To call comedienne Margaret Cho’s latest endeavor, Cho Dependent, a comedy album seems like a disservice. Though songs like “Calling in Stoned” (featuring the ever-stoned Tommy Chong), “Your Dick,” and “Eat Shit and Die” do little for my argument, Cho Dependent is completely unlike her six previous comedy albums. This, my friends, is Cho’s foray into the music world, and a damn fine one at that.
I accidentally began following Cho’s career thanks to the short-lived television series All American Girl. I didn’t have cable television until I was twenty-three, so I would watch just about anything on the “regular” channels. From what I recall All American Girl wasn’t spectacular by any means, but I knew it was unprecedented for a television show’s focus to be on a Korean family. By the time high school rolled around, I spent weekends lying in bed with a friend watching VHS tapes of Cho’s standup. I ultimately fell in love with her wit, her hilarious take on sex and race, and her devotion to issues surrounding the LGBTQ community.
Cho’s wonderfully offbeat humor is present in nearly every song on Cho Dependent, and an impressive collection of musicians are along for the ride. The album is a mishmash of the alt-country and pop sensibilities of such talent as Ani DiFranco, Ben Lee, Brendan Benson, Jon Brion, and Grant Lee Phillips who providing the backbone for many of Cho’s songs. On opening track “Intervention,” featuring Tegan and Sarah, Cho admits to an obsession with the television series from which the song’s name is derived. Much like the show, “Intervention” features a nervous Tegan unsuccessfully reading a heartfelt letter to a drunken Cho who barfs on Tegan’s jack-o-lantern. The sisters then break into a chorus of “No more hugs ‘til you give up drugs. I know it sucks, but for once think about us.” I had no idea Cho has such a lovely, lilting voice, nor was I aware of her knack for songwriting.
Amid the dick jokes and songs about vaginas is the standout track “Hey Big Dog,” co-written by the amazing Patty Griffin. According to Cho, the song is about conversations she’d like to have with her (now deceased) dog Ralph, if only Ralph could speak. Cho imagines telling Ralph (played by Fiona Apple) there’s no reason to be afraid of the wind—as he was his entire life—and Ralph would respond that Cho should stop waiting for a certain man to call because he probably isn’t going to and the guy was no good anyway. As I write this I’ve become aware that this is a silly concept for a song, and I’m embarrassed to say the sincerity and soulfulness of the song made me cry: “Hey big mama, why you let that man come around? I don’t like the way he looks. I don’t like the way he sounds. I didn’t tell you, but he stepped on my tail. And he smells just like he’s fresh out of jail.”
A lot has changed for Cho since I spent lazy weekends watching those hazy VHS tapes. She’s become a gay icon, a burlesque star, a clothing designer, and an author. Most importantly, she’s comfortable in her own skin, a large part of which is now covered by tattoos, which is no small feat for a woman who once starved herself to the point of suffering from kidney failure and descended into a drug- and booze-fueled downward spiral. In other words, Cho has lived through a lot of rock star clichés, only now she has created an album to respond to the bad behavior.
If you were expecting a conventional comedy album, Cho Dependent will not deliver. But if you’re interested in seeing a slightly sweeter side to one of the ballsiest female comedians to ever grace the stage, this album will not disappoint.