In the world of agitative comedy, Margaret Cho’s gifts are many, and her ability to triumph as an avowedly leftist, feminist, Korean-American, bisexual and profanely funny woman (with weight issues, even) is — ironically, considering her blistering jokes about this country’s flaws — like some weird and wonderful check in America’s We Got This One Right column. It may seem a little odd, then, to see her command a VH-1 series like The Cho Show, which puts her hard-won cachet as a provocateur into an all-too-familiar reality-show format: There’s the partner-in-sass assistant; the gay-stylist friends (called “the Glam Squad”), who, in tonight’s premiere episode, must solve her what-to-wear issue for a Korean-American awards show; and her loving but befuddled parents (familiar characters from her act), who just wish she’d throw a conventional-lifestyle bone their way, like a grandchild.
With situations and laughlines that appear to veer between the real and the devised, the result is a show that puts a brilliantly dirty and observationally astute comedy mind at the service of an increasingly tired template of show-biz wackiness, with all the off-and-on success rate that combo entails. Then, again, this was Cho’s struggle in the early ’90s with her ABC sitcom All-American Girl, a landmark series for being the first to feature an Asian-American front and center — but all too common in that Cho’s vision was summarily chipped away by the network, which told her she wasn’t Asian enough or slim enough to play herself. How she bounced back from that groundbreaking but soul-crushing experience — starting with airing it all out in hilarious and poignant fashion in her concert film I’m the One That I Want — was what set her on the path to alterna-comedy goddess-hood and truth-talking independence.
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No one’s telling her what to do or say anymore, but it’s hard not to look at The Cho Show as the celebreality-era redo of All-American Girl. And what’s more all-American than wanting to try, try again?