Into the void with New York’s most talked about comedian
Catherine Cohen is the acid-smart cabaret comedian blowing-up every “one to watch” list.
The atmosphere gets dialled-up a notch when Catherine Cohen blasts in. “I just got electrocuted,” she cries. The four-or-so people who are setting up for her show The Twist? … She’s Gorgeous at The Moth Club stop what they’re doing. She’s dragging a giant red suitcase, which she drops as the door slams behind her. “Like, what the fuck? I got electrocuted!” Even without electrifying news, I get the sense that Cohen has the requisite star-power to stop a room.
The 27-year-old comedian is having a moment. Or rather, she’s at the very beginning of what looks like it’s going to be a very big moment. In New York (where she lives in a tiny one bed in the West Village), she is best known for Cabernet Cabaret at Club Cumming; it’s a weekly variety show that she co-hosts alongside musician and writing partner Henry Koperski.
The Twist? … She’s Gorgeous, is her own show with Koperski and the reason she’s in the UK this summer. Mixing acerbic observational humour with equally acerbic songs, it’s an hour packed with a particularly millennial (read: self-aware-bordering-on-neurotic) brand of wit.
And people are looking. In the past year she has been profiled in The New York Times, The Cut has called her comedy “dizzying and glamorous” and she’s been a “one to watch” for everyone from GQ to The Guardian. She has also appeared in Broad City, HBO’s High Maintenance, and Search Party, and the podcast she co-hosts, Seek Treatment, has garnered a cult following for its sex-positive, super-confessional style.
Her onstage persona is a dialled-up-to-the-max, spinning top version of Cohen herself. In person she is almost as fast-talking and droll; she moves constantly and speaks in tangential, often hilarious asides. She is also incredibly clever (while soundchecking for the show she off-the-cuff improvises a hilarious three minute tune about being electrocuted in London). Like many comedians, though, you also get the sense that her dizzying highs are followed by big, crashing lows. It makes sense. At the heart of her comedy is an acknowledgement of the vast emptiness of modern life, “the void” as she calls it, and the ridiculous things we all do to fill it. Sounds depressing, but it’s very funny. “What’re you running from?” she trills, over and over, in one song about running a marathon. “Have you tried just telling your friends that you’re sad, instead?”
“Boys never wanted to kiss me, so now I do comedy,” she sings in another, “boys never wanted to kiss me, so I need all of you to look at me…”
“My fear is just the stamina that it requires to perform every night,” she tells me when I ask if she’s excited to be taking The Twist? … She’s Gorgeous to Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “Not being able to get through it. I mean, I told Henry, ‘if I was scared of butterflies this would be like putting my head in a box of butterflies.’ But I guess after this I’ll be invincible…and maybe it’s fitting that I got electrocuted moments before my first show in the UK. It’s shaken me to my core, it’s invigorated me, I’ll do tonight, I’ll do Dublin, I’ll do boom, boom, boom and at the end of the month I’ll pass out in a ditch and someone will ship me home.”
Tonight’s show is sold out. “But there’ll be tickets on the door, right?” she asks, moving from a chair to the bar for water. No, it’s just sold out. “Oh,” she laughs. “I like to tell people that there are tickets…” In fact, it’s so packed that latecomers have to stand, although no one seems to mind. She blows the crowd – myself included – away. From the whip-smart, poppy show-tunes to the dry asides, she keeps the crowd howling, cheering, clapping and laughing, laughing, laughing.
As she ducks off stage at the end, everyone seems disappointed that it’s over. Perhaps getting electrocuted worked – she certainly electrified the crowd.
So when did you get here?
I arrived late Saturday night; I got a hotel…
That electrocuted you!
Yeah, what the fuck? I never get a hotel, I always try and save money but I was like “no, I’ve had a really busy few months in New York, I’m going to get to London and just like chill out in my hotel…”
What hotel was it?
It’s called The Curtain in Shoreditch.
Oh, that’s quite a nice hotel!
It’s very fancy, I know.
It’s got a nice rooftop…
….yeah, so I was hanging out by the pool and stuff, which was nice.
You’re off to Edinburgh – when do you start?
I go to Dublin tomorrow and I think the first show in Edinburgh is the 31st July.
Is it your first Fringe?
I’ve been to Fringe but I haven’t done a show there. I’ve never performed, never done the psychotic thing…I don’t know why anyone does this [laughs].
What made you want to do it?
I’ve always dreamed of doing it because when I came in 2013 I thought it was the coolest place on earth. And I was like, “one day I’ll take a show there”. And now I’ve been doing this show for a while and I was like “cool, we should do it up. We should take it to Edinburgh.”
How would you describe your comedy?
Hot ‘n’ sexy, and ready to play.
When did you add songs? Because I know you did stand-up before which was more just straight talking…
Henry and I wrote our first song the day after the 2016 election – so that was November 2016.
What is it about that specific day that spurred you into writing a song?
Well it was very traumatic, obviously. The day after the election I had to do a voiceover for Plan B [Cohen worked as a voiceover artist to make ends meet in her earlier 20s].
