Not many people could pull off the outfit in The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous, the new Netflix comedy special by Catherine Cohen — a bright pink “rhinestone romper” (rolled Rs essential) paired with knee-high white boots. But not many people could pull off the act, either. Cohen does both, because in her world the silly is serious and the serious is silly. There is absolutely nothing trivial about that romper, yet the pandemic is “so random… not what I had in mind”. This is the way she makes sense of the universe, which weighs so heavily on her and yet she carries so lightly.
Cohen’s musical cabaret of vagina jokes and ironic feminism is buoyed by her sparkling, addictive personality, her total confidence, her je ne sais quoi star quality. Cohen may still relish her “lady in a movie” moments (checking her mail, holding a baguette), but as her special is released almost three years after she performed a sell-out run of the show at the Edinburgh Fringe and she begins to receive widespread recognition (with a billboard in Times Square and an appearance on the Seth Meyers show), the Hollywood persona may no longer need to be cultivated.
Cohen’s act has always been about toeing the line between the glamorous and the mundane. She is not only the girl next door dreaming of becoming a starlet; she purposefully enacts the persona of both characters at once, affecting both the honey-coated drawl of a wealthy divorcee and the straight-up confessional of a millennial on Twitter (“can you tell I’ve had therapy two times this week?”). Neither would work without the other and the combination results in a caricature of herself — a glamorous diva at heart, waiting for “the retweet that will turn it all around”. This caricature carries her material: her presence is big and brash enough for us to be interested in her sexual overshares and the 42 minutes she spent without her phone, yet real enough that she remains on our level.
Cohen’s route to stardom was blocked somewhat by the pandemic. As other critics have noted, The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous should have been finished in 2020 and Cohen should have progressed to new things. Though the show’s long run means she is completely at ease, the transitions slick and the jokes refined to every last syllable, there is a sense in which she has grown out of it. She is now 30, happily coupled up and her career soaring; her self-deprecating material about being single and “singing in dimly lit bars” no longer feels as authentic. By contrast, her recent “work in progress” show at the Soho Theatre in London last month was zingy and, despite its lack of practice, mature somehow, elevated by her energy and the confidence to push her ideas forward. (“Thank god for astrology,” she sang in a hummable ditty. “There is literally nothing wrong with me.”)
When I interviewed Cohen in 2019 she told me, in her best Samantha Jones drawl, that the people in her hometown in Texas “didn’t know what a star I was”. Well, if they didn’t then, they do now. Cohen is the perfect comedian for the internet age, bridging the gap between the extraordinary and the ordinary, the silly and the serious, fantasy and reality. Yes, for all we know, she could still be masturbating on her bedroom floor because she was too lazy to draw the curtains. The twist? She’s made it anyway.