American Soil

Stars and stripes have never embraced Americans quite like they did at Margaret Cho’s hometown stop on her currentNotorious C.H.O. tour in hallowed Davies Symphony Hall. Her opening act, the statuesque Vaginal Davis, a six-foot-something drag queen/“blacktress” hit the stage in a honey blonde wig and red-white-and-blue gown, her ensemble oddly recalling Mae West in the film Myra Breckenridge. Davis’ brand of flag waving consisted of the Texas-shaped, glittery map of America G-string that didn’t quite contain her privates. Davis belted out a couple of punkish songs before plucking a virginal, all-American-looking young man out of the audience for a hilarious toe-sucking ritual that warmed the symphony stage for Margaret, clad in a sequined stars-and-stripes bustier and formfitting black skirt that showed off all her curves and did little to cinch in her bawdy, humanistic humor.

Due to the current Attack on America, the diverse population of the good old U.S. of A. has embraced the flag, by any means necessary, to express a variety of cultural positions. It’s an odd moment, with everyone scrambling to position themselves between irony and honesty. Luckily, Cho’s first-person material has been clear on that point from the start. She may accent her punch lines with drag-queenish rolls of the eye, but this is one woman whose demeanor as an outsider icon is mighty real.

Cho’s material wasn’t exactly patriotic, though. Her nearly two hours on stage was essentially an entertainingly descriptive tour of her body, starting with tales of her first colonic (“It’s the shit”), her period (leading to a gut-busting bit imagining a straight dude on the rag), and her polymorphous perversities “I get ugly when I fuck,” Cho screamed. She spoke more calmly of attending an S-and-M sex club, of negotiating orgasms with an insensitive boyfriend, of searching for her G-spot and being fisted (by a woman), an admission that elicited an excited female yelp from the balcony. “Bet this is the first time the subject of fisting has been discussed on the Davies stage,” Cho proudly announced. One wondered if she’d chatted about it with her parents, who were sitting in the house along with truckloads of adoring gay men.

The physical themes were filtered through her trademark topics — being a fag hag, racial stereotyping of Asians in the entertainment biz, family dysfunction, and serious food issues. “You know you’ve got an eating disorder when you have dessert at McDonald’s,” she said, punctuating with an inimitable scrunch of her face.

Cho’s work is strongest when she makes us laugh at our own assumptions and foibles, serious stuff you shouldn’t laugh at, but if you didn’t, well, you’d cry. In her previous show, I’m the One That I Want, her own unfortunate but character-building experiences in Hollywood had lent the material a narrative poignancy that’s missing from this more traditional comedy set. The political consciousness is here all right — in the form of straightforward talk about self-esteem and experiences of cultural hatred inflamed by threats of war — though it’s less integrated into the whole. Still, Cho remains one of the most inspiring, not to mention hilarious, voices to those of us in America’s margins. God bless her.


— Glen Helfand is a cofounder of Stretcher