★★★★ MARGARET CHO, HEN & CHICKENS BRISTOL Sex and drugs, no holds barred
Margaret Cho takes no prisoners: if you don’t like good honest filth or feel uncomfortable around matters of feminism, sex and race, then this Korean-American comic is not for you. Cho was voted among the top 50 comics of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and was a protégée of Joan Rivers, a scabrously funny stand-up herself who skirted dangerously around taste and decency.
Like Rivers, Cho appears to have no embarrassment in talking about her toilet habits or her sex life, and says her move from being lesbian to bisexual was because she realised she had “a place for cock in my life – inside me”. There are many, many lines like this – whip-smart and ever so slightly shocking – in a very quotable hour with a high gag rate.
For these jokes to work, one has to know where the comic is coming from
The opening part of the show is given over to the recent revelations about men behaving badly around women, and Cho lays into Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Louis CK and Bill Cosby – even working a few jokes about Jimmy Savile into her set. She has a wonderfully idiosyncratic take on Weinstein’s alleged peccadillos – it’s the pot plants she feels sorry for – and gives short shrift to women such as Angela Lansbury coming out with idiotic comments about how women should dress.
Sexual assault is never funny but nevertheless Cho manages to mine a lot of comedy from the subject, telling us that she was raped over a period of several years by an uncle – with a punchline that causes a sharp intake of breath in the audience as she recounts her mother’s stringent assessment of the situation, as it triple-hits liberal sensitivities around rape, feminism and racial stereotypes.
For these jokes to work, one has to know where the comic is coming from, and it’s clear what Cho’s politics are. Even so, you might think that a bisexual, liberal comic of immigrant stock would spend all of her set just talking about Donald Trump, whose election to US President still mystifies her, but it’s a while into the hour before his name is mentioned.
When she does get around to talking about him, she imagines a Viagra-enabled sexual encounter between Trump and his wife, Melania. Surprisingly, it's not the show's strongest part.
The show is titled Fresh Off the Bloat, a reference to her former hedonistic lifestyle, but Cho talks only briefly about her addictions and subsequent rehab, save for describing a moment of one-upmanship during her hard drug-taking days with Courtney Love and Anna Nicole Smith.
The set is short, but every line counts as Cho covers a lot of territory – including suicide, her email spat with Tilda Swinton over “whitewashing” of ethnic roles by white actors, and growing up in Aids-era San Francisco. And despite the odd line that I've heard before, I could happily have sat through another hour of Cho's finely crafted comedy.