There's nothing quite like the moment when Margaret Cho gets down and dirty. And there are lots of those moments in I'm the One That I Want, her concert film culled from a pair of performances at San Francisco's Warfield Theater. Cho, who had a brief run-in with network television back in 1994-95 ' her show, "All-American Girl," was canceled after one season ' knows exactly how to play off our stereotypes of Asian behavior. First, she imitates them, scrunching up her face and lapsing into a pidgin English that only an Asian comic could get away with. Then she looks out at the audience, lowers her voice and drops a bomb. "When I was drinking," she says at one point, "I gave a lot of unnecessary head."
Drinking and drug-taking were the result of Cho's being deemed not ready for prime time, and she takes us through the whole sorry mess as if this were one of her AA meetings. But she does appear to have held on to her sense of humor. "The first thing you lose on a diet is brain mass," she says, having lost 30 pounds of the stuff in two weeks after the network honchos complained about the "fullness" of her face. First, she was too Asian, then not Asian enough, and even the Korean American community got on her case for not living up to the image we have of Seoul sisters. "I didn't play the violin," Cho says, matter-of-factly. Then, after a perfectly timed pause, "I didn't fuck Woody Allen." Luckily, Soon-Yi wasn't in the house that night.
But a lot of gay men were, apparently. And although Cho often seems like a gay man trapped in a straight woman's body ' "I love gay porn," she says, dismissing straight porn stars as mullet-haired uglies ' she prefers the time-honored role of gay man's best friend. "Fag hags are the backbone of the gay community," she says, then cashes a check written way back in high school: "We went to the prom with you." Indeed they did, and Cho, who grew up in San Francisco's Castro district during the '70s, has developed a following among gay men that rivals the one Bette Midler once put together in the New York baths (with little Barry Manilow on piano). Her comic rhythms have a drag-queen lilt, though filtered through her Valley Girl inflections.
The show gets off to a slow start, Cho riffing on fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld to little effect. And the 12-step stuff keeps dragging it into the realm of the ickily sincere. But maybe Cho, who was asked to lose weight to play herself on TV, deserves a break. She went through hell trying to give us our first Asian American sitcom, and who would begrudge her the pride and joy of having come out the other side? Besides, she's funny. "I'm just slutty," she says when trying to explain why her one lesbian experience may not make her a lesbian. Then, playing the identity-politics card: "Where's my parade?" Lapped up by its appreciative audience, I'm the One That I Want suggests that Cho both no longer needs the validation and already has it.