Once upon a time in America, standup comedians were all male and bawdy, offensive or downright dirty comedy material was confined to certain Vegas shows or underground clubs and LPs. Times, of course, change and material that was once deemed outrageous now appears in the "family hour" of broadcast TV, while most anything goes on pay channels, home video or the Internet.
Accordingly, the thought of women doing ribald standup comedy isn't as taboo as it once was, and the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Janeane Garofalo and Sandra Bernhard get just as down and dirty as the men in what they're able and willing to discuss. Although women letting profanity and vulgarisms fly doesn't really do anything for me - call me old-fashioned that way - I suppose it's a good thing that we live in a society where that right and option is available to them if they so choose to exercise it.
All of which is a good thing because if it weren't, comedian Margaret Cho would likely be thrown into jail for indecency. That's particularly true after seeing her latest standup comedy film, "Notorious C.H.O." Following the success of her last such picture, 2000's "I'm the One That I Want," the Asian comedian returns to the stage where she lets loose with the four and five letter words as well as descriptions of sexual activity that would make even the FOX TV network blush, not to mention her parents.
Truth be told, they actually don't seem to mind as evidenced by a brief interview with them that, along with an amusing, "Why can't we all just get along" cartoon, precedes the main attraction that clocks in at 90 some minutes.
Her parents are certainly good sports as they're often the sources or butts of Cho's comedy. Whether it's discussing the "gayness" in her father or her mother's camelback riding incident in Israel, the 33-year-old comedian gets some good mileage out of the family material, particularly when she scrunches up her face and adopts a shrill, rapid-fire Korean accent while imitating her mother.
Director Lorene Machado, who's limited in what she can do with the material from a visual standpoint, makes sure not to miss capturing that expression and other rubbery faces, as they're clearly the highlight of the show.
Like most standup performers, Cho reaches into her personal life and experiences for most of her material, such as growing up in a time when the only Asian role models on TV were extras on "M*A*S*H," and the only potential for work was as Arnold's girlfriend on "Happy Days" or appearing as a background hooker.
She also touches on universal themes such as overeating problems with the best of that being when she adopts a slow, Southern drawl and talks about putting on her "eating dress" as if it were a barnyard feeding accessory. That said, she does go a bit far at times regarding some of her more risqué and unique life experiences. Among them is a lengthy discussion about receiving a colonic, as well as various lesbian encounters and specific related activities.
I'm no prude when it comes to such material and can find the dirtiest, filthiest and lowest humor funny or even hilarious when it's done right, but most of Cho's material simply didn't strike me that way. That's not meant to imply that it's not and I'm sure that many of her fans will find it that way and thus enjoy what's offered. Everyone has different comedic tastes and I simply found most of the material far more amusing than of the bust a gut variety.
Part of the problem for me is that she stays on some of the topics - particularly the sex related ones - too long. It's almost as if she's trying to prove that she can cuss and spit like the big boys - that namely being the likes of Pryor, Murphy and Carlin. In fact, she even states - in one of her female specific bits -- that if the former had a menstrual period, he likely would have used it in his routines.
While she succeeds at the wallowing, the material - in my opinion - simply isn't as funny, inspired or imaginatively structured and ordered as that of her predecessors. That said, and unless such material easily offends you, the film certainly doesn't come across as a chore to sit through as it does offer some funny material. Even so, it ends up hitting only singles and doubles when it's obvious that Cho is aiming for the grandstands. Good for the fans but probably only so-so for everyone else, "Notorious C.H.O." rates as a 5 out of 10.