why Cho decided Sullivan should join her tour — they both share venomous tongues.

“Basically, it was a fag hag summit,” is how Cho inducted the evening, describing her recent stint on the True Colors Tour with “The Queens of Fag-Haggary,” Olivia Newton-John, Deborah Harry, and Cyndi Lauper. As a self-proclaimed “fag hag” and beloved cheerleader for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights, Cho’s advocacy for political change and self-acceptance is a huge theme of her routine.

Cho looked fresh, wearing a candy cane–striped blazer, her “tightest jeans,” and also a relatively newly tattooed torso in which she proudly showed off. Pulling up her shirt, Cho shared her mother’s reaction — as she often does — in this case toward first seeing the large floral tattoo collage: “Toooo much, tooo much,” Cho mimicked, imitating her mother’s heavily accented speech.

Commenting on “Asian problems,” as alleged by stereotypes and the status quo, Cho joked that she’s often called upon for help when it concerns garment alterations, Sudoku, or technical support.” “If there’s extra credit,” she says, “I’m fucking doing it!”

As a woman of multiple minorities, Cho has experienced much disrespect from media figures who chastise her for not adhering to American mainstream culture and/or images. The discussion of her weight, Asian American heritage, and the chauvinism it reveals in journalist types are Cho’s favorite subjects.

Recently a morning radio show host asked her, “What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and you were beautiful? What if you were blonde, had blues eyes, were 5-foot-11, weighed 100 pounds, and you were beautiful?” Cho responded, deadpan, with daggers shooting through her eyes, “I probably wouldn’t get up because I’d be too weak to stand.”

Only once in her 90-minute routine did laughter fall from a constant moment. When first mentioning the Virginia Tech University shooting, the crowd fell silent, not quite ready to laugh in the slight about the deaths of 32 students in cold blood. Cho sustained, describing her experience unraveling the identity of the murderer with her family and “all the hundreds of dry cleaners in America.” “Oh fuck!” she recalled screaming when she discovered she shared the same last name with Seung-Hui Cho.

As an activist for increased Asian American representation in the media, Cho touched upon a very serious issue. Oftentimes, American society unveils latent racism during tense times in which minorities are shown as criminals in the news. Cho said she held her breath during the days that followed the tragedy, fearing that she would be judged a criminal, or worse, harmed, because of her association with his race.

On the topic of stereotypes, Cho recalled upon another radio interview in which the radio host had congratulated Cho on her performance in Charlie’s Angels, the role performed by Chinese American actress Lucy Liu. “Excuse me,” Cho snapped sarcastically, playing on his ignorance, “I’m the one in Grey’s Anatomy.”

Although Cho is married to a heterosexual man, she identifies as queer. “I’m not bi, I’m I,” she grinned. Pointing across rows of stretched arms, saying, “There was a time when I had sex with everyone. I just want you to want me.”

Simply put, what Cho really wants is for everyone in the world to have permission to access their preferred genital, whatever that may be. Using the example of Larry Craig, the closeted homophobic senator who was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover male police officer in an airport bathroom, Cho says, “If he would just come out, then he could have dick all the time. Dick everywhere.”

This then lead to a fevered discussion of Christian fundamentalism and its enthusiasm for the film The Passion of the Christ. In her funniest one-liner of the evening, Cho smirked, and said, “Jesus should have used his safety word.”

To end the evening, Cho performed a musical number, describing explicitly her fondness for receiving oral sex. You couldn’t help but smile; every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the audience could relate on some level. Retrospectively, it seems that Cho’s use of defensive bitchiness has evolved into a more positive — unifying — celebration of sex and difference. “There is so much beauty in the world,” she says, “You just have to open your eyes to see it.”

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