The Cho must go on

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There’s something almost inspiring about the fact that, after a widely publicized self-destructive past, comedian Margaret Cho has named her current tour something as self-assured and optimistic as "I’m the One That I Want." It almost makes you wonder if the world can embrace a happy comic as much as it embraces the dichotomy of a miserable one.

Cho has become a sad media darling in a world of TV entertainment "news" shows and magazines hungry for the details of her battle with alcohol, depression and dieting, all of which came to light after the cancellation of her ABC sitcom, "All-American Girl," the first American TV show to star a Korean-American woman.

But television hasn’t abandoned her altogether. Cho was featured on "E! Celebrity Profile" on Oct. 6.

And even if prime time didn’t have a starring role for Cho’s remarkable talents, stand-up kept a spot open for her consciousness- and hair-raising sense of humor, powered by hilarious and profound truth, and the authentic experience which shapes, informs and delivers it. Cho is especially hip to the mannerisms of her mother, gay ex-boyfriends and drag queens. The latter, she claims, practically raised her in San Francisco.

On the phone, Cho projects the same laid-back yet effervescent personality she takes to the stage. But this afternoon she’s not consciously looking for laughs, just showing (not telling) how over the whole tragic-celebrity-alcoholic thing she is. And it’s really no big deal to this 30-year-old woman, who didn’t find "I’m the One That I Want" in a pop psychology book or group therapy. Instead, she was inspired by the places she walks and the music she likes to listen to.

"It was a couple of things," she says. "I was looking at a sign in some dry cleaners, and it said something like ’we’re the one that you want.’ And I thought I really like this dry cleaner.

"I saw that sign and I thought about the Grease song, which I love. Then there’s a Hole song where Courtney Love sings ’I’m the one that you want.’ So it was perfect, because I wanted a title that was self-assured and self-actualized. Then I threw it out there, and it stuck."

In the open and honest flow of communication which characterizes a conversation with Cho, there is a natural ease. The dark days seem to be behind her, their severity left as small imprints on the things she consciously values. And they, too, are the simple things.

"I feel great physically. I’m sober and I’m alive," she says. "I’m happy and I love my work now. I’m touring with the show, which is limos and first class, which is so foreign to me. I’m used to driving a truck with all my possessions in the back.

"I’m out of these really disgusting relationships and in some really helpful and nurturing ones. I can’t believe everything could be so great without being afraid that it’s all going to be taken away," she says.

"I’m just happy, and I’ve never had that."

Cho sounds like a woman on the threshold of change, already making a necessary move away from the stereotypical paradox in comedy that says a measure of misery is required to feed creativity. But in Cho’s eyes, perhaps out of a different sort of necessity, the comedic machine functions on contentment as well as pain.

"My sense of humor allows me to enjoy my life," she says. "It’s always working, like breathing. And it’s important to me that I use that for good."

Margaret Cho is working on a book and film named after the "I’m the One That I Want" tour.

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