When I found out I’d be interviewing Catherine Cohen, my first thought was, “What do I ask someone I feel like I already know everything about.” That’s because Cohen’s comedy is extremely confessional. Between her comedy cabaret live shows and “Seek Treatment with Cat & Pat,” the diaristic podcast she co-hosts with Pat Regan, Catherine Cohen seems to hold no bars when it comes to talking (or singing) about herself. I mean, she performed on Late Night with Seth Meyers with an “origin story” in the form of a song that goes “Boys never wanted to kiss me/So now I do comedy/Boys never wanted to kiss me/So I need all of you to look at me.”
And here’s the thing, even as I re-watch—for what feels like the thousandth time—that YouTube clip of Cohen winking and posing and showing off her striking iridescent romper as she boldly belts out tales of her romantic struggles on national television, I just can’t look away. She’s completely captivating and charismatic, bringing music and drama and glamour to comedy in a dazzling whirlwind of energy.
“My act is all about being someone who wants everything and feels everything all the time,” Cohen says. And “everything” is precisely what she gives her audience. Cohen’s live shows are full productions complete with original songs, stand-up, and even poems. In fact, there’s a pure campiness to the sheer theatricality of Cohen’s routines. She gives you everything, and she does so in delightful excess: repeating phrases over and over (“look at me, look at me look at me, look at me!”) or moving from thought to thought so quickly you’ll miss her if you’re not careful. “I feel in the moment,” the distinctly millennial comedian tells me, “I don’t like to overthink [my comedy]. I just try to do what flows and feels good.”
✨🍁autumnal poetry dump🍁✨ pic.twitter.com/47lIHK00QT
— Catherine Cohen (@catcohen) October 17, 2019
Because so much of Cohen’s comedy is based on what she’s feeling in that instant that she’s on stage, she needs to be a particularly skilled improviser. So, she has the most fun when her accompanist and co-songwriter, Henry Koperski, is there to riff with. Together, the two host Cabernet Cabaret, a weekly comedy cabaret at Club Cumming in New York. (Yes, that’s Alan Cumming’s bar.) “I don’t really plan anything for that show, it’s all just off the cuff,” says Cohen, “That’s always the most fun because it keeps me present. What’s hard is when you have a bunch of shows in a row and you’re doing the same thing, you have to phone it in. But if you have to make up new stuff, generally when you’re in a bad mood—sometimes especially ‘cause you’re in a bad mood—something fun pops up.”
Although Cohen adores hosting Cabernet Cabaret—“I could not do it without that show; that show’s given me everything”—it can, of course, be hard to keep up the stamina that a weekly show requires. “I don’t always feel like going,” she acknowledges, “I feel like one of the main ways that I push myself to do it is if the excitement of wearing a new outfit is on the table.” In this way, Cohen’s dazzling wardrobe is just as important to her act as her songs and jokes. She’s “obsessed” with clothes and beauty, and she lets that obsession unfold in her extravagant, maximalist comedy. “Ugh!” she interjects lovingly when I ask her about fashion, “It’s just heaven.”
In terms of fashion inspiration, lately, Cohen has been all about 70’s fashion and “anything that Cher wears.” But her style ideas are dynamic and can shift with the moment cycling through a multitude of colors, textures, and silhouettes. She tells me that she’ll have dreams about things she wants to wear or will fall in love with a certain color for a time: “For a while, I was like, ‘lime green, lime green, lime green.’ Then I was like ‘lavender, lavender, lavender,’ and then it was blue…It’s fun too because then when I decide to wear all black, I’m like ‘oh my god, this is so chic.’”
If there’s one thing that remains constant about Cohen’s wardrobe, however, it’s that her style is always every bit as bold and flamboyant as she is. From fuzzy berets to glitzy dresses covered in sequins to her sharp, signature cat-eye makeup, Cohen wears it all with the drama and flair of a vintage Hollywood starlet. After all, no one brings glamour to comedy quite like Catherine Cohen. For her, the two are entirely inseparable, as is pointed out in her Instagram bio, which dubs her a “Beautiful Comedian.” That is to say that Cohen is not a glamour icon because she simply dresses well, but rather because she puts on a frivolous, desire-driven, empowered character that you just can’t help falling in love with. “I’m a model first, choreographer second, and comedian third,” she jokes.
Even at her most outrageous and indulgent, however, there’s a palpable sincerity behind Cohen’s act. “It’s just a heightened version of me. It’s fun. It’s just what comes natch,” she explains. She’s raw and honest, approaching comedy as a space to be entirely and unabashedly herself. “I fell in love with how [in comedy] you could make your own way,” she admits. “You decide who you are and what you want to do. You don’t have to wait for someone to give you that permission. That’s the most exciting thing, and that’s what gives me the strength to keep moving forward with bigger projects: knowing that I can always come back to live stuff on my own terms.”
And true to her words, it often feels like there’s no line Cohen won’t cross when it comes to telling the audience exactly what she wants and exactly how she feels. This is particularly true when it comes to “Seek Treatment,” the podcast where Cohen and equally hilarious Pat Regan discuss “boys, sex, fucking, dating, and love.” Each episode is filled with delightfully witty, rapid-fire banter surrounding some of the most excruciatingly intimate details of their lives and romantic histories. “I feel like being open is how I connect to people in life, and that’s how I connect to people now via the pod,” Cohen explains. “I also feel like it gives people space to be open and honest and their true selves with me, because I’ve already opened up to them. It’s really cool. I like when people talk to me about it or message me about their shit. It’s fun. I feel less alone.”
“I think I struggle with needing everyone to like me all the time,” she confesses as we chat. Almost immediately clarifying it, she adds, “But I told my therapist, I was like, ‘if you don’t do that, you’re a psycho.’ And she’s like, ‘Don’t say that.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, prove it.’” the anecdote is a beautiful testament to what makes Cohen so special. Through comedy, Cohen opens up about her vulnerabilities, but she refuses to apologize for them. Instead, she celebrates them. Because why should she feel bad for needing people to like her all the time. After all, isn’t that something most of us can relate to? “I just want people to feel that they’ve been entertained and that they’ve been seen,” says Cohen. And she wonderfully accomplishes both by confidently offering her whole self to the audience in all her glamorous, melodramatic, totally absurd glory.
Happy October <3 pic.twitter.com/GkggGEjoTL
— Catherine Cohen (@catcohen) October 15, 2018
2019 has been a breakout year for Cohen. She sung about boys on late night; she played a boob-flasher with a bob on HBO’s High Maintenance; and she won the Best Newcomer Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where she and Koperski performed every single night for a month. “It’s been the best year of my damn life, and the next one’s gonna be even better,” Cohen eagerly declares in a delighted sing-song cheer. I don’t know exactly where Cohen will be a year from now—although, some of her biggest plans for the future include developing a television show—but I have to believe her when she says 2020 will be even better, because she’s only just started her journey to becoming one of comedy’s greats.
I don’t think an article alone can fully capture Catherine Cohen. So much of her uniqueness is in her performance. Even as I chat with her on the phone, I find myself giggling helplessly at her myriad of inflections, pitch changes, tonal shifts, and vocal fries that I fear will get lost in transcription. To get the full Catherine Cohen experience, you can catch her totally free Bentzen Ball show at the Kennedy Center this Saturday, October 26 on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some of Cohen’s departing words about herself: “I’m a gorgeous, stupid bitch just trying her best.”