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Skewer Days : In the Study of Stereotypes, Margaret Cho Is a Sharp Student

October 25, 1996|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — Life is tough, particularly if you're a big-boned Korean American comedian trying to make it in Hollywood. That was a key point expressed by Margaret Cho on Wednesday at the Improv during her lively and socially relevant show.

Two years ago Cho earned pioneer status as the first Asian American to star in her own television series, "All-American Girl." Six months later, the stereotype-peppered sitcom was another casualty in the intense TV ratings wars.

During her fast paced 50-minute set, Cho, 27, recounted some the negative images of Asians she's encountered in both the entertainment industry and society as a whole.

She unmercifully skewered a film she just completed about a group of Chinese exchange students who take up residency in South-Central L.A. In the film, "Faking the Funk," her character can't stand light or sound because "they [supposedly] don't have those things in China."

"It's hard being an Asian in film or TV," she concluded in a moment of pure seriousness. "You either have to be a kung fu master, a computer [person] or an exchange student."

Cho also talked about a recent encounter she had with Brooke Shields. With a right-on imitation of the bubbly voiced actress, Cho humorously recalled how the well-intentioned Shields suggested she fill two quotas by playing both an Asian and a lesbian on her new sitcom, "Suddenly Susan."

Another well-known actor who was part of the conversation argued that Cho shouldn't be forced to play an Asian character. Instead, he offered, she could simply "tape her eyes open."

Cho's weight was at the crux of several of her recollections. The motor-mouthed comic--who sometimes sounds as if she's just escaped from the Valley--recalled the humiliation that she felt when TV executives suggested she lose 10 pounds for her role in "All-American Girl."

Cho earned some hearty and well-deserved laughs when she imagined how these bigwigs might have called a conference meeting to discuss her offending fatty areas. In this scenario she envisioned a full body poster of herself being unfurled for the purpose of detailed examination.

Toward the end of her show, Cho admitted that she's "a bundle of neuroses." And the San Francisco-raised comic wasn't reluctant to poke fun at her own shortcomings. Her attraction to "gorgeous"-but-dumb men had her fretting that she might never find romantic contentment.

Cho is truly lovable playing the role of the beautiful loser. But her charismatic and fast-paced delivery doesn't allow her to wallow in much self-pity. Instead, this stereotype-shattering woman has a way of making her foibles and setbacks universal in a side-splitting way.

* Comedian Margaret Cho continues through Sunday at the Improv, 4255 Campus Drive, Irvine. $12-$15. (714) 854-5455.

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