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Notorius Cho (Unrated)
Wellspring Media
Official Site
Director: Lorene Machado
Producers: Lorene Machado
Written by: Margaret Cho
Cast: Margaret Cho


Comics must hate having their performances described as a “routine”—after all, if they’re good at what they do, the result should be anything but. Certainly, Margaret Cho cannot be called routine, a woman who takes the most unspeakable taboos and makes us laugh at their ridiculousness, even if our “good breeding” begs us not to.

Cho’s first concert film was I’m The One That I Want, released more than two years ago to solid reviews. The film allowed her to reach an audience that may have missed—or never even heard of—her tour of the same name. It was a move that undoubtedly won her more fans—at least among people willing to admit they relish her raunchy antics. Notorious C.H.O. is in the same vein, nothing more than her latest tour on film; the catch is, it’s more entertaining than any of the visual hocus pocus or narrative trickery you’ll find on display at a theater near you.

Preceding the film is an uproariously funny cartoon, in which Cho implores Koreans and African Americans to work out their difficulties—that way, she says, they can focus on hating white people. It plays like Do The Right Thing in therapy, or better yet, Spike Lee meets Sesame Street. Either way, it’s a fitting introduction to Cho’s unique brand of comedy.

While I’m The One That I Want focused on Cho’s body image following her disastrous attempt at mainstream television, Notorious C.H.O. is more content to focus on bodily functions. Perhaps that makes it seem slightly dumbed-down, but in typical Cho fashion, crude jokes about sex transform into monologues about female empowerment. She’s not so much notorious as notoriously sly: much like Richard Pryor, she lures you in with coarse tirades, and holds your attention with her unabashedly intellectual spin on the material. Her opening monologue—in which she discusses the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks and the acts of self-sacrifice so many have made—serves as a prime example.

Cho discusses everything from blow jobs to camels (don’t ask) in the film, although the funniest bit is her pontificating about what life would be like if straight men had periods (she justifies the inclusion of the riff by saying, “If Richard Pryor had a period, I bet he’d talk about it, too”). It’s not that what she says is so shocking, but the knowledge that her parents are sitting in the audience, beaming at their confidently chubby, infinitely indelicate offspring. It’s hard to believe anyone could casually mention such topics in front of their family, especially when most of us can’t even tell our parents a dirty joke without blushing.

Ironically, it’s her father who puts the importance of Cho’s show in perspective. It’s great, he says, that she can live in a country where her voice can be heard. It helps, of course, that Cho’s is a uniquely talented voice. There are those who will undoubtedly disagree, but like any good comedy show, Notorious C.H.O. proves that beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

—Erin Steele


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