Catherine Cohen: Queen Of Cabernet Cabaret

Jun 14, 2019
Originally published on November 16, 2019 9:10 am

Catherine Cohen is still a relative newcomer in New York, but the comedian, actor, and singer has already made a name for herself in the world of cabaret comedy. In 2019, GQ magazine featured her as one of "The 7 Funny People Reshaping Comedy Right Now." Cohen welcomed her recent praise in a conversation with NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York: "I'm one of the only people on earth that doesn't suffer from imposter syndrome."

As a high schooler growing up in Houston, Texas, Cohen used to watch YouTube videos of performances as the New York City club, Joe's Pub. After college, Cohen moved to New York with plans to become a serious actress. She eventually turned to comedy, instead, taking classes at the Upright Citizen's Brigade. Years later, those Joe's Pub aspirations came full circle: She hosts her own monthly show there called The Twist?...She's Gorgeous.

She also hosts a weekly show with collaborator and accompanying pianist, Henry Koperski at Club Cumming — the East Village bar opened by actor Alan Cumming — called Cabernet Cabaret. "I always forget that it's called that," Cohen laughed. "It's so stupid." It was at Club Cumming that she found a platform for her blend of comedy and song. "I feel like there was a lot of deadpan, kind of like 'guys in hoodie' comedy, and I was like, 'What if we made this fashion?'" Cohen said, describing her show. "I was like, 'Being deadpan is so yawn... how about we just be so over the top and obnoxious?' And it's taken off." Describing the heightened persona she adopts on stage, Cohen said, "It's like me if I didn't have to deal with social niceties."

Comedians Catherine Cohen and Josh Godelman face off in a game on Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York.
Mike Katzif / NPR

Her stage success and knack for inhabiting specific characters led to appearances in TV series such as Difficult People, Millennial Velma, Search Party, Broad City, and High Maintenance. And you can hear her in TV commercials, doing voiceover work for products including Olay, Schick, and the cereal Special K.

Cohen also co-hosts the podcast Seek Treatment, with friend Pat Regan. When Eisenberg asked her what the podcast adds to our understanding about the world of "sex, dating, and sex," Cohen replied: "Literally nothing," adding that, according to Regan, making the podcast detailing their dating life in real time is "ultimately harmful to ourselves, our families, our friends and anyone involved... it is a purely selfish, masochistict act."

One of the odd jobs Catherine Cohen held early in her career was as an employee in a Casper mattress showroom. For her Ask Me Another challenge, Cohen faced-off against fellow comedian Josh Gondelman in a trivia game about mattress history.

Heard on Josh Gondelman And Catherine Cohen: Brooklyn Famous.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

All right, everybody. Please welcome back to the stage our next special guest. She's an actor, comedian, singer. And she co-hosts the podcast "Seek Treatment." It's comedian Catherine Cohen.

(APPLAUSE)

CATHERINE COHEN: Stop. I'm shy.

EISENBERG: Thank you for joining us.

COHEN: Thank you so much for having me.

EISENBERG: So nice having you. So in 2018, Time Out New York called you a comedian to watch. And just recently, GQ named you as a comedian reshaping comedy.

COHEN: Stop.

EISENBERG: So what shape...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: My first question is, what shape would you like to make it?

COHEN: Oh, my God - A star.

EISENBERG: A star. Yeah, yeah. That's good.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: It's too easy. You can't write this stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You know, when you hear stuff like that, are you processing this praise by being, like, yeah, that's right - recognized for my talent, or are you like, oh, my goodness. Everybody's watching.

COHEN: Yeah. I'm, like, hell yeah. That's right.

EISENBERG: OK. Good.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: I'm one of the only people on earth who doesn't suffer from imposter syndrome. I'm like, absolutely, let's go.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: Against all odds (laughter).

EISENBERG: Is that - you were just always raised with a great sense of self.

COHEN: Yes. My - I was praised too much as a child.

EISENBERG: Really?

