interview

Catherine Cohen: ‘My last show was about my twenties. What does the future hold now I’m a wretched hag?’

The cabaret performer and stand-up comic is riding high, with a forthcoming Netflix special and rom-com in the works and a series of shows in the UK this week. She speaks to Isobel Lewis about comedy’s hopeful future, making up your own language and ‘Love Island’

Monday 21 February 2022 06:35
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<p>‘My boyfriend’s a good sport, but I’m sure he heard some things in the podcast and was like, ‘Why did you say that about our sex life?’” </p>

‘My boyfriend’s a good sport, but I’m sure he heard some things in the podcast and was like, ‘Why did you say that about our sex life?’”

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There’s something enthralling about the way Catherine Cohen speaks. First, there’s her voice – that slow, Old Hollywood drawl that perfectly matches her blend of stand-up and cabaret. And then there’s the content – words and phrases made up at random; accents adopted then put down. It’s “absolute nonsense,” she says, but utterly infectious. Over on Instagram, there’s an entire community obsessed (in Cohen-speak, that’d be “obsorsed”/“obsoosed”/“obsessiana”) with the bizarre comments made by her and Hacks writer Pat Regan on their podcast Seek Treatment. Do fans often imitate her speaking style when they meet her? “Yeah, like all the time. Like non-stop. But I love it. They’re just like, ‘Hey, girlina!’” That’s got to make her feel pretty iconic, I suggest. “Oh stooooop,” she purrs.

In 2020, Cohen was bringing that unique blend of weird and sexy to London’s Bush Hall when her parents rang to tell her some earth-shattering news: Tom Hanks had Covid. “He started it all,” she tells me. “He made America believe that coronavirus was real.” The run was meant to be Cohen’s UK victory lap after winning Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. “My agents and my manager and my mom and dad [were] like, ‘Tom Hanks has Covid – you need to get on a plane.’” It was 2 o’clock in the morning. “I didn’t go to sleep. I just went to the airport.”

Two years on from that dramatic exit, Cohen is back on British soil for a series of work-in-progress shows at the Soho Theatre and a one-off performance of her award-winning show The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous at the Clapham Grand. The show is a heady mix of stand-up, original songs and poetry readings, with Cohen’s onstage persona best described as a Vaudeville star with millennial angst. “I love sex because it famously has noooo consequences,” she tells the audience, utterly deadpan.

The day before we speak over Zoom, Cohen lounging on the sofa in her New York apartment, it’s been announced that The Twist… is coming to Netflix next month. The next day, it’s reported that she’s joined the cast of the Paramount+ romcom At Midnight. Big things, it would seem, are coming for Cohen. Over the years, she’s had guest roles acting in shows such as Search Party and What We Do in the Shadows. But The Twist… is a show all about her. The most famous song, which she performed on Seth Meyers back in 2019, is literally called “Look At Me”. This is her moment. I’m used to hearing Cohen’s rich, sultry voice in her songs and stand-up, yet I’m surprised how strongly that glamorous charm can be felt over Zoom (even at 9.30am her time). Clearly I shouldn’t be. Throughout our talk Cohen puts on voices, makes up words and laughs at her own jokes. If you were as funny as her, you’d laugh too.

The special was shot in September in front of a maskless, Covid-free audience and felt, dare I say it, nearly normal. But Cohen wasn’t taking any chances. “I was so paranoid, I quarantined myself in my apartment for like a month before we shot,” she explains. “I was just like a monk. I was like, ‘Nothing is coming between me and this taping.’” Cohen waves a smart watch encrusted with gems at the camera. “I got this Apple Watch – LOL, this is a rhinestone band from Amazon.com – and I would walk, like, 10 miles a day just trying not to lose my mind.”

For Cohen, it’s been a long time coming. She first wrote The Twist… in 2016, but it would be another three years before she stormed her award-winning Fringe debut. Performing every day for a month was “absolutely psychotic”, but also the best thing she’s ever done. “[The UK] values live performance with such passion and intensity,” she says, with genuine reverence. “It’s such an exciting, noble, inspiring task. I feel like over here [in the US], people are doing shorter sets or making videos in an attempt to get to the next place, whereas the UK values the show for what it is.”

‘People are amazing, even though they’re so annoying sometimes'

Cohen was still riding high from The Twist…’s success when Covid hit, leaving the comedy scene reeling. Between pandemic depression and watching “every single episode” of Love Island UK, her “brain and personality” were “broken” – writing the new show, she pulled inspiration from her “shifting” mental health and worldview, as well as turning 30. “The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous was very much [about] my twenties and now I’m like, ‘Ooh, what’s the future hold now that I’m an old, wretched hag?’”

There were other creative endeavours for Cohen in “the world-famous pandemic”, namely poetry collection God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems from a Gal About Town and Seek Treatment, the podcast she co-hosts with Hacks writer Pat Regan. As the show’s tagline (“A podcast about boys, sex, f***ing, dating and love”) would imply, Cohen and Regan have no problem oversharing on the show, whether discussing body image, mental health or the Real Housewives. “When I was dating, I would just reveal all in the early stages,” she admits. “Thankfully my boyfriend’s [actor Brian Muller] a good sport, but I’m sure he heard some things in the podcast and he was like, ‘Why did you say that about our sex life?’” Now, she says, he’s “very supportive and accepting”. “Isn’t that right?” she suddenly shouts, a murmur from Muller just about audible from the other room. “He’s giggling, he’s giggling!”

Cohen with her ‘Seek Treatment’ co-host Pat Regan

After the “alternate reality vibes” of the pandemic, Cohen is excited about comedy’s future – after all, she says, “people are amazing, even though they’re so annoying sometimes.” “I really have a disease now where I… cannot even envision what the next few months look like or what I’m doing or anything, which maybe is a blessing,” she adds. After so much doom and gloom, that positivity is admirable.

She tells me about the night she won in Edinburgh, sitting in the car to the ceremony and insisting – much to her British producer’s horror – that she was a shoo-in for the prize. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna win’ and he was like, ‘Stop saying that. Like, stop.’ I was like, ‘No, I’m going to. I deserve it,’” she says, with a laugh. Maybe it was the decidedly un-British response that set her apart? “It’s the all-American way of approaching it but you have to be confident,” Cohen agrees. “If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to? Come on!”

Catherine Cohen performs at the Soho Theatre from 21 to 26 February at 9pm and the Clapham Grand on 2 March at 9pm. ‘The Twist...? She’s Gorgeous’ comes to Netflix on 15 March

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