Margaret Cho: State of Emergency, New Players Theatre, London
The undisputed queen of the fag-hag gag
Thursday 16 December 2004
When the Korean-American comedian Margaret Cho quipped that George Bush could be likened to Hitler if only he'd apply himself, she was inundated with graphic hate mail from scores of ultra-conservative Americans who were happy to use her ethnicity and her bisexuality against her. Nothing quite so inflammatory passes her lips tonight, even though, to a converted London audience gathered under Charing Cross station, she could have said pretty much anything.
Making her London debut, the San Franciscan admits that she has taken a while to acclimatise to being over here. She notes, for example, how calm the British news is compared with the hysterical broadcasting techniques in the US. A week into her ambitious five-week run at the New Players Theatre and she would, by all accounts, seemed to have calmed as well. Certainly, she does not come over as the shrieking figure that recordings of her live shows in the United States portray.
But there's still plenty of energy in her act, if relatively little head-on Bush-baiting in this particular show. And there is a reasonable helping of issue-led gender politics, abortion, birth control, gay marriage, and so on, the last allowing her to move on to her favourite, more frivolous ground: the delights of being a fag hag.
A competent liberal stand-up who can deal with issues and play for laughs (on America's recent paranoia about letting Cat Stevens into the country, she asks: "Were they worried he might go electric?"), she is, at times, a little too obvious. A section in which she muses on hypothetical male menstruation is hackneyed, and her caricature of her mother talking about her daughter's sexuality is overplayed at times. Meanwhile, a drag queen who gives tips on reading people, and a wedding planner who is withholding his services to support the right to gay marriage also suffer from too much emphasis on physical theatre rather than content.
Nevertheless, despite overreaching for laughs, there are some nice gags, including one on her deliberate avoidance of the topic of North Korea, which comes during a surprisingly short section on race. Another one to watch out for is her take on the funeral arrangements for Ronald Reagan, of whom she says: "Wasn't he already dead? This guy died again!"
Cho's promotional material suggests that she is hailed by many as the heir apparent to Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. This might be audacious, to say the least, but a comic with a political perspective and ability to marry that with humour is something to nurture on both sides of the Atlantic. Hopefully, her avowed "intolerance of intolerance" will continue to sharpen itself into a much punchier set.
Her next project, after her London dates, is to start filming for a feature called Bam Bam and Celeste, described as "a fag and fag-hag Dumb and Dumber". This may not augur well for the continuing development of a radical voice, but one hopes that it will not be completely derailed.
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