Twisty has a brilliant review of Margaret Cho's new book-and-DVD combo on her site, and that is what got me thinking about writing this, though it has been in my head for some time. While I haven't read the book, I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, I did see a live performance of Cho's Assasin tour (which is what the DVD is), so I am pretty familiar with what Twisty's talking about. And my reaction was very much like her's.
I think Margaret Cho is funny. But I think she used to be funnier, and I think her funniest bits now are the ones that happen when she stops trying so hard to be political, stops pandering to her gay male audience, and tells her own truth. Unfortunately, at least when I saw her, these moments were few and far between.
I have a vague memory of the first time I saw Margaret Cho, doing standup on TV. I still lived at home, so I guess it would have been the mid-90s. She was talking about a tour she took through the South, and said something about southern weather and racism, along the lines of: "It's not the heat, it's the humidity, and it's not the hate, it's the stupidity." It was brilliant. She went on to make fun of her mother, and I laughed until I was on the floor. Later, probably in I'm the One That I Want, she took on the celebrity machine that wanted her to lose weight and take "Asian" lessons in order to play herself on her short-lived sitcom. That was funny. And it was more than funny--it was personal, it was political, it was insightful. I miss that Margaret Cho.
In contrast, her Assasin show seemed mostly to be about the fabulousness of gay men. While I certainly have no problem with gay men, they're men, and frankly, I could use fewer men in my entertainment. More than that, though, I was uncomfortable with the underlying misogyny of the things Cho did say about women (most notable was the Laura-Bush's-pussy-tastes-like-Lysol comment--I really could have lived without that one). If these comments had been in the context of a woman-focused show, they'd have been no issue to me, but because they were pretty much all Cho seemed to have to say about women, they rubbed me completely wrong.
Twisty says that Cho is "an Air America personality, not a militant." I couldn't agree more with that statement. There is something uncomfortably trendy about Cho's politics, and it leaves me with the same discomfort as the rest of the Air America crowd does. Which pains me to say, because these are folks--particularly Cho and Janeane Garafalo--for whom I had tremendous respect before. I have absolutely no issue with celebrities taking on politics--in fact, I think it's great--but when they seem to be using politics to further their celebrity, rather than using their celebrity to further causes they believe in, I get a little bit itchy.
To compound my distaste, I came upon a blurb in some entertainment rag the other day announcing the production of Cho's new sitcom. That's cool, I thought. Then I read on, and saw how proud Cho was said to be about her recent weight loss. Now, this blurb could well have been bullshit (and I can't for the life of me remember where I read it), but if it's not, then how short a distance have we come? Didn't Cho already fight this battle? In my mind, her best work has been what she's had to say about this subject, but that doesn't mean I want her to have to go through it again.
I have great admiration for a lot of Margaret Cho's work, and I don't doubt her commitment to at least some of her political causes. However, Cho's words meant more to me before they seemed so constructed. I loved hearing her rail against racial and sexual stereotypes and the body image industry, and I missed that while I was listening to her go on and on about the fabulousness of all her gay male friends. I miss her being about women. There are so few celebrities out there who really seem dedicated to our gender, and it makes me sad to think we may have lost one.