BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Margaret Cho was a television pioneer back in the mid-1990s. Today, she's a television pioneer again.
In the fall of 1994, Cho starred in the ABC sitcom "All-American Girl," which was something never seen before on American TV.
"At that time, we brought the first Asian-American family on television. It was, like, a really very groundbreaking thing. A very difficult thing," Cho said. "And I'm very proud now to bring the second Asian-American family to television. I'm actually No. 1 and No. 2. So that's an achievement."
The big difference is that, this time around, Cho is in control of "The Cho Show," which airs its second episode tonight at 11 p.m. on VH1. The improv/reality show reflects the real Margaret Cho and her sense of humor.
That was not the case on "All-American Girl," which was destroyed when the network took a promising premise and homogenized it into unrecognizability and mediocrity.
Along the way, network executives complained about everything from Cho's weight to her not being "Asian enough."
"Oh, it was unbelievable," said Cho, who recalled "how hard it was" to appear before TV critics in 1994 "to represent a show that I had to work on, that I had so many problems with.... It was very difficult, and one of the things that I remember was after I did my first screen test, one executive freaked out and said, 'Please never, ever, ever show your stomach in public ever again. Never.' So that's why I'm like naked in the show all the time, as you'll see."
She was kidding, of course. "The Cho Show" features the never-shy comedian as herself; her very traditional, Korean-born parents; and her friend/fellow actress/assistant/little person Selene Luna.
It has similarities to a lot of other shows, "but I think that this show is very unique," Cho said. "We have, for the first time, really, truly this Asian-American family and also my wonderful assistant Selene. So I think it's kind of like a cross between Madonna's 'Truth or Dare' and 'Joy Luck Club' and 'Little People, Big World."'
Cho's parents, Young-Hie and Seung-Hoon Cho, were born in Korea.
"My parents immigrated to the United States in 1964 with $25 and this dream: They wanted to live in America. And they wanted to raise a family. And they did it," she said.
And they raised a daughter who's their polar opposite. They're rather shy and retiring, while Margaret is loud, outspoken and outrageous.
So what would prompt them to not only appear in "The Cho Show" but often be sort of the catalysts for the comedy?
"It was this or a home," Margaret Cho joked.
"We participated as parental duty to help you, to tell the truth," Young-Hie said. "And we were not sure what kind of role we were going to play. And the producers do not tell us what's going to happen.... We wanted to help you in any way we can. And consequently, we feel that we contributed to the show. In other words, we gave viewers, your customers, some value."
"Yeah, for value. Right," Margaret Cho said. "Because Koreans like to work together. Whether it's a liquor store or reality show, it doesn't matter."
And, while Margaret Cho often mocks her mother imitating her accent in her stand-up act, Mom isn't in the least bit offended.
"I love your impression of me," she said. "Because I'm all the time looking forward to what's going be next. And I really enjoy it."
Although she's a way-out-there comedian who makes her parents a big part of her act, it's obvious Cho loves them.
"I wanted them involved because they really are so beautiful on camera. You can't imagine how fulfilling it is for me," she said. "I've been watching all of the episodes, and every one I cry because it really is so beautiful. We're actually seeing this Asian-American family that we've never seen before."And they were very excited. And I think that they love it," she said as her parents nodded in agreement.
E-mail: [email protected]