Film Review: Lorene Machado's 'Cho Dependent'

June 16, 2011


This live recording of veteran comedienne (and former Hyphen cover model) Margaret Cho during the Atlanta, GA leg of her Cho Dependent tour -- the same name of her 2010 Grammy-nominated music album which featured collaborations with Brendan Benson, Fiona Apple, Andrew Bird and Tegan and Sara, among others -- certainly isn’t lacking in topics. Bristol Palin, gay marriage rights, immigrant deportation, sexting, geriatric strippers, flatulence, and musical performances are just a scratch at the surface of the 83-minute documentary, directed by Lorene Machado.

If Cho Dependent seems to run long, that’s because it does. After 26 years of performing as a professional comic (in between a hectic schedule of burlesque performances, a reality show, a stint on Dancing with the Stars, a memorable gender-bending cameo as Kim Jong Il on 30 Rock, countless gay pride parades, and now a third season of the Lifetime TV sitcom Drop Dead Diva), the 42-year-old Cho has such an established voice and fanbase that she can essentially do whatever she wants. And if points of her routine seem to meander -- and they do at times -- perhaps Cho has earned that right.

Meandering aside, her set is always punctuated with laughs that suddenly hit you in the gut. As always, moments of gravity are discreetly slipped into the frank explicitness of her stand-up, such as a glimpse into the life of her grandfather who was disfigured from saving his 19 children (many adopted during the Korean War) from a house fire or falling in love with an All-American Girl staff writer who later bludgeoned his wife to death. The latter tale was the source material for her song “I’m Sorry,” one of four tracks Cho performs in the film, mostly from her album. Her voice is pleasant and clear but the power lies in her irreverent lyrics, whether complemented by an indie folk arrangement or  -- my personal favorite -- in an electro rap number entitled "My Puss," a boastful ditty about who has the more superior female genitalia.

Of course, no Cho performance would be complete without the requisite impersonations of her Korean mother. Admittedly for this reviewer, the homages to her mother’s idiosyncracies and accent have lessened in appeal over the years, but for the comedienne and her stalwart fans, perhaps its grown to be a necessity. Guess a little Chodependence never killed anyone.

Cho Dependent screens at the Frameline Film Festival on Sunday, June 19 at 6:30pm at the Castro Theatre.


Sylvie Kim

contributing editor & blogger

Sylvie Kim is a contributing editor at Hyphen. She previously served as Hyphen's blog coeditor with erin Khue Ninh, film editor, and blog columnist.

She writes about gender, race, class and privilege in pop culture and media (fun fun fun!) at and at SF Weekly's The Exhibitionist blog. Her work has also appeared on Racialicious and Salon.