I really like Margaret Cho. I’ve been a fan for a while. I remember going to a Circuit City (yeah, as I said, a long time) and picking up her album Revolution and finding it hilarious. I have seen several of her stand ups, thoroughly enjoyed her stint as Kim Jong Il on 30 Rock, seen a few of the movies she’s been in, and watched every episode of both All-American Girl and Drop Dead Diva. While she’s been in some stinkers, she’s always stood out as funny and cool, in spite of it all. Yet, I didn’t even know until recently that she had written two book. I picked up the first one, I’m the One that I Want, inspired by her stand up act of the same name that revitalized her career, and was ready for a funny, uncensored, and offensive look at her life, just like her act on stage. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I was thoroughly disappointed.
I’m not saying that just because someone is a comedian that they must be funny when writing a book, in fact I was prepared to be surprised. I’ve read other books expecting them to be funny, but finding them, instead, to be more introspective, poignant, touching, and even heartbreaking. There are moments in memoirs by Sarah Silverman or Rachel Dratch that truly touched me, no laughs and no guffaws, just heart on a sleeve honesty. I get that Cho professes to be “real” – someone who holds back nothing, who wants to dismantle all veneers, and call out everything – I just don’t know if she can do it effectively outside of a standup act. When you take away the funny, what is left was just a really sour taste in my mouth. I will attempt to explain why.
Cho spends the entirety of her book complaining. The book reads like a really long list of people who wronged her, mistreated her, abused her, and negatively affected her. Peppered here and there are a handful of people who did not, but she was the abusive or horrible one, but instead of truly reflecting or apologizing, she immediately shifts the blame on others or on her inability to love herself because nobody ever made her feel loved. The story is also one of dependence, on drugs and alcohol and diet pills, and the myriad of ways in which her life was shit for years. She calls out people for not supporting her, but she never really takes responsibility, and even more infuriating is that the book is a collection of people not reaching out to her, giving things to her, bending over backwards to validate her – all the while she does nothing but do drugs, mistreat herself and others, wallow, and wait for others to come to her. There is no proactive behavior. One example of this is when under a drug-fueled fit of inspiration she writes a screenplay and expects it to be made into a movie as-is, with no extra work or effort other than the manic 5 hour writing session, and she then spends the next 20 pages lamenting and maligning those who refused to give her praise and love. I sincerely believe that she could be capable of complaining that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for her brief role in Face/Off if given the chance.
Reading the book took me a very, very long time. It was hard to get through all the negativity. In the very last chapter there is a moment that is beautiful in which she tells the story of a gay couple and her effect on one of them during his last months before AIDS took his life. In those handful of paragraphs she is able to reflect on her power as an entertainer and her role in society, and had the book done more of that, it would have been successful and important. Unfortunately, Cho doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal to understand that people don’t want to hear someone bitch endlessly about how the world didn’t give her the lemons, make the lemonade for her, sugar it to her liking, and then tell her how good she was at making the whole thing from scratch. I found myself profoundly disliking her by the end of the book and deciding to not read her second book. Maybe I am being too harsh, but I really couldn’t find any redeeming quality to the book by someone who, by all accounts, is incredibly talented, funny, and has a lot going for her, even if not everything worked out exactly the way she wanted it to, when she wanted it to, and solely on her terms. By the end we’re supposed to praise her and rejoice that she’s finally come to terms with things and has become able to accept herself in spite of everyone hating her. Problem is most of us were already rooting for her and accepting her, and by the time she finally gets to liking herself nobody else is there to like her anymore. Or at least I’m not. And that is a real shame.