Comedian Margaret Cho opens her set at the Gramercy Theatre in New York with a rant about Harvey Weinstein. Like women everywhere, she seems both disgusted and confused by how he could have gotten away with such blatant abuse for so long. Her response is to ridicule him, to take away his social power by pointing out how gross he is as a human being. It is a pattern that repeats throughout her show, as she laughs at Woody Allen, Donald Trump and even herself. Her comedy is subversive, dealing in stereotypes and taboos and flipping them on their heads. She regularly chuckles to herself, shakes her head and says, “It’s so stupid,” as if even she can’t believe she’s saying this stuff. But the whole room is grateful that she is.
When Cho walked onto the stage, I was transfixed by her outfit. She was wearing killer heels and an artsy linen dress, with her tattoos snaking around her shoulders and down her arms. She projected power, wit and a general aura of “I don’t give a fuck.” As rape jokes rolled into strip club anecdotes, it became obvious that she really doesn’t. Cho has clearly learned, or was innately born with, the kind of confidence that she needs to get shit done as a bisexual Korean-American woman.
She talks about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child and her recent abusive relationship so that others can feel less alone, and somehow she still has the crowd in stitches. When she regales the audience with tales of her experiences with anal sex or that one time she did cocaine, it feels like she is entertaining her friends at a bar with her weekend exploits. She set the record straight on Tilda Swinton and Hollywood whitewashing and shared an absurdly funny impression of her mom’s accent. This woman jokes about AIDS, for God’s sake. Even so, nothing about her seems forced or fake; Margaret Cho is just this straight-up and unapologetic.
Selene Luna, the comedian who opened for Cho, is less polished but channels a similar level of defiance. Although she makes reference to the fact that she is a little person, a woman and a Mexican-American, or, as she describes it, Trump’s worst nightmare, Luna manages to win over the audience with jokes about her husband and their attempts to have sex on a memory foam mattress. Luna is is engaging and self-deprecating, alternately obnoxious and amused as she mines her everyday life for glimmers of comedy that she can exploit to her advantage.
After more than 30 years in stand up, it is no exaggeration to say that Cho is at the top of her game. Her loyal fanbase adores her (despite the fact that she spent at least five minutes interrogating the gay men in the front row about whether they’d ever seen a pussy and what they did with it) and the current political situation, while ostensibly depressing, is a boon to her irreverent style. Here’s hoping that as long as there are gross men in the world, Margaret Cho is doing stand up shows where she paints a mental picture of how unappealing their penises must be, just to keep us laughing in their faces.
Catch Margaret Cho's new show Fresh Off The Bloat as she tours around the country in October and November.
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Molly McLaughlin is a travel and culture writer currently based in Mexico City. Her work has appeared in publications including Lonely Planet, Refinery29 and Ms. Magazine. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @mollysgmcl.