Notorious C.H.O.

In the two years since Margaret Cho's first concert film, I'm the One That I Want, Cho spent lots of time on the road, honing her act and developing additional material. She is a better stand-up for it, and the difference shows when comparing her performances in the two films. Cho's trademark is for raunchy material that features frank discussions on topics frequently sexual in nature. However, she also touches on a variety of issues including politics, and more famously, her mother. She intersperses her jokes with funny impressions and confessional-like monologues that are funny and sad. What makes Cho such a fascinating performer is that sometimes, when she is talking about herself, it is hard to know whether or not it is okay to laugh. She is unbelievably frank with all of the details of her life, and perfectly willing to share and poke fun at herself.

Director Lorene Machado filmed Notorious C.H.O. in Seattle, November 2001, near the end of Cho's tour. The film shows both what is good and bad about Cho as a performer. She starts with some edgy comedy about September 11, which happened just as she was starting her tour. The comments reflect the inner turmoil that Cho is going through as she struggles to determine what is and isn't funny, and if she should perform or not. The bulk of her show focuses on the sexually explicit humor that her fans adore, and things pick up near the end when she talks about her childhood. Most of Cho's fans go in knowing what to expect. One can probably say that whatever she does, they will be happy. Part of her attraction is that she talks about issues that most people think are taboo. Topics like bondage, fisting, and colonics are probably a little out of the mainstream, but right at home in a Cho joke. She is able to give the viewpoint of an outsider glimpsing into a sordid, weird world so that the people listening to her may understand her better. Cho has an elastic face that she uses to great advantage, mocking people and giving wild expressions. However, she also has a habit of pausing before the punch line, then holding a face after she tells a joke. It's sometimes as if people laugh because they don't know what else to do.

The most distasteful element in Notorious C.H.O. is not in her humor, but in some of her comments directly to the camera beforehand. Yes, Cho is a pioneer in the fields of comedy and television. She briefly had a show on ABC (covered in her last film). She is probably the only well-known Asian American female comedian, and breaks ground in what she talks about in her acts. The best way to affirm this is to have somebody else (fellow comedians, professors, somebody with some sort of standing) say this. Having her fans gush about Cho is a little tiring. Worse is Cho talking about how important she is. It may be true, but smacks of a feeling of self-righteousness that does not mesh well with her later act. Yes, she can be hysterically funny, but she should let her act speak for itself rather than praising herself and her accomplishments.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Not Rated but contains lots o language, an easy R, possibly an NC-17.

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