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'I'm The One That I Want'

Cho business: Comedian unloads on the networks in so-so standup film

Friday, January 05, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

I never much liked Margaret Cho before seeing the film version of her one-woman show, "I'm the One That I Want." But my exposure to her was largely confined to her abysmal ABC sitcom, "The All-American Girl." As she tells us in the film, the network bore a large share of responsibility for that fiasco.


'I'm The One That I Want'

RATING: Unrated; contains strong language and adult jokes about sexuality and drug use.

STARRING: Margaret Cho.

DIRECTOR: Lionel Coleman.




Now that I've seen the movie, I still don't like Margaret Cho. But one of the key impressions I take away from the show is that, for a long time, neither did she.

Her jokes also signal a certain misanthropy on her part toward other people as well, significantly including her mother, whose presence at the filming marks the first time she has seen her daughter's act in person.

Cho expresses real affection primarily for gay men, who make up a significant part of her audience and spend the first portion of the show laughing uproariously at her "fag hag" gags. She grew up on Haight Street in San Francisco in the 1970s in an amazingly diverse neighborhood, and this performance was filmed at her hometown theater.

But the heart of the movie, now at the Harris Theater, lies in her tragicomic travails as the star of "All-American Girl," which premiered in 1994 and was unceremoniously dumped in time for the midseason replacements.

She was 25 when the show debuted. ABC billed it as the first series to feature an Asian-American cast. As you might expect, Cho was on top of the world. Then the network started undercutting her. You're too Asian, they said. Lose weight. You're not Asian enough. Use chopsticks, and wear them in your hair when you're done.

I remember Tim Reid telling me about the network "executroids" (his word) who chided him for not being "black enough" on his short-lived but brilliant series "Frank's Place." Incidents like these validate the caricature of the white network executive in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," who claimed to be more black than the character played by Damon Wayans.

At any rate, Cho lost weight -- to the point where her kidneys collapsed. By the time the network was done messing with her mind, she says, she lost all sense of self-worth. She became a depressed substance abuser who used sex as a means of being liked. That's what I mean by not liking herself.

The title of her current show refers to her recovered self-confidence. I'm the one that I want, she declares -- not some manufactured network notion, not what her traditional Korean mother want, not what some heterosexual man wants.

Brave stuff, maybe. But is it funny?

Actually, a film like this needs enough funny stuff to support such confessional material. But I find it hard to laugh at Cho's preeningly grotesque facial mockery, her refusal to let go of a joke until she has wrung everything out of it and her willingness to do unto others what she doesn't like others doing unto her.

Director Lionel Coleman breaks no new ground cinematically. This is a concert film with four cameras shooting at various angles over two nights of performance, and the movie intercuts from side to side, closeup to full shot.

What it can't do is put us in the same room with Cho, which might be the one thing that heightens the impact of her comedy.

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