The Star Telegram
“VH1 show allows irreverent Cho to act naturally”

By HEATHER SVOKOS

Finally a reason to tune in.”

“Cho is finally doing her own thing, her own uncharted way. And she’s a pioneer and a role model — X-rated potty mouth and all.”

Celebrity reality shows assault us from every corner of our cable box — Corey, Tori, Hogan, Snoop and Denise Richards. But now, thanks to Margaret Cho, there’s finally a reason to tune in to one of these puppies without feeling the sticky film of shame. And if you’re already a Cho fan, you’re pretty much duty-bound to tune in to VH1 tonight, when “The Cho Show” makes its debut.

Cho is, of course, the irreverent, sexcentric, political comedian whose imitations of her Korean mother are legend.

Conceptually, the seven-episode “Cho Show” is less “Tori & Dean” and more “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List.” (Minus the sometimes shrill Griffin.) In fact, VH1 is calling it a “reality sitcom.” So although it focuses on Cho’s real life, it will blend reality “with some imaginative and comical situations that touch on all aspects of Margaret’s ‘anything goes’ lifestyle,” according to press materials for the show.

Everyone in the cast plays his or her real-life persona, although certain things about them have been scripted to elicit a springboard for Cho’s comedy. For instance, her mom and dad play themselves (how fun it is to hear her mom speak after decades of listening to Cho’s imitations), but Cho’s longtime friend, 3-foot-10-inch Selene Luna, acts as her personal assistant on the series. And her “Glam Squad” — wardrobe person, hairstylist and makeup artist — only just met Cho during casting for the show, according to The Advocate.

“It’s the closest I’ve been able to come on television to what I do as a comic,” Cho told the publication.

Indeed, her first attempt at bringing her comedy to TV sent her to the hospital. That was in 1994, with ABC’s “All-American Girl” — the first Asian-American sitcom on TV. The experience was a fiasco for Cho, who faced network battles that included arguments over her weight. Pressured to drop pounds, she went on an insane two-week crash diet in which she lost 30 pounds and ended up in kidney failure. (She later chronicled the saga in her stand-up routine, which ultimately became a movie and a book, “I’m the One That I Want.”)

If you have caught any of Cho’s recent stand-up — or seen her live in April at Nokia Theatre — some of the material will be familiar. She mentions, in passing, that Jack Black purportedly used to only have one towel, and how a radio DJ asked her: “What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and you were beautiful?”

But the show is not simply a retread of her act. The premiere tackles Cho’s insecurity and anger over her precarious place in the Korean community. A group wants to fete her with its Korean of the Year award, but she’s torn. Until now, the outspoken, pansexual comic has felt snubbed by Koreans. Before the ceremony, Cho cracks: “Oh, please don’t turn this into Korean Night at the Apollo.”

Her preparation for the event makes for an engaging family scene. For instance, when her parents get a load of a dress she threatens to wear to accept her award (it’s actually just intricately-designed body paint on her nude form), they voice mild disapproval. “It’s too much,” her mother murmurs.

Cho playfully snaps: “I’m 39. Whaddya gonna ground me? If you try to ground me, I will put you both in a home.”

After the ceremony, there’s an achingly touching moment between the entertainer and a young Korean-American fan who has prepared a short speech (which she puts down on paper, afraid she’ll be too nervous to remember everything she wants to say). When she reads it to Cho, your heart will swell. And you will get it. Cho is finally doing her own thing, her own uncharted way. And she’s a pioneer and a role model — X-rated potty mouth and all.

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