A screwed-up life can be a great resource, as Margaret Cho well knows. The 34-year-old comic has often mined her past -- which is fraught with weight, race and sex discrimination, bad relationships and alcohol and drug addictions -- for material. But what's a comedian to do when her life takes a turn for the better?
"In the past, a lot of my material was about my own problems," Cho says. "Now that I have real serenity inside, it's affected my work in a very positive way. I have the luxury to look outward at the world and see what I have problems with out there."
For her "Revolution Tour," which stops in Houston this weekend, Cho will dish up jokes on her loser ex-boyfriend, her mother and dieting. But she'll also draw material from world events, with a bit about, for example, "the axis of evil." The show's being filmed as both a concert and a Truth or Dare-style documentary called Belle du Tour.
Cho's previous concert film, I'm the One That I Want, chronicles her experience as the star of the 1994 sitcom All American Girl, the first to feature an Asian-American TV family. Network brass, she says, accused her of being too fat, too Asian, not Asian enough. Cho was so intimidated that she lost 30 pounds in two weeks and burst a kidney. When her show was canceled after one season, she spiraled into a haze of alcohol, drugs and sex.
Now that she's sober and at a comfortable weight, Cho's journey to self-esteem has become one of the cornerstones of her comedy. At the closing of her last one-woman tour de force, "Notorious C.H.O.," she embodied the spirit of self-help gurus such as Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil -- sort of. "For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution. And our revolution is long overdue!" she said. "I urge you to love yourself without reservation, and each other without restraint. Unless you're into leather."
Cho may be preachy, but that's because she's learned some real lessons about herself. "I was wasting all my intellect and all the gifts I'd been given -- my humor, my passion -- on this obsession with my body," Cho says. "Now some days I don't feel as beautiful as others, but I don't care anymore."
What Cho does care about is comedy. Her characters are so dead-on, she becomes them -- especially when impersonating her mother. "The work takes a long time, putting together a one-woman show that's cohesive and makes sense," says Cho. "The initial rush of discovering the germ of this thing you're going to do, that's the greatest. But the editing and rewriting takes the biggest part of your heart."
Cho recently surprised even herself by getting engaged to a German man. "I never thought I would marry," she says. "There are people in life who aren't necessarily meant to partner, and I always assumed that was me."
The wedding date coincides with the first break in her tour, June 13. "Friday the 13th, my holy day," Cho says. The two will take part in a traditional Korean ceremony, but they're also planning a "performance art, crazy-people ceremony" in which they'll exchange blood instead of rings. Shades of Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie? "We're actually going to do a transfusion, not in a vial," Cho says dryly. "We'll be lying in gurneys."