Beautiful | Margaret ChoPhoto - Austin Young

It will be a “fag hag summit” at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras party this year, according to Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho. She is talking about the female celebrity line-up that will be joining her in a lead position at the party: Olivia Newtown-John, Cyndi Lauper and Kathy Griffin. If only Kylie would come, Cho laments, the perfect summit meeting could be created. As long as they can all stay awake into the wee hours, of course - a goal that could be achieved if she receives the “white drugs” she wishes for.

All this, and we’re only five minutes in. What follows for the rest of the show is a hilarious orgy of smut, pop culture and politics. Clad in a loud peacock dress, pink tights and boots, Cho delivers her no-holds-barred material without flinching. She has an efficient and natural comedic style, choosing her words carefully and understating each joke. The metaphors also flow easily, as Paris Hilton is compared to crop circles and Kegel exercises to a dog urinating on a lawn. Believe it or not, Cho only goes further and further over the line as her routine continues. By the end, we all know intimate details about her sex life, anatomy, preference of gay male subculture and other things I don’t even know about my closest friends.

As much as I found the show hilarious and biting, my reservation about Cho’s work is that she employs stereotypes as much as she satirises them. As she lampoons stereotypes of Asians in America (and Hollywood in particular), in the same breath she uses generalised traits of a community (for instance, gay men or gay women) as the basis for jokes. She says that people should love themselves, but a moment later she makes a bitchy comment about someone else. Though this is her brash style of comedy, I sometimes felt it undermined her very worthwhile message.

For me, Cho’s drawcard is her DIY political activist sensibility. When it works, her humour sharpens the political message, which cuts through controversial issues with an ease that belies its intelligence. When she feels passionate about an issue, her first response is: “What can I do about this?” That she takes on social issues personally is interesting, daring and enchanting. The idea from the show that most resonated with me was that “it’s political to feel beautiful.” Cho is not ashamed to bare it all, and in making comedy about how she feels about herself, she makes a powerful political statement.

New Mardi Gras presents
Margaret Cho

Venue: The Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay
Dates: 27 & 28 February, 2008
Times: 8:00pm and 10:00pm

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