And I was like “this is ironic” as this guy is going to take away reproductive rights and healthcare. And everyone was, like, crying in the booth, it was so dramatic…
The song’s called All the Things That Are Wrong With My Vagina and All the Medicine I Need.
I’d been wanting to write a song and was like “yep, that’s the title”. The chorus goes something like “I gotta get all these meds I need, so I can fuck good because it fucking feels good and that’s all we have left…” And that was the first song we ever wrote…
And now Boris Johnson is PM…
Have you seen all the Trump and Boris memes?
Yeah, The Shining one? Yeah. Fucked up.
But anyway people are loving the cabaret vibe…
Oh good, they better [laughs].
Why do you think that it’s really struck a chord?
I think it’s because I’m an amazing singer [laughs]…no, I think we really care that the music’s good, that it’s not a joke song. Even if they weren’t funny we’d want people to listen to them, so the combo, I hope, is attractive.
You talk a lot about “the void” in your comedy…
Oh my god! I was just talking about the void this morning. It’s like, my void is now pulsating. I’ve been picturing my void as this oval shaped thing right here [draws a circle on her chest], and the edges are kind of singed…[mutters] electrocuted.
OK, so what do you throw into your void, other than comedy, to try and feel fulfilled?
Male attention, sex, food, alcohol, Likes, clothes – all the classics.
In that order?
Yeah, if there’s any addiction you can have, I’m probably a little bit addicted to it. Although, I’m scared of drugs, so I don’t do drugs.
No cocaine in the void?
No but Adderall and Xanax. Do those count?
Maybe. I tried Xanax recreationally for the first time recently.
I have a prescription, so it’s not totally crazy that I take it. Although, I don’t have an Adderall prescription, every now and then I’ll take it if I want to stay up partying. I don’t like cocaine. And Xanax, I need it. You can tell I’m fucking wired as hell right now. Probably because I got electrocuted. The thing is, I’m worried I’m going to be like this now and then I’ll crash before the show. Oh my god, I hope I can keep this up…
I totally think you can and as soon as you get up there it’ll be like…
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We normally do 1hr30 but I have to keep it tight tonight and do 55mins.
That’s what I was told to do. And any more is like…I don’t know. The stamina required to do 1hr30 every night would be psychotic.
Where do you think the void comes from?
I think I just feel so much. I think I want more, constantly want more, more, more. I’m a person who wants to experience everything. I think everyone has a void but I think some people’s are bigger than others.
You’re experiencing a level of fame right now. Have you read anything weird about yourself?
No, not really. It’s been crazy, everyone’s been super kind and supportive. I think one article described me as “hyper-niche” and I was like “ok drag me! ‘Hyper-niche’! OK, like, five people like me…”
Why do you think they might describe you as hyper-niche?
I don’t know, I don’t know how to be any other way. Henry was telling me that his boyfriend was watching us on Seth Myers, and he was like – I mean, he takes it for granted because he sees me all the time – but he was like, “she’s really coo-coo. And it’s going to be kind of weird for people all over the country to see.” I was like “yeah, great.”
Do you think the confessional element of your stand-up really resonates with people?
I hope so, that what resonates with me when I watch stuff.
Is there a clear line between you and the on-stage persona?
It all kind of blends together. I mean, I would say the on-stage persona is more unflappable. And a little heightened.
I mean, I care so much if people like me. I care every day of my life. I am terrified of disappointing someone – and that terrifies me at all times. And I don’t think the on-stage persona cares about that as much.
On your podcast you talk about not being able to cum over fake boobs on porn…
I mean, I can’t. They’re just not for me. There were a lot at the rooftop pool today. I hope these women found what they’re searching for. I hope it filled their void. My void’s a little higher than my tits.
I feel I’m going to throw some Botox into my void soon…
Oh my god, someone just told me I should do it because I have this [points at forehead].
Now’s not the time, there’s nothing there. Maybe in the future?
Maybe when I hit 30.
I had a drink with my friend recently I was like “you look so fresh!” And she was like “oh, vitamin c serum at night etc.” But then she got drunk and revealed that she’d had Botox.
And did it look good?
It did look kind of good…
My friend did it and it was the same thing. I was like “you have the best skin,” and she was like “just a little botox.” But she’s only 28. How old was your friend?
That’s a better age I think
Anyway, you’re super open on the pod and on stage, do you ever think “oh shit, I shouldn’t have said that”?
Yeah, all the time. Constantly. I sometimes edit it out. Although, sometimes I don’t think about it and then am like “OK, that person’s going to know that I fucked someone else.” But, so what? Ultimately the power comes from being open.
You’ve been doing some really exciting things, is there one thing that really sticks in your mind?
Well, when I was falling asleep after doing Seth Myers, I was feeling kind of calm, and I saw a gif of him saying “Catherine Cohen is here” and I was like “what the fuck!” And that’s when it hit me, it was like “this is the coolest thing in life ever!”
OK, thanks so much…
Is that it? I hope I wasn’t too manic.
No, you weren’t manic at all.