Things I used to love: The comedy stylings of Margaret Cho

Last night I was procrastinating on writing up my Iron Man 3 reaction (some more), and so I decided to watch a stand-up special. But I must have felt particularly guilty about my blog-avoidant behavior because I selected a special I pretty much guessed would not work out for me:  Beautiful by Margaret Cho (available on Netflix). And not only did I cue it up, but I also watched the whole program from start to finish even though I barely giggled throughout the 75-minute running time. Because I so badly wanted to love it. But I just couldn’t.

Cho will always own a corner of my heart. I love her. There was a time when her 1994 HBO special played in constant rotation on Comedy Central, and I probably watched it for at least 40 percent of its airings. It was and still is the Best Thing Ever. I wish I could watch it right now, in fact. I would so much rather do that than sit here and talk smack about Cho, who has apparently already had a rough time of it.

But I have to admit, it’s been a long while since I’ve found her material compelling. I’m sure someone somewhere in the world probably criticized her old stuff as simply the generic observational humor that was so immensely popular during that era. But screw them! I didn’t love her act because of what she had to say about her life as a single woman or her childhood or even her definitive bits about her wacky Korean immigrant family. I loved it because of the very specific way she structured the set-ups and pay-offs into her own unique flow. I respected her as a storyteller.

But she doesn’t seem to tell many stories these days. I still respect that everything she says seems to come from an authentic place within her, and I appreciate her messages of support for the LBGTQ community and body love/self-care. We need more messengers on those topics. But her message so totally and completely drives her material that she forgets to style her thoughts into a narrative.

She just throws out there a list of political thoughts and raunchy thoughts. I love political humor, and for what it’s worth, I agree with her politics. But I don’t think political humor is her strong suit, and it’s a highly competitive field these days. And the raunchy stuff needs context to make it funny. Just discussing and miming sex acts doesn’t make me laugh because I don’t find it particularly shocking.

Don’t just tell me factoids about your pussy; tell me a funny story about it. Put your over-sharing to good use.

No one could accuse her of using generic material now. That’s for damn sure. She has firmly carved out a very specific niche audience, a community desirous of representation. She is successful in representing them, so they will adore her no matter what. I guess I’m just a cranky party crasher.

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