Comedian Henry Cho comes to Comedy Works in Denver
Korean-American funny man mixes Southern charm with clean humor
By Joe Nguyen, AsiaXpress.com
March 17, 2010
Photo courtesy www.choindustries.com
Henry Cho performs in this undated promotional shot from his website. Sugar Sammy performs at Comedy Works South on March 18-20.
Henry Cho at Comedy Works
Comedy Works South
5345 Landmark Place
Greenwood Village, CO 80111
Thursday, March 18 – 7:30 p.m.
Friday, March 19 – 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 20 – 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
$17 on Thursday; $25 on Friday and Saturday
21 and up
For more information, go to www.comedyworks.com/comedians/233.
• Face2Face with Henry Cho Jan. 30, 2009
On the web
• Official Web site of Henry Cho
There's an old saying that goes, "Laughter is the best medicine." If that quote is taken to heart, then for Henry Cho, stand-up comedy fulfills an expectation he had growing up.
"I was supposed to be a doctor like everyone else in my family," the 47-year-old comedian laughed.
But while he was a student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Cho entered an open-mic competition one Monday night in 1986. He received a standing ovation at the end of his set and that Wednesday the club owner hired him. On Friday, he quit school and never looked back.
"I’m an Asian with a Southern accent," he says on his Web site. "To a lot of people, that right there is funny."
Cho has been performing on stages across the country for more than two decades, sharing anecdotes about family, marriage and other facets of his life. His next stop brings him back to Colorado from March 18 to 20 at Comedy Works South in Greenwood Village. His style is a throwback to the clean acts of Bob Newhart and Bill Cosby, comedians he grew up listening to.
"When young comedians come up and ask me for advice, I tell them if you can't do a joke on television, don't do it that way on stage," he said. "Why have gratuitous language on stage when it doesn't make the joke?"
Cho began his career at a time when Asian-American comedians were scarce and none of them were from the south. A pioneering figure in the field, he had free rein to delve into the vast wealth of untapped Asian jokes.
"I had the whole deep well of Asian jokes I wanted to do," he said. " ... Between me and (comedian) Phil Nee, any Asian joke you could think of, he and I've written and done some time in our career."
While he talks about being Asian on stage, he said he never performs anything that is derrogatory – a piece of advice he learned early on from fellow comedian John Henton. But filling his act with Asian jokes was never something he did or wanted to do, he said.
"I didn't want to just be the Asian comic that had a one trick pony: being Asian and from Tennessee," he said. "Granted, (Jerry) Seinfeld said it was the greatest hook since Rodney Dangerfield, so it got a lot of attention. ...
"But I wanted to be a comedian about everything and anything."
Born and raised in Knoxville, Cho was one of three children from Korean immigrants who met while going to school in the states.
"My folks graduated top of their class in Seoul, Korea," he said. "And their reward – now they would go to Harvard – but back then they got to go to Warren Wilson Junior College in Asheville, North Carolina."
He has often joked that they were the only Korean family in town, but he grew up and "did all the things good ol' Southern boys do."
"I credit my buddy's parents because we were never the Korean family, we were just one of the families on the street, you know?" he said. "I wasn't the Korean kid, I was one of the guys."
When Cho reached college, he planned on becoming a veterinarian. After several years and changes to his major, he said he wanted to go into acting and the comedy stage was the way in.
"Me and my college buddy were painting houses one summer and he asked me what I really wanted to do and I told him I was going to try stand-up to get into acting," he said. "It's kind of what I sought out to do, but I really liked doing stand-up. ...
"God gave me a gift of being able to do it and it's what I do well."
Cho has appeared in a handful of movies and TV shows, but he said it's difficult finding the right parts. Every role he has played, he said, was either written or rewritten for him.
"I've turned down so many broken English roles – if I had a dollar for every one that came up, I'd be doing OK," he said.
In October 2007, Cho announced he was developing a sitcom for CBS based on his life. However with the writers' strike in 2007 and 2008, the project has been put on hold.
"We are in no-man's land at the moment," he said.
But, he said, "Acting is something that if it comes along, it comes along." For now he is continuing his gigs across the country while making time to be at home with his wife, sons (ages 10 and 7) and daughter (4).
"My older boy, he'll write jokes, he has a sense of humor," he said. "He'll see something and say, 'Hey, daddy, try this in your act.' ... He wrote one, I rewrote and use now. He's really bright – all my kids are really bright. Just things they do unknowingly that end up in my act."
It is a far cry from the heavy load in his early days, working 45 to 50 weeks a year, he said. But the feeling he gets when he lets go of the mic is still the same.
"Every time I get off stage, I feel like I got away with another one," he said.