Margaret Cho’s show doesn’t feel comedic often enough

Jason Harris

Three stars

Margaret Cho October 16, Treasure Island.

Early in her set, Margaret Cho used one of her jokes from 2003 to set up a long-form piece. “George W. Bush isn’t Hitler. He would be if he applied himself.” No matter what side of the aisle you sit on politically, that’s a killer. It’s concise and thought-provoking, and the punchline is a shot to the face. But this is 2015, and her show at Treasure Island on Friday night had far too few of those moments.

The piece that followed was about the attacks she’s suffered at the hands of the far right: Someone threw poisoned meat over her fence; she’s constantly berated online. But none of it brought the same edge as the Bush barb. Cho herself admitted that what she does now—part routine, part extemporaneous thought process—isn’t just comedy. To the delight of her loyal fans, she said it goes beyond and somewhat facetiously called herself a “spiritual leader” when an audience member asked her why she wasn’t doing straight standup.

She did an excellent job fending off that guy, along with a Donald Trump supporter who didn’t appreciate her take on the Donald. But Cho seemed more concerned with her message than anything else, and the funny suffered. I can’t help thinking that if the jokes were better, the message would have been more effective, too.

High points included a discussion of Cho’s old TV show, All American Girl, the first network comedy show with an Asian lead, and how it relates to current Asian-American hit Fresh Off the Boat: “I had the very first Asian-American television show on ABC 21 years ago, and I f*cked it up so badly that they had to wait for an entire generation of Asian Americans to be born and grow up to Nielsen-voting age.”

But for every well-crafted bit about how Anne Coulter doesn’t need to worry about people actually believing she’s transgender because being trans takes courage and is a way of seeking the truth, there were too many layups, like a joke about how people think she eats dogs because she’s Korean.

Cho ended the show with two songs, “I Want To Kill My Rapist,” which she warned the crowd wouldn’t be funny, and “Fat Pussy,” which just wasn’t. Cho is committed to being honest onstage, and that’s taken her to some great heights. On this night though, the messenger didn’t kill.

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