Friday, October 28, 2005

Picked Flick #90: I'm the One That I Want

Her name is MARGARET, and she is here to WASH your vagina! Well, actually, she isn't; "Gwen" has got that covered. But Margaret Cho is here to fire off completely unexpected lines like that, to bellow them out, to belly-laugh them, to naughtily gift-wrap them, to reprise them in different voices, to make sure you never forget them. Same with, "I wasn't like any Korean role-model that they"—read: anyone—"had ever seen. I mean, I didn't play violin. I didn't fuck Woody Allen." Or, "Fag hags are the backbone of the gay community! We led you through the Underground Railroad! We went to the prom with you!" Or her priceless answering-machine messages from her mother, or her in-store conversations with same ("Oh, Mommy wasn't ready for that!!"). One of my absolute favorite bits is her gendered comparison between last-call behavior at bars. I'm paraphrasing (why don't I own this movie??), but basically it goes, "When you go out with your girlfriends, and one of them meets somebody, women are all, 'Oh my GOD, I feel so BAD, I can't leave with YOU, I'm here with my FRIEND!' Gay men, however, will LEAVE YOU. They're like, 'You can take a bus! You can take a cab! You a big girl, you go, girl! No, I said YOU. GO.' At last call, the only people in a gay bar are women."

Another of the funniest bits, though heartbreaking in context, is "I - was so - hungry! I was starving!!" Margaret lets fly with that curveball at the point in her live, one-woman show when she has stopped (well, mostly stopped) explicitly catering to her hometown and way-gay San Francisco audience and is chronicling her own short, unhappy life as a corporate-fabricated Asian-American poster child in the mid-1990s. Cast in an "Asian family" sitcom whose cast of characters were all, to anyone paying attention, of completely different Asian ethnicities. Coercively shadowed by an "Asian advisor" who would dog her around the set and teach her to be "more" Asian. ("Here, use these chopsticks!" Cho ventriloquizes in wicked but pained memory, "and then, you can put them in your hair!") All the while, Cho was fighting dietary dictates from the network and the eating disorders they inevitably provoked, as well as various addictions, sexual recklessness and eventual victimization, crushed expectations, vicious "fanmail," industry racism, and everything else under the Angelino sun. As she tells the story, with no matter how much foul-mouthed and knee-slapping wit, you can see that she's beating back every ghost in the book. Maybe this time, she'll win.

I'm the One That I Want, richer, more personal, and a good deal funnier than Cho's follow-up concert docs, is like "Rose's Turn" sung out by Richard Pryor. Except, you know, "more Asian." The structural arrangement of her show, testifying to her struggles against sexist and racist G-forces by playfully stoking her largely white male audience's presumed familiarity with homophobia, comprises a thesis in itself about the dialogic possibilities between different cadres of American outcasts. Cho raises all kinds of questions in her routine, and consciously or not, the routine raises questions of its own. What is it, after all, about gay male fandom and train-wrecked female celebrities? What are the stakes of such brazen self-stereotyping as Cho's personally patented pidgin-Korean? And what do you do with a comic who's willing and able to say, "I went through this whole thing—am I gay? Am I straight? And then I realized—I'm just slutty. Where's my parade??" My answer so far: you watch her movie. A lot. And you think a lot about what you're watching, and why. And you laugh so much you almost vomit. (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love her SO MUCH. You have no idea..well, actually, it seems you do! Haha. The track "Revolution" off her album of the same name might be one of the most moving things I've EVER heard. I don't know if it's just because of where I am in my life right now (I was actually intending to email you about "things" soon, just to let you know where I'm at) but it made me realize that Margaret Cho really is a passionate person along side all the hilarity and such.

3:17 AM, October 30, 2005  

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