Notorious C.H.O.
review by Elias Savada, 30 August 2002

Back with her second concert film -- after I'm the One That I Want -- master comedienne Margaret Cho will have her many free-spirited fans roaring with laughter within seconds and the rest of the audience hoping its collective gut won't be spilling out into the aisles. Except for that one gray-haired patron, obviously with something stuck up her derriere, heard in the theater lobby after the film had ended, "That was just dreadful. How can people think that's funny?" Obviously her prissy Republican sentimentality would have been better served by Charlton Heston in an N.R.A. promotional spot, but, given the film was a free preview screening, why the heck did she stay through the whole ninety-five minutes if she hated it so much? Sado-masochists aside, it's apparent that some people will remain steadfastly clueless in lieu of this healthy dose of wacky hysteria.

The rest of us have already clued in on Cho's raunchy social commentaries, and her latest presentation will certainly win over new converts. Simply put, she's a hoot.

Now I can't review Notorious C.H.O. for its cinematic elegance or breathtaking vistas. It's basically just a filmed performance, although director Lorene Machado does add some nice bookends to the one-woman show, watching the gloriously rainy day, expectant crowd as it shuffles into the Paramount Theater in Seattle late last year, and later as it exits, with everyone from the orchestra to the balcony reveling in an evening of overstuffed entertainment. The stage is dressed with bare necessity: five Greek columns, a stool, and a couple of bottles of mineral water. Director of photography keeps Cho in focus, mostly in closeup, thankfully only occasionally breaking for an audience reaction shot. The gift to everyone else (i.e. those of us watching in the movie theater), is a marvelously funny document presenting Cho's large body of work and her bawdy take on politics, sex, family, and other ripe targets. A good portion of screen time is spent allowing for the roar of the audience to calm down from its many fits of laughter. And that's quite okay, as you do need to catch your breath that much.

There's a bonus South Park-ish animated short subject at the head of the film, featuring Cho and a black friend pontificating on racial misunderstandings and disparaging labels. It's a brief, great sendoff, miles away from Cho's cartoon contribution to Rugrats.

Often compared to Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, among others, Cho mixes the grace of a bulldog, the energy of a stand-up cyclone, and the irreverent sluttish pride of a freewheeling comic genius. She doesn't get this from her parents, Korean immigrants who raised the thirty-three-year-old Margaret in San Francisco. More likely she was a child of her environment, living and learning from the hippies, drag queens, and other '60s' burnouts that bypassed her on Haight Street.

Margaret proudly shows her parents on-screen as they scramble for words to explain their daughter to the viewers. Margaret turns the table on her traditional mom, scrunches up her face, squints her eyes, pitches up her voice, and becomes…an amusingly impious alter-mom. This proud momma is one of the many characters side-splittingly portrayed by Cho, yet still the one with the most deserved screen time. Special treatment is given to Julie, a whiny, dyslexic colon-hydro-therapist/amateur actress, a loony, bubbly creation assisting Cho with her first colonic irrigation (eeeww!). Cho's side-splitting approach to this "medical procedure" is divinely entertaining. Equally inspired is her raucous what-if commentary on the redneck male approach to having a woman's period, mixing heavy flow days, the Super Bowl, old socks, coffee filters, and the newspaper sports section.

When she's in self-mode, sans extra-charestial makeup, she tears into all things American. Gays, drag queens, prejudice, S&M sex clubs ("They're bossy!"), video-store late fees, the elusive search for her G-spot (Mapquest didn't help), sexual techniques (putting "Who's your daddy?" to much better use than Dana Carvey in The Master of Disguise), and food and obesity (reflecting on her younger days battling numerous eating disorders). Even in this post 9/11 day and age, she proudly talks of her lewd contribution to the Ground Zero rescue workers. And the audience offers it patriotic approval.

There's never a dull moment here. Yet within the laughter is a fair dose of self-esteem. Notorious C.H.O. is a Genuine R.I.O.T.

Directed by:
Lorene Machado

Margaret Cho

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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