MARGARET CHO with opener LIAM SULLIVAN at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Friday (April 4), 8 pm (doors 7 pm). $29.50-$49.50. 416-870-8000, 416-872-4255. Rating: NNNNN
It’s the day after the breaking of the Spitzer scandal
, and Margaret Cho is checking out the Empress Club website.
“It’s research,” she tells me, from her L.A. home. Her mouse clicks faintly. “They’re just so expensive! $31,000 a day. That’s an awful lot of money for women who have no heads.”
The punchline gets a laugh, and I can hear her pleasure. Maybe the joke will make it into her new show, which hits Massey Hall Friday.
“I totally wish I had thought to charge when I was younger,” she continues, not missing a beat. “I want to be able to bill people now.”
Cho, of course, has never shied away from discussing any kind of sexuality – her own or that of anyone else around her. So count on lots of salacious stories in the new show, Beautiful, which sports a less raunchy and in-your-face title than her previous tours like Assassin or The Notorious C.H.O.
“I wanted a title that contrasted with the material,” she tells me. “It’s pretty sexually graphic and really dirty and crazy and raunchy, so I thought the word ‘Beautiful’ would be funny.”
Funny maybe. But the title also brings back a shocking memory. A few years ago, a DJ asked the stand-up what it would feel like if she woke up one morning and was beautiful.
“I was thinking, ‘What do you mean if?’” she says. “And he said, ‘What if you woke up and you were blond and blue-eyed and you were 5-foot-11 and weighed 100 pounds. You’d be beautiful. What would you do?’
“And I said, ‘Well, I probably wouldn’t get up, because I’d be too weak to stand. And that’s really horrible that you think only that kind of person is beautiful. It’s really sick. I want everybody to feel beautiful.’”
Take that, asshole.
It’s taken Cho years to get to this point of self-love and acceptance, as she’s chronicled in earlier works like I’m The One That I Want.
“I feel much more confident and good about myself as I get older,” she says. “When I was younger, I felt invisible. If you’re a woman, if you’re Asian-American and if you’re queer, you really have no kind of role model or way to feel included by society. We’re not out there. Our visibility is nil.
“Even though I grew up in San Francisco, which was very Asian, if you looked at the media you didn’t see yourself at all. So I had a lot of insecurity about my looks and my weight, and all that was exacerbated by going into entertainment, where I was considered too fat for roles and it was really hard to get a job. People had these weird standards of beauty, especially for Asian-American women.”
That empowerment shtick might sound trite and obvious these days, but Cho walks the walk. She and actor Kal Penn have recently become Barack Obama surrogates, speaking at events in place of the presidential hopeful. And she’s still pretty unique. The audiences at her shows – lots of queers, women, minorities of all colours – don’t see many others representing them.
For instance, can you name another high-profile female Asian comic?
“There’s Kate Rigg, who’s wonderful,” says Cho. “But I think a lot of im-migrant families have a hard time letting their children go into the arts. A lot of my friends who are Asian-American don’t even get started in their career in the arts until they’re into their 30s. They pleased their parents by going to graduate school.”
Things might change after Cho’s reality show, The Cho Show, hits the VH1 airwaves some time this year. It’ll follow the comic – and her mom, famous from the comic’s routines – while they do their thing.
“You know what’s amazing?” she tells me. “I brought the first Asian-American family to TV over 13 years ago,” she says, referring to her groundbreaking All-American Girl. “And now I’m bringing the second Asian-American family to TV.”
Now, that’s funny – and kind of sad.
Additional Audio Clips
On turning 40 this year:
On how All-American Girl would do today:
Sullivan’s really big Shoes
The Beautiful Tour marks the first time Cho’s opening act has his own cult following. L.A. sketch comic Liam Sullivan is a bona fide Internet star via his YouTube and iTunes videos featuring his alter ego, Kelly.
Liam Sullivan’s alter ego, Kelly, goes looking for Shoes.
Sullivan’s Shoes video, starring the “betch-slapping” blond-wigged rebel grrrl, has had more than 40 million YouTube views. A video of Kelly wanting to borrow a neighbour’s top isn’t far behind in popularity.
“Kelly’s kind of a mix of all kinds of women I’ve known over the years,” says Sullivan on the phone from L.A. “She started out with a voice. I started telling people to shut up in the voice, and it sounded funny. But she didn’t work without the look. An ex-girlfriend of mine let me borrow her wig. I gave Kelly striped tights. I didn’t want to look like a man in a wig. I wanted to look like a teenage girl as best as I could.”
Yes, you heard that right. Ex-girlfriend. He’s straight.
“Man, if I were gay, touring with Margaret would be the best life,” he jokes. “But I’m a comedian. I happen to have this sensibility. I think it was hard-wired into me. I’m going to do with it what I should.”
Sullivan says our own Kids in the Hall were a defining influence on his comedy.
“They were so different than anything I’d seen before, doing all the characters, breaking down that fourth wall, doing monologues, little films and live sketch.”
Sullivan has plans to expand his act, both online and on TV.
“I’d love to do a TV show where they let me do what I wanted,” he says. “I don’t know if I can get that kind of deal. I think you need clout to get that.”
In the meantime, there’s the tour. Some audiences are showing up in Kelly costumes.
“And it’s not just girls or gay men!” he says. “A couple of weeks ago there was a guy with his girlfriend, and he was dressed up as Kelly.
That was amazing.”
On how he met Cho:
On future videos:
Kelly's Let Me Borrow That Top:
Kelly's Hollywood Meeting: