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Margaret Cho sexes up Atlanta comedy scene 

Foul-mouthed performer and "Drop Dead Diva" star finds inspiration in the ATL

"I helped deliver one of my best friend's children. I just was so amazed by my friend, because she was not just a woman; she was not just a mother. At that moment she was creation. She was life. She was God. And as I looked in her eyes, BOOM! Her pussy exploded."

Margaret Cho — belly dancer, provocateur, and, of late, the Atlanta comedy scene's most renowned member — is not the funny girl she once was. She's no longer the plump sitcom star who struggled with her identity (both on the set and off) on ABC's "All American Girl." She's no longer battling an eating disorder or drug addiction, or trying to prove that she's not too Asian ... or isn't Asian enough. Nope, the modern-day Cho is both a happily married fortysomething with a humanitarian agenda, and a tatted-up, foul-mouthed temptress who seems to have mastered the transition from poetic to crass in a single, seamless punch line. Basically, Cho tells dick jokes with a purpose.

The exploding pussy piece de resistance from Cho's 2003 Grammy-nominated comedy album, Revolution, is actually pretty tame compared to most of the material she spent the last year writing in preparation for her new tour, Cho Dependent. That means some people will be doubly stunned. Cho has been a bravely raunchy comedian for some time. Her words can still shock the crowd, however, so at odds are they with the mid-'90s Margaret Cho some still inexplicably cleave to.

These days, Cho's a very busy lady, tasked with writing and performing new stand-up, filming a television show, advocating for human rights, releasing a new rock-comedy album, and charming the pants off Atlanta's comedy scene. As a part-time resident of the city, she does frequent, impromptu performances at venues large and small, and has helped galvanize a burgeoning comedy community.

No sooner did Cho settle into her Midtown home, though, than she was out the door to kick off her new tour, which starts in Portland, Ore., next week and ends in Atlanta on Dec. 12. The tour primarily will showcase Cho's stand-up material, but will also feature her rocking out on stage to a few songs from her new album, which shares the tour's name.

Yet even while Cho's on the road, Georgia will undoubtedly remain on her mind. The star's newest work is inspired in part by Atlanta, where most of the jokes she wrote for the tour were conceived and cultivated. It's a place she's grown fond of, in large part because of its tight-knit network of comedians.

"On any night of the week, you can go out and see great comedy here, which isn't true of a lot of other big cities," Cho says. "It's a smart city, and the people really like comedy. I find the creative atmosphere of the Atlanta comics to be really supportive, but really competitive — which is what you want, because you want to perform with people who support you, but also force you to get better."

Born Moran Cho in 1968, Cho grew up in San Francisco, where she attended grammar school off of Haight Street. She attributes much of her eclectic artistic perspective to the neighborhood. But while her psychedelic surroundings helped nurture the unusual voice that a 16-year-old Cho first brought to the stage, she actually cites her family life as the reason she became such a profane comic.

"I've always been comfortable with this rebellion against traditional Korean values and what my parents wanted me to be," she recalls. "My parents didn't know what to do with me, because I was such a weird kid. They weren't supportive of the fact that I did stand-up, but they didn't know how to stop it, either."

Of course, they could see, at least a little, where she was coming from. Her father had written a Korean joke book, and Cho performed stand-up for the first time in a space above the bookstore her parents owned. It's doubtful anything could have stopped her at that point. "Comedy is just something that I've always had to do," she says. "From the first time I saw it and figured out what it was, I knew it was going to be my life."

Cho's experience as a comedian has been transformative — a journey from behind-the-scenes self-doubt to confident raunchiness. Over the years Cho has explored belly dance and vaudevillian burlesque in an attempt to find ways to incorporate them into her act.

The latter part of her journey has also seen a physical transformation. Like much of Cho's work, the tattoos that have come to cover almost a fifth of her body over the past five years are more than skin-deep. Just before receiving her first tattoo in December 2005, she described the experience in transcendent — and endearingly earnest — terms:

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