"Well, I'm no Margaret Cho, but I do a pretty good impression of Columbo." - Homer Simpson
Margaret Cho has always been a comedian who has gotten under people's skins. The defining elements of her stand-up have always been her detailed, unvarnished recollections of her personal life and her unflinching, left-leaning point of view. Her experiences as a Korean American, queer-identified, regular-sized woman in the Hollywood shark tank, as well as her travels around the country as a performer, provide her plenty of jumping-off points to make larger observations about civil rights, body issues, and the way we treat each other. How we date, how we have sex, and how absurd behavior, be it good-natured or not-so-good, gets in the way of us getting along. And then there are the impressions of her Korean mother. The hilarious impressions of her Korean mother.
Cho's raunchy honesty has earned her a large following, including a large gay fanbase. She is like a funny version of Kathy Griffin, who is really just a watered-down Margaret Cho. I don't know that Griffin borrowed anything from Cho, but if she did, she removed everything that made her good and replaced it with plenty that was obnoxious. But I digress....
This new DVD is a document of one night from Cho's 2008 touring act, Margaret Cho: Beautiful. It was shot in Long Beach, CA, a matter of days before the November election. In a short intro, Cho talks about the excitement in the air with the oncoming run-off between Barack Obama and John McCain and the fight for gay marriage surrounding California's Proposition 8. In a very brief snippet, we are reminded of that bright, hopeful time. Hard to believe it was only a year ago. One wonders how this show might have been had it been taped after Prop 8 was defeated, the anger that might have made the political jokes more biting. Make no mistake, Cho's personal perspective is never hidden from view, and Beautiful hits the ground running with a handful of political jokes. From there, it segues into material that largely centers around the comedian's sexual misadventures and raunchy talk. Lots and lots of raunchy talk, most of it with a queer twist.
Unfortunately, this familiar territory doesn't have quite the same teeth as it once did. I think Cho is off her game a little, maybe a little too focused and not as open to the world around her as she once was. Like all of her concert films, Beautiful begins and ends with footage of Cho's vocal fans, showing concertgoers professing their love for Margaret. In this case, plenty of gay couples declaring themselves "beautiful" and promoting gay marriage. This kind of loyalty and love for her fans is a large reason why Cho is so popular, and why the loyalty is returned. She likes the experience to be as much about them as it is her.
Which may go a long way to explaining why Beautiful doesn't have the same punch as I'm the One that I Want or even Revolution: Cho is speaking directly to the GBLT audience and she doesn't care to include those who aren't a part of it. If you are not in the demographic, she is going to make no effort to explain their world to you. Don't take that as a criticism, however; I actually applaud it. We are far too worried about being inclusive these days, to the point where it can get ridiculous and everything gets washed out and true point of view is lost. I may not identify myself in most of what Margaret Cho bangs on about in Beautiful, but so what? There's plenty else out there for me. I get the impression that Margaret Cho knows she is alienating her straight audience, and she doesn't care.
I only bring any of this up in order to let you know what you're getting. Perhaps if you fit the demo, then Margaret's routines about anal bleaching, bears, and the perfection of a gay man's penis may work and you will find more to laugh at in Beautiful than I did. (And if you think of either stuffed animals or wildlife when I say "bears," then either go rent John Waters' A Dirty Shame and take some notes or move along.) The short bit about her mother and tattoos at the end of the show feels perfunctory and the only real callback to vintage Cho, and the choice to end the set with a song about oral sex--one of many segments about oral sex--is a huge misstep. Hit "stop" once Cho cues up the music. The rest will all depend on what flavor of comedy tea you enjoy.
I still love you, Margaret, and I'll always take a chance on what you do. Part of why I love you is how fiercely you stick to your guns, so I'm not going to fault you for being true to the muse that pays you. That's the point of Beautiful, isn't it? Be who you are, and in that, is true beauty. More power to you!
Margaret Cho: Beautiful is presented as an anamorphic widescreen motion picture (1.78:1), with decent colors and fairly good resolution. There is a little digital combing, but overall, a nice looking picture. I saw one glitch, a pixilated line that ran across the screen midway through for a couple of seconds, but that was an anomaly. The live concert is captured with multiple cameras and a sharp eye for detail, with director/editor Lorene Machado getting the right angles at the right time to best represent Cho's material, including her exaggerated pantomiming. This is Machado's fourth time working with Cho, and she clearly understands the performer.
The 5.1 sound mix of the show is very good, though understandably giving more weight to Cho's vocals than to the ambient crowd noise and the like. No glitches, good clarity, a solid job.
The only extra is a short (under 4 minutes) "behind the scenes" featuring more with the fans and pieces of an interview with Cho.
Rent It. Beautiful, comedian Margaret Cho's latest concert film, is not for everyone, and that is by design. Cho is a political commentator and sexual satirist, and her most recent show is catered pretty much exclusively to her large gay audience. While I found the exclusive focus on raunchy talk to be less scintillating than her other concert DVDs, this may be down to the fact that I am not part of the intended audience. If you are, this may play better. Either way, Cho at least deserves respect for doing what she does. Next time around, I hope she remembers some of us straight boys love her, too; if not, that's her right, and I'll give her props for pursuing her art however she pleases. That's what it's all about anyway, isn't it?
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.