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All About Mother 

Margaret Cho brings dark-edged comedy to Rialto

There's something you should know about Mother, Margaret Cho's latest stand-up show, which hits the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday:

"It's a very personal, hard-hitting and dark show," Cho says during a phone call. "Among other things, it deals with aging, race, body image, drugs and abortion. I think this tour has a harder edge than all my others."

It's not like we'd expect the act to be all squishy, sweet and light. Cho's brash, uproarious brand of comedy has always had a seriousness of purpose. During a 30-year career marked by an increasingly queer sensibility and outspoken advocacy of liberal causes, she's rarely been accused of being soft in the middle or around the edges.

If you know Cho, you know that she often adopts a thick Korean accent to impersonate her mother. It's a portrait painted in broad strokes that a lesser comic would never get away with. Cho isn't afraid to play with stereotypes about the immigrant experience. But it's the specificity (and obvious daughterly love) that makes her mama act resonate with audiences.

Besides, it's hard to resist the truth bombs dropped so often by Cho's mother. Consider her priceless reaction to the tongue-wagging twerking of Miley Cyrus: "Oh no, she is shaking out all her luck." Were truer words ever spoken?

Cho's mother has seen most of Mother, by the way, and she ate it up, says her daughter.

But Mother is not all about her mother. The real subject of the show, which debuted in Australia more than a year ago, is more universal.

"I'm interested in the changing roles of women as they get older," Cho says. "What does motherhood mean and what does it mean to be a mother in queer culture? I don't have any biological children, but I'm becoming more and more of a mother figure to my friends and family. I'm becoming this sort of archetype and I love it."

Cho, a bisexual who is married to a man, also swears up and down that she loves getting older (she turns 45 the night after her Tucson show).

"There's such joy in aging," says Cho, not joking in the slightest (she reveals no trace of humor during 20 minutes on the phone). "It's exciting to bring all that wisdom and maturity to the stage. There's also a mastery that comes from 30 years of doing stand-up. It's something that I'm good at and the show is partly just an excuse to show off."

Until recently, she also showed off some (colorfully tattooed) skin in Mother, stripping down to make a point or two about society's complex reactions to the female body.

But don't hold your breath for nudity in the Old Pueblo next week.

"Yeah, I don't really do that anymore," she says. "In most of my shows lately, I sing instead."

Cho showed she could sing (and play the guitar, banjo and dulcimer) on 2010's Cho Dependent, a comedic collection of music featuring Andrew Bird, Tegan & Sara, Fiona Apple and others.

Cho will finish this leg of the Mother tour in Europe. After her Tucson show, she'll play several dates in Germany and Scandinavia before heading home.

Home for Cho, who was raised in San Francisco, is split between Los Angeles and Atlanta, where she'll spend the first five months of 2014 shooting the sixth season of Drop Dead Diva.

Cho returns as Teri Lee, the sharp-tongued assistant to Jane Bingham, whose plus-sized body is inhabited by the soul of a vapid model.

After she wraps up work on the Lifetime series, Cho will finish the American tour of Mother and film it for posterity as she did with six previous tours, including I'm the One That I Want, Revolution and The Notorious C.H.O.

Cho, twice Grammy Award-nominated for her comedy albums, also earned an Emmy nomination in 2012 for playing Kim Jong Il on several episodes of 30 Rock.

"It was so wonderful to be part of that," she says, still all businesslike. "I loved the ridiculousness of it and I loved getting dressed up for it."

Tina Fey, the creator and star of the satirical sitcom, which ended its six-season run almost a year ago, told reporters that Cho's performance as the North Korean dictator was sheer brilliance.

"Tina keeps talking about how we should make a movie featuring the Dear Leader," says Cho. "So maybe a big action movie with that character will happen someday."

And yes, there's another role she'd like to take on.

"I want to have a child of my own someday," she says. "At my age, motherhood would have to happen soon, and I have no idea what it would look like."

Margaret Cho in Mother, a solo stand-up show

8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 4

Rialto Theatre318 E. Congress St.

$31-$76

740-1000;rialtotheatre.com

More by M. Scot Skinner

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