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Notorious C.H.O.

(2002) *** Unrated
95 min. Wellspring. Director: Lorene Machado. Cast: Margaret Cho.

Arguably, there's not much cinematic value to a comedy concert film, especially in a time when comedy concerts are customary cable fare. But Margaret Cho's Notorious C.H.O. makes a good case for the stand-up movie. Short of seeing Cho live, seeing her act with a real audience in a movie theatre is the next best thing.

Director, producer, and editor Lorene Machado frames Notorious C.H.O. with several minutes of breathless audience reviews from Cho fans (especially her large gay and lesbian following) and interview snippets with Cho and her parents. In between, Machado makes an interesting and clever choice. She shows Cho's act—start to finish—with no awkward audience cutaway shots. This subtly recreates the audience experience, because, of course, no one turns around and just looks at the audience during a stand-up show.

And it's a good show. After an initial, profane 9/11 joke, Cho warms up slowly, but once she's in full gear, Cho can be uproariously funny. She takes on colonics, porn, oral sex, and the elusive orgasm. She asks what would happen if guys had periods. And she recounts odd tales of her sexual adventures and even odder ones from her mother (her most popular character). Cho—like most comedians—lives and dies by exaggeration, and when she picks up a topic, she admirably carries it all the way to its logical extreme (check out her billowing riffs on the connection between oral sex and eating).

Cho flirts with serious comments once or twice, but always makes sure to undercut herself with a joke. This show—unlike the one in her last concert film, I'm the One That I Want—has only a loose theme of rap-style raunchiness, but Cho does revisit her pet message by encouraging her audience to beat the tyranny of pop cultural stereotypes with empowering self-love. Be sure to stick around after Cho's initial ovation for her encore—one more funny mommy story.

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