- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

''Notorious C.H.O." would appear to be a transparent alias for the Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho, observed during a concert date earlier this year at the Paramount Theater in Seattle.

The performance itself is padded with some preliminary introductions to Cho fans, who sport such placards as "CHO Hag" and volunteer impressions of the rotund and brazenly obscene funny girl herself. Miss Cho impersonating her mother seems to be a favorite, and the parents make a guest appearance, abstracted from an earlier concert date in San Francisco.

Because some extended comic routines are ascribed to Mrs. Cho as an amateur monologist, including one about her husband's youthful disillusion with a good friend with homosexual inclinations, it's useful to meet the parents. Their resignation to their daughter's seminotorious claim to fashionable fame is one of the subtler comic aspects of the movie, which emphasizes full-frontal outrage and lewdness as a rule.

Clearly, it would be difficult to envision your child growing up to be a successful foul mouth but having seen it happen, what can you do but shrug and reflect: Is this a land of opportunity or what?

The timing allows Miss Cho to register one of the earliest obscene jokes predicated on the aftermath of the World Trade Center calamity. It suits her so well that the sacrilege is pretty much defused by the life-affirming impudence. I'm even inclined to give Miss Cho the benefit of the doubt for genuine patriotic feeling, even though she expresses it a bit crudely.

I suspect that Miss Cho might have a more enduring and useful reservoir of belligerence in her system than most of the fainthearts emerging in ruling-class or media circles to plead for indefinite temporizing.

For the most part, Miss Cho remains preoccupied with jokes that belabor her internal organs in carnal or grossly embarrassing respects. "This show is so incredibly outlaw in its sexual themes," she boasts at an early point, and one would be reluctant to contradict her. Yet every outspoken comedian since Richard Pryor has harped on lechery so extensively that it's difficult to feel that newcomers have a lot to add except for overcompensating evidence thatthey too can be coarse of mind and body.

It's a little more intriguing to speculate about aspects of the Cho material that might lend themselves to mainstream appeal. For example, while talking about performing aspirations in her youth, she jokes about dreaming of being an extra on "M*A*S*H" or playing the occasional Asian hooker, given to pleading "Me love you long time." The raciness and the humor seem better balanced than in her explicit rants, which may claim more familiarity than you want to share.

It's also curious that Miss Cho's knowing allusions to drugs are promptly softened by the assurance that she's not really a user. Given the clamor that every drug or sex reference provokes from the Seattle audience, such assurances would appear to be unsolicited. Maybe it helps reduce the number of pushers who importune you offstage.

A substantial amount of her material panders to homosexual fans. The rare pious interjections are usually associated with homosexual martyrs or pioneers, such as a pair of deceased high school friends, Alan and Jerry, who served as defiant role models by being precocious drag queens. According to Miss Cho, they died of AIDS.

She may be the most prominent gay mascot since Bette Midler wowed the Manhattan baths 30 years ago.

Miss Cho's round face lends itself to effective exaggeration around the eyes and mouth, and she pulls some faces that overlap with happy memories of Charles Laughton in puckish or smug moods. A little of Margaret Cho goes a long way with me, but I think a larger audience might warm to a modified, post-outlaw version of her bombast.



*1/2

TITLE: "Notorious C.H.O."

RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter, a comic monologue distinguished by frequent profanity and obscene anecdotes; systematic comic and sexual vulgarity; allusions to drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Lorene Machado

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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