About 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles lies a hillside community called Montrose that’s so charmingly retro it’s often used to represent Main Street, USA, in movies like Pleasantville. It’s not the kind of place where residents typically discuss their recent anal bleaching over chicken wraps, but then Margaret Cho isn’t your typical resident. “The bleaching was surprisingly easy and refreshing,” says the veteran stand-up comic over lunch at one of her favorite neighborhood cafés, the Black Cow. “The woman at the bleaching place showed me before and after pictures. It was hilarious because the way she was holding her hands on the ass, it was like she had entered it in the county fair.”
This is just one of the many adventures you’ll see on Cho’s new VH1 pseudo-reality venture, The Cho Show. In other episodes she sidles up to San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom as he names April 30 Margaret Cho Day, speaks at the high school that expelled her for bad grades 20-some years ago, and takes a needle to her G-spot in an attempt to boost her sexual sensitivity. “The G-shot is a separate episode from the anal bleaching,” she stresses. “I like to keep the vagina and the anus separate. Don’t mix ’em. You’ll get a hangover.”
For her legions of fans, this is the kind of anal-warts-and-all dish they’ve come to expect from Cho since she burst onto the stand-up scene in the early ’90s. After the cancellation of her much-hyped but short-lived sitcom All-American Girl in 1995, Cho broke out with a self-financed concert film,I’m the One That I Want. The next few years brought three more hit tours-turned-films -- Notorious C.H.O., CHO Revolution, and Margaret Cho: Assassin -- and Cho evolved from a road comic and film actress (Face/Off, It’s My Party) into her own unique brand of performance artist, political activist, and sexual provocateur.
She sees The Cho Show as the next step in her evolution. “It’s the closest I’ve been able to come on television to what I do as a comic,” says Cho, who’s working a Brokeback-meets-burlesque ensemble today (cotton cowboy shirt over Martini brand bell-bottoms that are denim from the knee up and sheer from the knee down). “It’s like a sitcom but with real people playing the parts.” Fans hoping for a down and dirty exposé of her real life should adjust their expectations, though. Yes, much of the action takes place in her home, but Cho actually moved into a house 10 miles away during shooting so she could avoid the production fracas when she wasn’t on-camera. And the show’s story lines were crafted by Cho and a small team of writer-producers well before the cameras rolled. “The show is me in the context of being around all the people that make me want to tell jokes,” she says. “It’s sort of like this constant riffing that I do with the people in my life.”
Although everyone on the show is playing his or her real-life persona, their relationship to Cho has been scripted to provide a platform for her comedy. For example, Selene Luna, a 3-foot 10-inch scene-stealer and longtime friend, acts as the comic’s assistant on the series. Stylists John Stapleton, Charlie Altuna, and John Blaine form Cho’s “Glam Squad.” Although the three men have a warm rapport with the comic, they just met her during casting for The Cho Show.
The only real exception to the faux-reality setup is Cho’s Korean-born parents, who play themselves on the show. Longtime Cho fans will be particularly excited to meet her mother, Young Hie, whom Cho has been imitating in her act since the beginning of her career. “I did wonder if people were going to think that I was doing her wrong,” Cho says, “but I think it’s pretty accurate.”
Cho’s parents, who make their living importing and exporting books and have a bookstore in Seoul, took time off to appear on the show. “I really had to yell at them,” Cho says. “I built my whole career without their help, so I said, ‘The one time I need help with something, you better help.’ They were worried that the cast was just going to make fun of them, but then they saw that they had an important part to play and that we loved them, and they started to warm up.”
One person viewers won’t see on The Cho Show is Cho’s husband of five years, Al Ridenour, a visual artist who also designs her website. If you’re surprised to learn that Cho’s a married woman, you’re not alone. “People are always surprised about that, but that’s just the way it is,” she says simply. “That part of my life is really happy and perfect, and I worried that putting my real relationship under that kind of scrutiny would just fuck it up. He’s shy and he doesn’t want to be on-camera, and I understand that.”