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Cho is still feisty, if notas funny, in 'Assassin'

Nothing against Don Rickles and Carrot Top, but imagine how much better and bluer ''The Aristocrats" might have been had its joke-telling lineup included the likes of Margaret Cho.

Unrestrained filth is Cho's bread and butter. Taboos? Girl, please. This is a woman who worships gay porn stars, calls the pope a ''queen," and casually states: ''George Bush is not Hitler. He would be if he applied himself."

That's in her mildest moments. The really juicy stuff isn't deemed suitable for a family newspaper, so you'll have to watch it on television.

In her latest concert film, ''Margaret Cho: Assassin," the fearless liberal comedian aims to be more controversial than ever, devoting almost the full 85 minutes to pointed sociopolitical commentary that's thoughtful and impassioned, if not always hilarious. Her targets include conservatives (in the same way that Thanksgiving includes food) and her goal is to change the status quo.

None of which means she has to stop talking dirty.

Cho's fans worship her unique, raunchy, non-mainstream voice. They haven't been complaining as her routines have become more about activism than they are about belly laughs, though you might notice that in filmed pre-show interviews, what are mostly quoted are benign lines from Cho's first two films. Those were the ones that focused on relationships, sexuality, and the comic's personal triumph over Everywoman problems such as weight, discrimination, substance abuse, as well as a failed sitcom. Those were also the ones in which impressions of her Korean mother happened often, and they brought down the house every time.

Now, Cho is either running out of such material or just prefers to exploit it less. Her mom, who recently had a heart attack, gets only brief mention in the new show, and passing pop culture observations are limp at best. (Bjork's infamous Oscar dress? Cher?) ''Assassin" is primarily about fanning volatile issues and taking full advantage of her self-proclaimed multiple-minority-insider ''carte blanche to offend."

That means a full-frontal assault on all things Bush (the show was filmed live at the Warner Theatre in D.C.). It means observing that the last presidential election provides a convenient ''color-coded map to where all the stupid people are," and equating Ronald Reagan's prolonged pre-burial services with ''Weekend at Bernie's." It gives her a path from Terry Schiavo to Martha Stewart to Janet Jackson; it prompts her to describe the papal succession process as ''Vatican Idol," and it most definitely demands that she rail against opponents of gay marriage.

Rousing stuff if you're like-minded, as virtually everyone who comes to a Cho show is, but inspiring doesn't automatically equal humorous, even when you're preaching to the choir. ''Assassin" is funnier and less awkward than her last concert film, 2004's ''CHO Revolution," but nowhere near as consistently gut busting as 2002's ''Notorious C.H.O." or (first and still best) 2000's ''I'm the One That I Want."

As Cho explains it, the nation is a much angrier and more polarized place today than it was a few years ago. You can't fault her for being more issue-oriented and proudly militant, especially given the big-picture stakes. You can, however, wish she didn't have to be so serious.

Janice Page can be reached at

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