Over the past 14 years, we have met a woman over and over who did not fit in a box, who defied stereotypes and who inspired us about as much as she made us laugh. This extraordinary woman is Margaret Cho, a comedic force to be reckoned with and much more.
With style, grace and humility she tackles the issues that have plagued her life, and she’s one of the few comedians using the stage to voice a revolutionary passion for equality.
Cho’s 1994 groundbreaking sitcom “All-American Girl” featured the first Asian-American family on TV and even in its short time on air sparked both praise and criticism from Asian-Americans and viewers of all races.
Complaints that the comedy was “not Asian enough” or “too Asian” helped Cho to see that the show was centered around the characters’ ethnicity rather than the experiences of an American family who happened to be Asian.
After the show’s cancellation, Cho’s life and career spiraled out of control for several years. She triumphantly turned her demons into new material for her 2000 comedy special and autobiographical book, “I’m the One That I Want.”
In the 90-minute special, recorded live in concert for theatrical release, Cho spoke candidly about everything from overcoming alcoholism and drug abuse to her mother’s phone messages (which are worth saving).
She also spoke at length, and quite frankly, about ABC forcing her to lose an extreme amount of weight (30 lbs in two weeks) for her sitcom, her San Francisco childhood and her love of gay men and the queer community.
The nature of “I’m the One That I Want” wasn’t just for laughs. It was as much a therapy session where Cho was able to publicly move on from the pains that troubled her personally and professionally. It wasn’t until this show that we really got to know the amazing woman she had become.
This would be the performance that introduced me to Cho, when more often than not, her experiences would parallel mine, and I would be able to see Cho as more than a comedian, but as an activist and as inspiration.
In 2003, when I was a junior in high school, Cho made a stop on her Revolution tour in Greensboro, performing at UNCG. It was not only a concert for me, filled with the usual potty humor and her standard mother jokes, but it was the first time I was able to see the enormity of her queer fan base in person and not just on DVD.
When I walked in, I saw a University of North Carolina-Greensboro PRIDE-sponsored banner with a graphic of two women kissing, that image was more powerful than I ever expected it would be. This is the only time I have seen Cho perform, but it’s an experience that has stuck with me.
Since then, Cho has used the stage for even more political activism, which got her uninvited to the 2004 Democratic National Convention — something she humorously noted in her 2005 tour, Assassin.
Recently she went on tour with Cyndi Lauper and others on the Human Rights Campaign True Colors tour to raise awareness of LGBT issues and money for HRC, PFLAG and the Matthew Shepard Foundation. After same-sex marriage became legal in California in May, she was deputized to perform gay weddings.
Now Cho has embarked on something entirely new. Well, it’s not entirely new, but a new approach to an old format. Instead of filming a sitcom on a soundstage, the cameras are going to follow her around this time. “The Cho Show,” which the star likens to the format of “Curb your Enthusiasm,” will be a comedy improv show that is set in reality.
The program will follow Cho with her family and friends around L.A. and on the road. During the first season, the show is set to have guest appearances from Sandra Bernhard, Wanda Sykes, Michelle Rodriguez, Joan Rivers and others.
I have a feeling “The Cho Show” will be more than just another reality (or improv) show we have seen on TV before. Rather, it looks to be an honest, daring and funny look into Cho’s life. A decade and a half after “All-American Girl,” TV audiences will have another chance to be reintroduced to a woman who found jokes in her pain and broke barriers for us all.
— “The Cho Show” premieres on VH1 on Thursday, August 21 at 11 p.m.