In many ways, Catherine Cohen is a star from another era: she’s got the voice, the charm, the statement pieces. As we sit outside a Brooklyn coffee shop that’s also a small boutique, I find myself lovingly listing the most glamorous items I’ve seen her perform in, including a beret and a sheer white coordinating set, while she nods, fondly remembering each one. She cites Kate Bush and Cher as fashion inspirations — her ideal look for shows, she says, is “crazy psycho diva, but hot” — and though she concedes that music and comedy might be inspirations, too, they are beside the point. “I care more about being hot than being funny. Famously, I identify more like a model than a comedian, but here we are,” she says, administering a few drops of the herbal apothecary tincture she bought inside the boutique on her tongue.
How does one become a diva in this day and age? For Cohen, it was simple. “Boys never wanted to kiss me / So now I do comedy,” she explains in one of her songs, followed with a deranged but infectiously melodic, “Look at me look at me look at me look at me!” Growing up in Houston, Cohen felt uncomfortable in her body and fielded frequent rejection, even in musical theater, which anyone who’s seen her smilingly belting onstage today can tell she loved, but which at the time caused frustration, as she could never land a lead role. Now at 27, she’s starring as the new Hollywood starlet of the NYC alt comedy community, a part the scene didn’t even know it was casting.
More specifically, she’s the star of The Twist?... She’s Gorgeous at the prestigious East Village performance space Joe’s Pub, and of Cabaret Cabernet, a weekly show at Club Cumming, an intimate cabaret lounge co-owned by Alan Cumming. In both shows, she performs with her piano accompanist Henry Koperski — at Joe’s, Koperski leads a full band, and at Club Cumming, the scene is more casual, or at least as casual as a cabaret comedy night can be. The duo invites performers to partake in a queer downtown Manhattan nightlife that you won’t see at other comedy shows and that a younger Cohen only ever dreamed about. A lover of hosting parties, she says spending her evenings surrounded by people she loves and artists she respects “gets me going cuckoo.”
Cohen wrote her first song with Koperski the day after the 2016 presidential election. It’s called “All The Things That Are Wrong With My Vagina And All The Medicine I Need,” and it’s about living with polycystic ovarian syndrome in a country that refuses to prioritize women’s healthcare. Her songs and style take the modern young woman’s anxiety — as well as her tendency to overshare — and dramatize these into divadom. “When I’m watching a show,” she says, “I want to hear your deepest, darkest secrets, and I want to feel like I’m not crazy for having similar thoughts, feelings, ideas.”
She hosts the monthly live show It’s A Guy Thing with Mitra Jouhari and Patti Harrison, which often involves musical performances, although decidedly less polished than Cohen’s work with Koperski. In describing the songs, she laments, “It’d be so easy for us to keep track of these songs, save the files, record them...but for some reason…” she trails off, shrugging. Most unhinged, however, is Seek Treatment, her podcast about “boys, sex, fucking, dating, and love,” in which she and her cohost Pat Regan ask guests important questions like, “Are you mad at me?”
When I ask Cohen her plans for 2019, she thinks in grand terms, as a starlet should. She describes her plan to be in movies, performing in shows and acting around the world, and we discuss her inevitable brief stint on Broadway. It becomes unclear if she’s talking about the upcoming year or the rest of her life. “You have to state your goals in a crazy way,” she says, laughing.