If Catherine Cohen had to compare herself to something, it would be a memory foam bed. Because, you know, she’s versatile and has instant brand-name recognition.
“My body is literally the softest thing in America. I’m a memory foam, bitch!” is how she explains things.
Okay, but, how are you really?
“I’m just a girl,” she tells Ensemble. “Just a girl who wants to giggle with her friends.”
If you’re Cat Cohen, that means living in Manhattan as a comedian who’s journeyed from gleeful impostor to podcast impresario and HBO darling.
To the initiated, Cohen is the real deal – an arch, self-reflexive satire of girl-bossery and Gen-Z narcissism which is never too caught up in its own cleverness (or vulgarity).
To the uninitiated, she does stand up, hosts the alt-comedy/self-ironic/candid and flirty/occasionally manic podcast Seek Treatment, writes a regular advice column for W Magazine, published the book God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems from a Gal About Town and has appeared in various cult-favourite TV series.
Cohen’s new standup show, Come For Me, comes to Auckland on November 19. Its poster shows Cohen as a shimmering Botticelli angel – with her laptop open playing PornHub just beside her.
It’s the perfect curtain-raiser to Cohen’s brazenly confessional world – a place where the sublime and ridiculous live a sparkling co-existence, as embodied by her signature look, a pink rhinestone romper.
The New York gadfly will be looking to score a martini in Auckland, the city of which she knows two things (“Lorde, and my good friend Simone Nathan”), as she “gears up to travel the world”.
“It’s a long-overdue adventure. I just love glamour,” Cohen says. “I’ve retired my romper, but I’m bringing over a very dramatic sleeve to you guys – and boots. Because I can’t walk in heels.”
The standup first shimmered onto the scene of dingy New York dive bars and cabaret clubs, hosting at Alan Cumming’s bar in the East Village. A stalwart of Brooklyn’s alt-comedy scene, to which luminaries such as Patti Harrison, John Early, and Kate Berlant also belong, Cohen’s hurricane-force charisma has crashed through the rooms of stale, pale comedy, forging her new sequinned frontier.
Previously an IYKYK type of talent, Cohen’s roles in What We Do in the Shadows and HBO series High Maintenance and Search Party, plus her devotion to her glamour and pop-culture-devouring persona, have seen her celebrity grow.
In Cohen’s 2022 Netflix special, The Twist?…. She’s Gorgeous, her set was bookended by archival home-footage, giving us the artist as a young woman, pirouetting in pink tutus and grasping a karaoke microphone like someone who’s been there, done that.
“I want to be inside TV,” a young Cohen says in the special.
“It’s like… damn, people don’t change,” Cohen jokes today. “That came true. Why am I not satisfied?”
Following the special’s glittering reviews and a world tour of her podcast, Cohen’s new standup show finds her mourning the folly of youth (aka being in your 20s) – when Cohen was famously finding out every guy in Brooklyn looked like a Mumford and Son.
Cohen’s comedic persona, to the extent that there is one, is an endlessly excavating Brooklyn weirdo, the one to whom there’s no fate worse than being “the least popular girl of the popular girl group.”
“My persona is definitely a heightened version of me but it’s also like – no, that’s exactly how I feel,” Cohen explains. “She shows up, even if I’m not in that mood. It’s very, Jesus, take the wheel. Or like, persona take the wheel.
“I did my first show for so long, it encapsulated everything that was going on in my 20s. I’m in my early 30s now, my life is more together, but I’m trying to figure out why that doesn’t make me happy. Do I want to do the things that we’re told we’re supposed to do, while still being young and wild and free?”
Cohen’s comedy comes from a place of knowing what it’s like to be on the outside – in her own words, her comedy is for people who were “never cheer captain and always on the bleachers” (to paraphrase Taylor Swift). The glory of Cohen’s new show is this steadfastness to the fringes.
“I just can’t imagine being any other way. I also feel like the vulnerability of others has helped me get through difficult times. I mean, that's kind of selfish… it makes me feel better to be honest.
"And, not to be Brené Brown, but we’re all performing this ‘unfiltered-life-on-social’. So it’s special to be in a room with people, actually connecting, telling these stories about my life.”
Cohen’s comedy stomps on Gen-Z insecurities with her signature Barbarella boots, and is instantly iconic courtesy of her ear-worm syntax, glittering style and TMI conversational shifts that come to govern your own thought processes. There’s a reason every late night show host, and many comedians, have come to speak with the same cadence: the same untrammelled speech, and that same brisk, disarming honesty.
In a generation known for its relentlessly self-optimising lifestyles, Cohen seems to say to us, relax (for once!), with one-liners that are gleefully deranged, almost soothing, in their insanely specific, brain–scratchingly bonkers way (“You can tell I’m not doing well, cos I’m quoting poems”).
Come For Me was set to premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, but Cohen released an emotional statement just before she was set to tour, announcing to her 200,000 followers that she had been hospitalised for a small stroke.
On Instagram, she wrote: “hi cuties: in a quirky twist of events, I suffered a mini-stroke last week that was apparently caused by a congenital heart defect I never knew I had!! Thankfully my doctors can easily close the hole in my heart (lol) with a simple procedure.”
The subtle downplay, the self-deprecation, the exaggerated drama of the whole affair are typical of her comedy – from her standup to the popular advice column that she writes for W Magazine.
Whether it’s the guy who asked her to go to karate class with her after sex or how to navigate the comments section (“all the bad people are commenting on female standups' videos”), Cohen’s epigrammatic flair and self-ironic style has critics labelling her as a Gen-Z Dorothy Parker.
“It’s so fun to approach an advice column as someone who needs advice,” she says. “I’m definitely unqualified, but I enjoy making poetic fun out of ordinary, daily difficulties we all face.”
Whether on Zoom or in the cabaret club, Cohen still feels like the girl on the bleachers, talking about her crush. Cohen and I wrap our call in the same way she wraps her Seek Treatment podcast each week: with a candid account of our crush of the week.
“My crush of the week? One is soup, it’s amazing, it’s really gonna take off as a cool new food,” she jokes. “Two, is my brother’s dog Lunchbox. He blew up on Instagram, but he’s still really grounded.
“It’s so refreshing when someone becomes famous but they still treat you the same.”
* Catherine Cohen’s show Come For Me is at The Tuning Fork at 6pm on Sunday November 19. Buy tickets here