I first became aware of Margaret Cho back in the early 1990's when she made frequent late-night TV appearances doing standup comedy. In those days Cho's act centered on her experiences as a Korean American, her childhood, her bout with an eating disorder and especially her relationship with her quirky mother. It was fairly standard material for the time but there was something about Cho's delivery that stood out in my mind. One moment she was the typical happy-go-lucky California girl, eminently American in her delivery. Then, in the wink of an eye, she'd transform herself into the spitting image of her fish-out-of-water Korean-born mother. She achieved this transformation with the simplest of gestures, facial expressions and a dead on imitation of her mother's accent and delivery. By switching back and forth between these two personas Cho was able to recreate humorous situations and conversations while providing hilarious commentary on the proceedings.
Based on the success of her standup act, Cho was recruited by ABC to star in her own situation comedy. All-American Girl was an innovative but short-lived program based on her act. The show was canceled due to creative differences between Cho and the producers. "There were just so many people involved in that show, and so much importance put on the fact that it was an ethnic show. It's hard to pin down what 'ethnic' is without appearing to be racist. And then, for fear of being too 'ethnic,' it got so watered down for television that by the end, it was completely lacking in the essence of what I am and what I do. I learned a lot, though. It was a good experience as far as finding myself, knowing who I was and what direction I wanted to take with my comedy," Cho said shortly after All-American Girl's cancellation.
Undeterred, Cho did what came naturally to her. She drew on her experience with network television and created a Broadway vehicle for herself entitled I'm The One that I Want. The one-woman show was an immediate success and was followed by an equally successful book and DVD. Cho's transformation from a fairly ordinary standup comic to a self-made media sensation was complete. But in the best tradition of all such modern entertainment phenomena she wasn't content to rest on her laurels.
Cho's new act is both an evolution and a departure from her previous material. In the early days Cho played on her own youthful insecurities as both a woman and a Korean American. Later she used her adult self-confidence as the launching point for humor. Now she seems to have transcended both of these techniques by taking the audience immediately and deeply into her most intimate thoughts, feelings and desires.
There's always been a frank sexual component to Cho's act, but now the material revolves almost exclusively around sexuality. Cho works blue, very blue. But the genius of her delivery is that she doesn't use sex for shock value. She uses it in exactly the same way she used more mundane topics: as a jumping off point for funny observations. In other words, Cho likes porn so she talks about porn in her act. She likes sex so she talks about sex in her act. She has gay friends so she talks about them in her act. She has prudish friends so she talks about them in her act. The point isn't the sexual content, it's that Cho is willing to expose every single aspect of her life to the light of comedic observation and share the results with her fans.
Notorious C.H.O. was filmed live in Seattle last year and it documents her standup act from backstage warm-up through the entire 90-minute show. Cho is sensational and engaging every minute of the film. She hits the stage running and doesn't let up until the curtain comes down. The only negative side to the presentation of this material is the comparatively dull camera work and editing, but these are issues that shouldn't drastically change your opinion of the disc.
About the DVD
Presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, the image is serviceable but not spectacular. Since the performance takes place on a dark stage and Cho is lighted for a live audience there isn't a great deal of depth or subtlety to the picture. On the other hand, there aren't any serious technical flaws either. For a standup comedy performance this is a workmanlike transfer that does a suitable job.
Both Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 tracks are available on the disc and the two are more or less interchangeable. You won't find any fancy channel panning or thumping LFE action. You do get some ambient crowd noise and a very live sounding presentation, though. The dialogue is crisp and clear with no noticeable distortion.
Trailers - The trailer for Notorious C.H.O., I'm The One That I Want and The Tavern (a limited distribution film co-starring Cho.)
Filmography - A very standard set of text screens showing the titles and release dates of all of Cho's big screen appearances.
Deleted Scenes - Not actually scenes deleted from the main program but an enchanting backstage interview with Cho's very supportive and proud parents. Seeing them take the spotlight offers an insightful look at the people who clearly inspired much of Cho's unique approach.
Grocery Store - An animated short 'film' that spoofs public service announcements. The animation style is similar to the sort of Flash-based movies that you can see on the Web. Grocery Store is moderately funny and a nice addition to the disc.
"Notorious" Movie Shoot - A very brief promotional trailer for Notorious C.H.O. featuring some behind-the-scenes footage.
The Making of Notorious C.H.O. - A 12 minute featurette with more behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Cho. A worthy if brief extra.
Audio Commentary with Cho as her Mother - If you're a huge Margaret Cho fan you'll probably love this whimsical audio commentary in which Cho goofs on her own film. She provides commentary in the persona of her mother, a character that she's been doing since the very beginning of her comedy career. Cho's funny on this track but it didn't maintain the level of interest that the feature did for me.
Notorious C.H.O. is a raw, explicit rant from one of today's best and brightest comedians. In Cho's own words, where I'm The One That I Want was about coming of age, Notorious C.H.O. is about being of age. If you like your humor frank, unflinching and raunchy, then this disc is for you. Be warned that this content is not for children and is intended for a mature adult audience. I give it a rating of Highly Recommended.