Given the way politicians seem to be parsing their demographic charts, you have got to think that Henry Cho should be a valuable minority on someone's list. After all, Cho is a Korean-American stand-up comic from eastern Tennessee who has a Caucasian wife from small-town Alabama and has never told a dirty joke on stage.
"People know I work clean, so that is what they are going to get," said Cho in his sharp, not particularly broad, Southern accent. He was on the phone from his home in Nashville - once again, hardly the comedy capital of the world. That is how he likes it, though.
"When we go to L.A., I guess we are on the inside, so that isn't so bad, but then again, L.A. is L.A., and my wife likes it much better here," said Cho, who will headline at the Theatre at Trump Plaza tomorrow night at 9 with "Last Comic Standing" winner John Heffron.
"She is from a little town in Alabama and wants our three little kids to have a sane life," said Cho. "I can go on the road from here, and I have a few acres of land, belong to a golf course, watch the kids play sports, the whole thing."
"The whole thing" is Cho's basic approach to comedy. He likes to tell stories about regular life, and his shtick is that he tells them without profanity.
"Look, I'm no prude," he said. "What is funny is funny. It's just that I don't tell that kind of joke, and I leave it for others. I've roasted my friend Tom Arnold, but I did it clean, which I guess surprised everyone."
Having now done enough TV and film - he was one of the last hosts of "Friday Night Videos," was in the movie "Material Girls" with Hilary and Haylie Duff and has had a half-hour special on Comedy Central, for instance - he no longer feels that he has to explain his Korean-American looks and his Southern accent, as if he were faking it.
"I may make fun of it early in the act if it looks like people don't get it, but, mainly, people know me now, so it isn't necessary," he said.
His clean act has gotten him a substantial following in the corporate world. He is a former high-school athlete in baseball and basketball who now plays a lot of celebrity golf tournaments.
"The CEOs meet me there and have me do their corporate events," he said. "I'm perfect for them, because if the CEO's wife is offended at one of those things, he hears it all the way home. He doesn't want that. It's a lucrative market, which means I don't have to survive by doing a million shows on the road."
Cho got his break in his hometown of Knoxville, where he was in his sixth year, barely getting by, as an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee. He wanted to act, but didn't have the energy to make it in New York, so when he saw that there was going to be a contest for new stand-ups at a local comedy club, he bought in.
His five-minute stint killed, and by the following week he was emceeing.
A few months later, Jerry Seinfeld was coming to Atlanta, not far down the road, and needed a clean opening act. Someone told him about Cho, and Seinfeld hired him. One gig led to another, and within a couple of months he was hanging out in L.A. with Seinfeld and his friends, like Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Larry Miller.
"I got to learn early on from the best, so I am just one happy guy who has never had to change his act," he said.
Cho now has a development deal with CBS, getting Craig Ferguson, on whose late-night show he has appeared several times, as an executive producer.
"That would be my ultimate, to have my own show, deciding on creative things," he said. "But I have had development deals before and know it is a hard thing. So for now, I am happy to be playing places like Atlantic City, working on my next CD, doing all those things other people dream about." *