Comedian Catherine Cohen: “Why am I still filled with existential dread?”

Written by Zoe Whitfield

With a hit podcast, a Netflix special and a massive social media following, 2023 looks to be comedian Catherine Cohen’s year. Stylist catches up with her as she tours her newest comedy show around the UK.

Catherine Cohen resisted TikTok, a platform where she now has over 70,000 followers, for as long as she could, conceding only when holed up in a hotel room for two weeks quarantining in 2021. “I didn’t understand what it was,” explains the New York-based comedian over Zoom, “and then I just fell in love with it. It’s so creative and much more exciting than Instagram or Twitter. I mostly look at dogs, make-up and people making salads. I appreciate the unintentional comedy of it.” 

While her own material is millennial-coded and largely informed by the type of experiences that feed social media (sex, dating, body image, therapy), when we speak she has recently deleted her Twitter account, retaining her Instagram platform – and some 104,000 followers – to work in tandem with her clips on TikTok. When I check her stories to see what she’s posting in the build-up to a show at London’s Hackney Empire that evening, I’m greeted by a familiar sight: her legs are freshly shaven and there are bloodied bits of tissue by her ankles. “Getting ready for the big show tonight!” quips the caption. 

Cohen is, in many ways, a comedian primed for the internet age. “I cannot imagine life without it, for better or worse,” she says on our call. While her community swelled during the pandemic – mainly owing to social media – Cohen’s career trajectory has been climbing since 2016, around the time she first began developing last year’s Netflix special, The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous (she won the coveted best newcomer award when she performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019; the special’s release date was a casualty of the pandemic). This month, however, marked her first London show as part of a wider UK tour, and her biggest gig to date. “The new show [titled Come For Me] is horny and sexual, it’s literal and post-pandemic; I don’t fear death, so it’s like, ‘Come for me, bitch,’” she says.

An appearance on 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown earlier this year initiated her into mainstream British TV, where she performed a song about saving herself for marriage – and then realising she could get hit by a bus – and a poem from her 2021 book, God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems From A Gal About Town. Meanwhile Seek Treatment – the podcast she’s presented with Hacks writer Pat Regan since 2018 about, as its tagline suggests, “boys, sex, fucking, dating and love”, is a cult hit. As is the agony aunt column she pens for W Magazine. In short, Cohen has emerged from the pandemic booked and busy. 

Her IRL comedy, however, is distinct from the short clips you might see populating her Instagram feed. Poetry, as well as songs in the style of big cabaret numbers, are a core part of her performances, which marry narcissism and self-deprecation as a fun, flirty brand of satire. An exaggerated version of her real self on stage, Cohen’s newer work takes an unflinching look at her life, aged 31 and in a stable relationship. “It’s really about figuring out how to enter this new chapter of my life, and who I want to be,” she says. “Also, there are a lot of things I didn’t have together in my 20s that I have now, so why am I still filled with existential dread?” 

For all its jovial, look-at-me energy, Cohen’s work is underscored by the depths of her generation’s anxiety, a sentiment this show only expands on. “I talk about feeling perpetually dissatisfied, wondering if getting married or having kids is the logical next step – I have a line that says, ‘Is that really what I want or does it just feel like the next thing to have?’ So it’s asking what do I want and what do I want because I’m told by society that I should want it,” shares Cohen. 

Cohen’s comedy is all about confronting these issues head-on; Come For Me even has a segment about her decision to freeze her eggs. “The main thing is being told by doctors you have to have a kid before you’re 35 – how am I supposed to decide in four years? That’s insane,” says Cohen. “Egg freezing is becoming pretty popular in the US, and because I have PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome] I’d been told it would be hard to get pregnant. So I was like, ‘What if I just snatched up these eggs while they’re young? Stick them in the freezer.’ I was lucky I had savings because it’s extremely expensive, but I will say I have found a sense of calm from it – not that I have all the time in the world – but knowing that I’ve made a decision and that I have eggs, because I’ve had irregular cycles and hormonal imbalances my whole life.”

This kind of personal candour, particularly around women’s issues, is typical for Cohen, who often alludes to the evils of the patriarchy in her work. When Roe v Wade (the landmark supreme ruling that gave women in America the right to an abortion) was overturned last June, she was preparing for a run of work-in-progress shows in Edinburgh, and felt there was no way to not include it in the show. “I couldn’t ignore it,” she says. “I grew up in Texas and went to these very religious schools and summer camps, which really influenced how I saw the world then (in terms of sex and dating), so I talk about how these laws are all wrapped up in religion in this show, as well as my upbringing, which I haven’t addressed in the past. I have a line about how God could have been cool, but Republicans ruined it.”

With acting ambitions beyond comedy – and an upcoming role in Paramount+ romcom At Midnight – it’s her intimacy with her audience and, of course, their problems that makes her performances shine. In London on Friday night, she opens to a crowd that includes Clara Amfo and Andrew Scott, with segments that centre on worrying about the age of her therapist, living her life for ‘the memoir’, and the ease of getting pregnant versus buying a house. “I feel like that one always lands,” she told me earlier, “And we all feel very heard.”

Catherine Cohen tours Come for Me until 11th February.

Images: Catherine Cohen

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