Humor Emergency

Margaret Cho brings her controversial, up-to-the-minute topical comedy to the TCC Music Hall

She mimics her Korean immigrant mother's thickly accented English, convincingly imitates an addled Anna Nicole Smith and, before your eyes, becomes a black drag queen--all with equal aplomb. Your reaction?

Laughing so hard, your face hurts.

Margaret Cho muses on how the world might change if straight males menstruated. She talks about emergency bowel movements, lesbian sex, gay sex, straight sex, sexual stereotypes, racial stereotypes, eating disorders, depression and addictions, her brief unhappy foray into sitcom TV and, lately, politics and civil liberties.

This brilliant comedian, like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, finds no topic off-limits. She makes us laugh at the subjects that many of us are embarrassed to discuss--except maybe with our most intimate friends. And, goodness knows, we'd never say things like she does in a public forum. Never on stage.

Margaret Cho, like those boundary-busting comics before her, is as gifted at social criticism as she is at finding humor that makes us blush. So who better to take a politically provocative new concert, and one so blatantly anti-Bush, on the road during one of the ugliest presidential campaigns ever?

Cho, who has seen the release of three concert movies in the last four years, explained during a recent interview why she calls her new concert tour State of Emergency.

"It's my opinion that we are in a constant state of emergency when it comes to freedom and civil liberties and the personal and political struggles in the world," said Cho, who recently was honored by the American Civil Liberties Union with its First Amendment Award.

"We're already in a state of emergency among ourselves in this country and in our relations with other countries, as well as the industrial war against terrorism. ... This is a really interesting place that we have brought ourselves to around the world and in this country."

Cho spoke by phone from her home in Los Angeles the night George W. Bush formally accepted the presidential nomination, but had been in New York City earlier in the week observing the GOP festivities.

"There have been an amazing amount of protests in New York this past week. There is so much political upheaval, and there's a lot of it that isn't being publicized, that's being kept out of the media. The march I was in on Sunday was documented, but was really much larger than everyone predicted. It's like all of New York is embarrassed that this convention is happening there."

Cho also finds watching the convention on television revealing. "It was an amazing thing to see the spin on all of the topics and interesting the see the blatant attempt by Republicans to position their party as the moderate one. And that's really not true.

"It's just that there are so many ways that they are using to try to portray message in a not-so-subtle manner, like focusing the cameras on the same few people of color in the audience. I've been seeing the same delegates' faces on TV for days, because they are the tokens for the Republican Party to show how 'diverse' it is. And playing Motown as the interstitial music does not automatically make it funky up in there."

The State of Emergency tour will be as up-to-the-minute as most dinner-hour newscasts, as Cho comments on day-by-day developments in campaigns for public office around the country. "So the show is going to change a little bit as we go around city to city, depending on what is going on in the world at the time."

At previous stops during the last month, Cho has said, "Bush is not Hitler," then explaining, "He would be if he applied himself, but he's just lazy."

She's just as critical of fundamentalist Christianity and its obsession with the evil of the political left. "The true face of Satan is intolerance," she shouted in Harlem, adding, "Whenever there is injustice, another demon gets his wings."

Cho doesn't let the Democratic National Convention off the hook, either. She thinks the Dems should've taken the gloves off.

"To me, I wish that it had been more like the Republican convention. There were some fairly good speakers, but ultimately, it was, to me, too concerned about being dignified but not necessarily going on the offensive.

"It's all really just so polite. I wish the Democratic Party would wouldn't hold back so much as they do."

As bleak as things seem for free thinkers and free speakers, Cho nevertheless is hopeful about the future of our culture.

"The prognosis for our country is positive, though. Things are getting better and moving toward a better place. You have to trust and believe that. I hope that people who are of the same minds as I am and coming from the same place do not give up hope that we can save our world."

Cho maintains an award-winning blog at her Web site ( and continues her activism efforts, for which she has been honored by such organizations as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Organization for Women and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Cho also has written and filmed a movie titled Bam Bam and Celeste. "It's a story about two kids--a gay boy and his best friend--and they're taking a road trip across America to be on a reality TV show," she says. As the titular pair, Cho stars with comedian Bruce Daniels, who also is the opening act on her State of Emergency tour.

After Cho hung up, I thought of lots of questions I should have asked her, such as: "What makes performing comedy worthwhile?"

Luckily, Cho addressed that a few years back in her memoir, I'm the One That I Want.

She wrote, "When the crowd is with you, the jokes are fresh, our timing is just right, and the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. You feel like you are exactly where you should be, and there is nothing better. Comedy is a rare gift from the gods, an awesome invention. It propels you right into the heart of the universe."

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