Comedy review: Margaret Cho adds maturity — and musical comedy — to stand-up act in Portland
by Lee Williams
She may be making her first foray into musical comedy, but Margaret Cho already knows how to sell a song.
And launch a new tour.
Cho kicked off her latest national concert tour, “Cho Dependent,” to a nearly sold-out crowd at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Thursday night.
This week she also released the “Cho Dependent” companion album, a collection of ditties Cho co-composed with artists ranging from musicians Tegan and Sara and Ani DiFranco to fellow comic Tommy Chong.
Working the stage in micro-mini denim shorts and a sleeveless top that exposed her recent tapestry of tattoos (she has said they now cover 20 percent of her body), Cho sprinkled performances of four songs throughout her hundred-minute show, hitting their humorous notes with some surprising vocal chops and musical craftsmanship.
“I’m Sorry,” a grisly little alt-country twanger was even funnier and grislier after Cho recounted the song’s inspiration: She’d Google’d an old flame she wanted to rekindle, only to find out he’d murdered his wife. (Watch the “I’m Sorry” video.)
An electro-rap tune delivered as a duet with Cho’s opening act John Roberts, and a ballad she sang while strumming acoustic guitar, hit their marks as well. Like many songs on the album, their titles can’t be said here.
But it was halfway through her set, during a torch song dedicated to male genitalia, when Cho got some nifty, additional back-up.
The curtain behind her lifted revealing the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, a surprising, tuxedoed choral accompaniment that seemed both sweet and entirely appropriate to the number, and to her show. Cho has long been a spokesperson for gay and lesbian issues.
The meat and potatoes of her concerts is still her stand-up. The material, her paced delivery, and Cho’s amazing facial contortions, were where she shined most on Thursday.
Unlike during her election-year tours, politics took a bit of a back seat, though Cho got in a few barbs about California’s Proposition 8
Her biggest riffs remained current events, body image and gay culture. Cho’s been trying to make headway at her gym in Peachtree City, Ga., she explained, the Atlanta suburb where her girl-powered Lifetime comedy “Drop Dead Diva” shoots. To the gym’s stacks of conservative Focus on Family magazines, Cho says she’s added gay reading staples The Advocate magazine and Italian Men’s Vogue.
And a huge theme was sex: procuring sex now that she’s in her 40s, as opposed to her 20s, when she said all she had to do was pretend she didn’t speak English; imagining sex during her living-assisted years; her own perils with sexting; to visiting a strip club that employs elderly strippers and serves steaks. (“What kind of wine goes with that?” she pondered.)
In other words, vintage Cho. This was the chance to see and hear an already drop-dead funny diva growing, flexing new musical muscle, and fearlessly mature.