Margaret Cho’s “Beautiful” Reality
Comedian Margaret Cho is taking her show on the road with her first stand-up concert tour since 2005’s “Assassin.” Her newest show, “Beautiful,” is holding up a mirror to society and herself with insightfully hilarious gazes into the state of celebrity status, political-points-of-view, and another type of political outlook, as the main body of “Beautiful” outlines Cho’s deeper look at “identity politics,” showcasing that beauty is truly only skin deep.
Cho, who has been very candid about her battle with her own body issues, such as struggling and triumphing over an eating disorder, gave us her take on what beauty means to her during a recent interview with me.
“It’s kind of the experience of just being in your body, owning your own beauty, enjoying yourself,” Cho expressed. “Feeling beautiful is a feeling more than a look; it’s a feeling more than a vision. I think everybody has the potential to be beautiful, it’s just about acknowledging that beauty and feeling it – and I think that this is really the key, not only to happiness, but it’s an important political thing, especially for queers.”
Cho includes herself as a part of our community, and rightfully so, as she is a strong advocate of gay rights and identifies herself as bisexual, and she sees this area of self-loving as a vital key to keeping the GLBT community together in unity.
“We have to deal with the world-at-large all the time in a way that is sometimes very unpleasant and upsetting,” she explained. “So if we can just feel beautiful that will just bolster our strength, it will strengthen our community. I think this is a very important issue for everybody.
“There’s a long gay tradition of ‘reading’ people, you know like being mean to people and reading them, telling them what’s wrong about them and pointing out all of their flaws,” Cho said. “So I am looking to turn around these ideas, instead of reading people, you celebrate them, instead of insulting people, you buoy them up. I think it’s a basic way to help us all to move forward. It’s a scary thing to be out and live out; it’s like we have to deal with enough stuff from the mainstream culture and the mainstream world – why should we hurt ourselves and hurt each other?”
Even though she has been on “hiatus” for three years, stand-up wise, Cho hasn’t been sitting down and has kept herself plenty busy, emceeing the inaugural “True Colors Tour” last year, and then performing in the burlesque celebration of the female form with “The Sensuous Woman.” Cho let us in on the creative seeds of “Beautiful,” which were planted during her experiences last year.
“I was doing a lot of different stuff last year, going on tour with the ‘True Colors Tour’ with Cyndi Lauper, and playing these huge music venues,” she recanted. “After that, I went off-Broadway to do ‘The Sensuous Woman,’ which is my big variety burlesque show. The last couple of years I’ve spent collaborating a lot with other artists, and talking about political issues and body issues. So this show, ‘Beautiful,’ was a combination of doing a very political tour, and doing a very bawdy, feminist show.
“Now, this is my take on what I did, and I haven’t done a stand-up tour in quite a few years now, so this is my return to it,” Cho said. “I really enjoy it; but I needed to take a little bit of a break and do some other things. Now, I’m really back and refreshed and back to what I love to do, stand-up.”
Returning to her stand-up roots with “Beautiful” has seen Cho being highly praised for her ability to raise self awareness while entertaining, and as one reviewer for the website AfterEllen.com put it, “The sharpest comedy shows you the boundaries of your own tolerance, and pushes them.” The show is even being likened to her breakthrough 2000 comedy show, “I’m The One That I Want,” and such accolades from critics please even Cho’s toughest one, herself.
“I think it’s marvelous,” Cho said of the rave reviews she has received. “I’m so excited and so amazed that people write that about what I do. I love what I do and I’m proud of it, but I have to satisfy myself – I’m a really tough critic on myself. I give myself reviews every day, praise and criticize my own value system of what I think is good. I really try to push the envelope to do better.”
Cho also cited the need for self-improvement in order to appease fans that have been coming to her shows for years, and she called “my old friends now.” These fans/friends are most likely tickled pink at the prospect of Cho’s upcoming stab at “Celebreality,” as she has filmed seven episodes of “The Cho Show” for VH-1.
“The Cho Show,” as described on an official VH-1 press release, “chronicles her interactions with her friends AND her beloved parents…as she fights to be herself in an industry that in the past wanted her to be something other than herself.”
The past experience of Cho’s highly publicized singular season television foray with “All-American Girl” in 1994, saw her manipulated by the Hollywood machine into dropping an unhealthy amount of weight resulting in kidney failure, after being told her face was “too round” by studio executives.
This experience was her catalyst in being true to herself on stage in front of thousands of people, and she does not harbor any trepidation about her present stint on “The Cho Show.”
“I’m really amazed at what I am able to accomplish now without censorship that I had on a different network, when I was doing a family-time sort of show,” she declared diplomatically. “As opposed to now, television has changed so much, there’s so much more you can do – it’s become so much more accepting and so much more queer. So, I found a great home at VH-1.”
As for her own take about the show that bears her surname, Cho gave us her personal insight on what television audiences can expect from this summer-time series.
“I do pretty much what I do in stand-up comedy in a television show, which is really amazing,” Cho explained. “It’s (the TV show) not exactly reality, it’s sort of reality as I would say my stand-up comedy is. I’m taking my stand-up comedy and making it into a sitcom format in a very true way – using all real players, which would be myself, my real gay friends, my real parents.
“So, it’s definitely not exactly reality, it’s very different,” Cho stated. “I feel like I’ve created a new genre here. We are telling specific stories out of my daily life, it’s hard to explain, because there has never been anything like it – the closest thing would be ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ It’s almost like an improve show where they set up comedic situations It’s the best work I’ve ever done, I am really proud of it. I would never say that, if I didn’t completely believe that.”
And with “The Cho Show,” she is not experiencing any small screen déjà vu aspects of what she was put through behind-the-scenes during “All-American Girl.”
“When I did my first screen test for ‘All-American Girl,’ one of the producers was so horrified that I wore this midriff top,” Cho replied. “And she said, ‘Never ever show your stomach in public ever again!’ And in my new TV show, I am virtually naked the entire time. That’s the greatest freedom, and I think that’s really important and fun for everybody.”
Television has always been a touchstone for Cho, and there was a particular show we chatted about that she would love to see make a comeback on DVD.
“‘Solid Gold’ was so awesome! Oh, the choreography! Ok, Darcel? She was my favorite! It was just really kind of everybody figuring out they were gay, everybody that watched it,” she shared with a laugh.
Too bad there isn’t a revamped version today, as Cho revealed she has branched out into music with her new shows.
“In my TV show, I’m doing some music, which is a new kind of thing,” Cho said. “I do some music in my ‘Beautiful’ show. I found I have a voice, which is cool, so that’s something I’d like to pursue a little bit more. I have a single that will probably come out during the television show when that comes out – so we’ll see what happens.”
In the meantime to get your Cho fix, and to keep tabs on this fabulously funny lady, log onto http://www.margaretcho.com
This article was first published in May 2008.