Catherine Cohen’s official line of work is, in her own words, being “a beautiful comedian slash dumb slut without a primary care doctor”.
She is also a singer, a podcaster, an over-sharer, a New Yorker, an anxious hypochondriac, an aspiring movie star, an attention seeker, an agony aunt, a writer, a “Bernie bitch”, a style icon, and, needless to say, a chronic overachiever. Her live comedy show comprises a self-deprecating, Carrie Bradshaw-confessional cabaret — in the literal, musical sense — as hilarious as a show-reel of viral tweets and as intimate as a heart-to-heart with a close friend.
At 28, Cohen is pioneering a new style of comedy and rapidly establishing herself as a definitive millennial voice. Her podcast Seek Treatment, which she co-hosts with best friend and fellow comedian Pat Regan — “truuuly my soulmate, no one makes me laugh like him”, she purrs down the phone — has amassed a cult following.
The podcast concerns “boys, sex, fucking, dating and love” and is absurdist as well as relatable. Much of its humour derives from the unique language in which Cohen and Regan communicate (largely based on exaggerated appropriations of millennial girlhood — see “randomista” — and the undeniable hilarity of vowel sounds). Their distinctive cadence has rippled through the comedy world, as New York pop culture writer Julia Gray noted recently in Nylon magazine.
Cohen met Regan on the comedy scene in New York. After a childhood in Houston (when she learned to sing and was involved with musical theatre) and an English degree at Princeton (a place that excited Cohen so much she sacrificed any ambition to study at theatre school), Cohen moved to New York in 2013 and started doing stand-up.
Three years later, she found she was missing singing when she met Henry Koperski, who would become her song-writing partner and pianist. The partnership helped her find her artistic voice. “The second we got together, it just really clicked,” she tells me. “It felt like I was doing the right thing.”
In the early days in New York, Cohen worked as a waitress, babysitter, exam tutor and at a theatre as she grafted to make her name in comedy. It has paid off: her regular slots in New York, at Joe’s Pub every month and Club Cumming every week, have given way to national and international shows.
In 2019, she did a 28-day run of her show “The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous!” at Edinburgh Fringe, her proudest achievement and “the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. This week she will perform the show for the second time in London, a double run to a sold-out Bush Hall and an added slot at Soho Theatre.
Cohen’s comedy undeniably appeals to the insatiable millennial appetite for relatability. She cites familiar faces — Lena Dunham, Jenny Slate, Amy Schumer — as inspiration; in her best-known song “Look At Me”, she sings cheerfully: “Boys never wanted to kiss me, so now I do comedy.” But for Cohen, the instinct to overshare runs deeper than following a trend. In her live show, on Seek Treatment and on social media, she has a penchant for sharing intimate details of her life.
“I find I can’t keep stuff to myself,” she says. “It makes me feel better to talk about my problems. The fact other people identify with them just means I’m glad it’s doing something for someone besides myself.”
Cohen is always the butt of her own joke. Again, this makes sense. Her style is inextricable from the memeable, ironically self-obsessed humour of social media. But it is also indicative of who she is as a person. “I just feel like kindness is everything,” she says. “Coming up in this community, I’ll never forget how older, more experienced comedians were nice and thoughtful. It’s so easy to be that way. I would never want to say anything that would hurt anyone but me.”
As well as being willingly open about more serious concerns — problems with her vocal health, quitting Prozac because she couldn’t orgasm, an overwhelming sense of her own morbidity — on Seek Treatment, Cohen is frequently confessional about a worry that she is not being funny (a worry shared by Pat Regan; they reassure each other earnestly). “I just think being funny is the best thing you can be. It’s like, everything else sucks,” she says, then laughs darkly.
Offhandedly, she reasons that she is “probably terrified of being serious because it would make me less interesting”. But seriousness is acceptable to her when she is acting: an area where her ambitions are formidable. When she says she is going to “win an Oscar for a period piece in which I wear, like, a corset”, it is only half a joke, and she is steadily accumulating a portfolio of small parts in TV shows including Broad City, as well as developing her own TV series to star in.
Underlying Cohen’s flamboyance and rawness is a deep determination. She rationalises her childhood ambition in characteristically sardonic tones. “I was a church girl in Texas who wanted to get the fuck out because she thought she was smarter than everyone.” She pauses. “And I didn’t feel like people knew what a star I was!”