You're Obsessed

Unconventional comedy-cabaret star Catherine Cohen talks to Arianna Reiche about goals, Alan Cumming, and why self-care is a pain in the arse

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
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Catherine Cohen
Published 04 Aug 2019

On the 15 July, aficionados of New York’s ‘alt’ comedy scene were given a treat: Catherine Cohen appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers, one of America’s most-watched chat shows. In a dazzling silver romper, she gave a taste of her addictive and hypnotic cabaret act that’s earned her the adoration of her both fan-base—who can be seen flooding into her weekly comedy night at Club Cumming in Manhattan’s East Village (Seriously, check Instagram – it’s like the Beatles in Munich)—and casting directors for the likes of HBO’s High Maintenance and Comedy Central’s Broad City.

But unlike other American comics who get their big breaks to a viewership of millions, Cohen has made some unconventional summer plans: notably, getting on a plane to Edinburgh to perform The Twist…She’s Gorgeous, and attempting to avoid any daytime fun.

“I’ve never done so many shows in a row! And with my voice I just have to be really worried about stamina,” she explains while sipping an Aperol spritz underneath some bold rodent-art in Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel. “I have to take care of myself! It’s a pain in the ass.”

The Twist… indeed takes more physically demanding stage work than her shoe-gaze contemporaries might be capable of. Cohen sings and dances her way through ultra-high-energy autobiographical numbers – such as ‘All The Things That Are Wrong With My Vagina And All The Medicine I Need’, and the office holiday party anthem ‘Plus One’. (“I promise I’m fun, I’ll be nice and sweet, I love a good DJ, and filling my mouth with cured meats.”) The show has evolved over the years, and has been something of a lifetime in the making.

“I’ve been performing in musicals since I was seven, eight years old,” she says. “I was always doing, you know, funny stuff, but I wasn’t a comedy nerd or anything.”

Through the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre, as well as a fateful 2013 Fringe she admits she spent “drunk in a field”, Cohen came to meet other performers with a similarly charming and anarchist take on conventional comedy forms. This included Patti Harrison (I Think You Should LeaveShrill) and Mitra Jouhari. She and fellow stand-up Pat Regan (“Pat’s my favourite comedian in the world. He’s a genius. There’s no one like him.”) premiered their podcast Seek Treatment through the Forever Dog network in 2018, and the buzz for her weekly show at Club Cumming started to reach critical mass. “[Alan Cumming] has just been a really supportive mentor, and without him giving me that spot, this year would have looked very different. I love him. He’s the kindest man.” 

It seems oddly fitting that a Scotsman would have helped elevate Cohen’s thoroughly New York-ish show, and no doubt about it – the UK has a special place in her heart: “My family lived here for a year when I was three, and I came back during college and did a programme at LAMDA. I’ve always just loved it over here, and felt connected to life here.” At some point between school musicals and Seth Meyers, she befriended transatlantic comedy darling Lolly Adefope; at her urging, Cohen flew to London last November to do a set in Hackney. Her brief overseas debut was such a success that—despite her sudden late-night fame—her next step seemed obvious. 

“Performing at the Fringe has been in the works for, like, a year, and I had no idea how things would shake out! But I’ve always thought, I want to do this! I’m going to do this! And now I’m terrified.”

It’s hard to imagine Cohen, with a supernaturally quick wit and cool-as-a-cucumber keyboard accompanist Henry Koperski, fearful, and she’s quick to rethink this statement: “I think it’ll just be a learning experience. It’s scary but truly I’m at a point where I’m just confident in what I do.”