Actress and comedian Margaret Cho remembers vividly the last time she was in Houston, although it had nothing to do with her scheduled gig. "I went to this country and western club, and they had this big cow skull on the roof and a disco-ball saddle hanging from the ceiling," she recalls excitedly. "And the dance floor was like this skating rink with all these hats going around and around. It was like a cowboy rave." So it must be fitting that Cho -- whose material often skewers stereotypes and mannerisms of her Korean heritage -- wants to head back to said honky-tonk during a Houston comedy engagement this week. "And this time, I'm even going to try to dance."
Taking a twirl with the local urban cowboys may even inspire a new bit for Cho, who has been performing comedy for almost half of her almost 30 years. Though a career in standup comedy may not have been what her parents had in mind originally. "I grew up in a very conservative household. And one time, my father rented a Richard Pryor concert video. We watched, like, two seconds of it before he turned it off!" she laughs. "But they're very excited for me now. A lot of their [hesitation] comes from that immigrant mindset. And Korean culture is a very patriarchal society."
Cho is best remembered by many from the flurry of news stories that trumpeted the arrival of her racial-barrier-breaking sitcom All-American Girl in 1994. And though the show bombed and its star calls doing it "the worst mistake I ever made," she did take back one valuable growth lesson about the transition between the standup stage and the sound stage. "I wasn't allowed to write any of the scripts, so you had this group of guys writing their version of what I should be. It seemed like it would be such an easy transition at first. I feel like a silent-movie actress who never made it to the talkies," she says. "The whole [TV thing] is a sick process. But if you can thrive in it, like Jerry Seinfeld, then that's something I really admire."
Today, Cho spends most of her time performing standup with new comedy partner Karen Kilgariss. But even after all these years, performing can still make her nervous. "I find that if I haven't been up there in a while, I'm afraid to go back on," she says. Her view of the profession: "Comedy is an art between social commentary and entertainment, and it should be treated as such. That's why I like performers like [the late] Bill Hicks," she says. "And [that skill] is what sets good comics apart from those who only have a few jokes. Comedy is not about jokes ... it's about the ability to make people laugh."
-- Bob Ruggiero
Margaret Cho will perform at the Laff Stop, 1952-A West Gray, August 20 and 23 at 8:30 p.m.; August 21 and 22 at 8 and 10:30 p.m. $11$15. 524-2333.