Face2Face with Henry Cho
Korean-American comedian mixes Southern charm with clean humor
By Catherine Tsai, AsiaXpress.com
Jan. 30, 2009
|Henry Cho performs in this undated photo. Cho will perform from Feb. 5-7 at Comedy Works South in Greenwood Village. (Courtesy photo)
Comedy Works South
5345 Landmark Place
Greenwood Village, CO 80111
Thursday, Feb. 5 – 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 6 – 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 7 – 7 and 9:30 p.m.
$17 on Thursday, $25 on Friday and Saturday
For more information, go to www.comedyworks.com.
When comedian Henry Cho takes the stage, button-down shirt untucked, hand in the pocket of his blue jeans, you see the jet black hair, the dark eyes – OK, he's Korean.
He opens his mouth and you hear the twang and long vowels. OK, he's from the South. Knoxville, Tenn., to be exact.
"So I'm South Korean," he says.
The ice is broken. He's got the crowd on his side and he's only 10 seconds in. OK, no need to worry about faking polite laughter tonight.
Cho got into stand-up comedy by taking a chance in college and never looking back. It all started when he entered a "funniest person in Tennessee" competition in his hometown sponsored by Showtime.
"I thought it was guys like me – first timers. But it was full of working comedians. I told my pals I would go up, try not to humiliate us and then I'd forget it," he said.
Instead he got a standing ovation and got hired. That was a Monday night. He started working Wednesday, dropped out of college on Friday, and it's been his career ever since.
"Makes Korean/Asian parents cringe, I'm sure," he said.
Twenty-plus years later, Cho has criss-crossed the country for a living, he appeared in his own Comedy Central special, and he has a CD/DVD available on Amazon.com. These days, he's only away from home, his wife and kids for about six to 10 nights a month. He appears at Comedy Works South in Greenwood Village Feb. 5-7.
"I'll be in Steamboat Springs snowboarding with the family the following week, so I'll have my fill of altitude," said Cho, an avid golfer. "My favorite spots are all golf courses so I'll have to find some winter haunts to check out."
Cho has worked with some of the greats during his career, from Jerry Seinfeld to Bob Hope. One of his favorite moments from being in the business was doing a Bob Hope Young Comedians special.
"I have one show biz picture in my house. It's with Mr. Hope. I have asked for one autograph in my life: Mr. Hope's," he said.
Cho also performed at the White House when former President George W. Bush proclaimed Asian/Pacific American Heritage month.
Of course, there have been rough moments on stage too. "I asked a woman when she was due. She wasn't pregnant," Cho said. "Never did that again!"
In his very first week in comedy, Cho worked with comedian John Henton, who is black. "He told me never to go for the cheap ethnic joke, and he was right," Cho said.
"When I started, I wanted to be a good comedian, not just the Asian guy from the South. My comedian pals, mentors, have told me I have the greatest hook since Rodney Dangerfield. And they are close. If I need to make myself separate for business reasons then I do a few more Asian jokes. I was doing a show in Vegas and after, Steve Allen, who invented "The Tonight Show" came up and said, 'You know the saying that there's no such thing as a new joke? ... You have about 12. No one has ever had your point of view. Keep it up.'"
But Cho hasn't used his heritage as a crutch.
"My last two network TV appearances I didn't do any Asian jokes. Not one. Don't have to but I can when I need or want to," Cho said. "All my Asian jokes are positive. I never do anything negative towards my heritage. Burns me up when I see other Asian comedians go that route for the cheap laugh. Takes very little talent to get those laughs."
Cho has never cussed on stage and is known for his clean shows. A few months into his comedy career, Seinfeld told him to write jokes he could do on television because he knew Cho would be doing a lot of TV. (Yes, you've seen him on "The Late Late Show" and "Friday Night Videos"). Today Cho is working to develop a sitcom for CBS, which seemed to like a pilot script he wrote with Jim Hope. "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson is another executive producer on the project.
"We are waiting on CBS to figure out what they are going to keep after this fall schedule air for the season," Cho said. "We'll see what happens."
It's not the first time Cho has been close to becoming a household name. Cho had an offer to do a TV show about 15 years ago but turned it down. "They wanted Pat Morita ("Karate Kid") to speak broken English," Cho said. "His character didn't need to speak that way but the producers felt it was necessary. Then they developed a show for Margaret Cho (no relation) and it was horrible. I walked away and have never had any regrets. I want to do a show my way or not at all."
That means a show that doesn't just go for easy laughs.
"I'm going old school. Adult comedy but you can have your kids in the room. Kind of Andy Griffith meets Bill Cosby meets Bob Newhart. Also my character isn't an idiot as all the rest of the sitcoms recently have the dad character like Homer Simpson," Cho said.
OK, sounds like it just might work.
• ON THE WEB: Henry Cho's official website