COHEN: Yes. When I answer the phone, and my dad calls me, he goes, how's the most perfect girl in the world doing?

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: And that's why I'm like this. You're welcome.

EISENBERG: Now we know. So you do comedy. You also have a great singing voice.

COHEN: No.

EISENBERG: And your show - the live shows that you do - it's cabaret, to a certain extent, but there's a lot more comedy. And cabaret is having a resurgence right now in New York.

COHEN: Ooh.

EISENBERG: It's exciting. And I can't tell if it's because there's a lot of people with a lot of great talent that have found the space or if there's some spaces that opened up that are bringing the talent.

COHEN: Oh, my God. I think it's a gorgeous combination. I was lucky enough to have Club Cumming open in the East Village.

EISENBERG: Yes, it's Alan Cumming...

COHEN: Yes.

EISENBERG: ...After Alan Cumming's - his venue that he opened up.

COHEN: Amazing nightclub. It's - everyone who is involved in that space is just an absolute dream. And, yeah, that gave me a platform to have a weekly show and invite all my friends and encourage them to sing because I have my amazing piano player and co-composer Henry Koperski on keys. Yeah. But in general, I feel like there was a lot of deadpan kind of, like, guys-in-hoodie comedy.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COHEN: And I was like, what if we made this fashion?

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: I was like being deadpan's so yawn. I was like, how about we just be so over-the-top and obnoxious? And it's taken off.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yeah. I mean, so you have this weekly show. I love the name of it - Cabernet Cabaret.

COHEN: I always forget that it's called that. It's so stupid.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I think it's pretty funny.

COHEN: Because if you Google that, it's, like, there's 4,000 shows across the nation called...

EISENBERG: Called...

COHEN: ...Cabernet Cabaret.

EISENBERG: I'm sure. Right. OK.

COHEN: But mine is actually different.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And is the person that you are onstage - is it a version of yourself? Or is it - yeah, it's a persona.

COHEN: It's pretty close to home. I was...

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: You're like, OK. You're so horrible to be around. No, actually, we had one of my favorite comedians, Naomi Ekperigin on "Seek Treatment." And she described the podcast as pure id. And I feel like that's my persona. It's, like, me if I didn't have to, you know, deal with social niceties, etc.

EISENBERG: Right. Right. Because - right, you're in control.

COHEN: Yes, yes.

EISENBERG: You get to control it completely.

COHEN: So I want everyone to know I'm very pleasant offstage.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: OK - laughing too loud.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And you mentioned you host this - you co-host this weekly podcast...

COHEN: Yes.

EISENBERG: ...With Pat Regan called "Seek Treatment." It's about sex and dating and sex. So what insight are you guys adding to the world of sex, dating, sex, etc.?

COHEN: Literally nothing. No, it's...

EISENBERG: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: As my co-host Pat says, the podcast is ultimately harmful to ourselves, our families, our friends and anyone involved.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: It is a purely selfish, masochistic act to have this podcast.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COHEN: I talk about my dating life sort of in real time. And it's come back to bite me many times, yeah.

EISENBERG: Because people that you're dating are, like, what's going on here? You cannot share that.

COHEN: Yeah. Why'd you say that? Or, like, oh, I didn't know you were seeing that person too.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: And I say, honey, wake up. It's 2019.

EISENBERG: Are they ever just flattered? Oh, I made it into the podcast.

COHEN: Oh, god. Oh, these boys.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: These boys in this town - that includes LA - they want nothing more. They act, like - don't talk about me on stage. They're on their knees begging for me to talk about them right now.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: It's pathetic, so I'll do it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yep, very good. All right. Are you ready for a rematch against Josh Gondelman?

COHEN: My enemy, Josh Gondelman...

EISENBERG: Yes.

COHEN: ...The meanest man in showbiz, yes

EISENBERG: That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right.

COHEN: I'm ready.

EISENBERG: Let's bring back Josh Gondelman, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

COHEN: There he is.

EISENBERG: So, Catherine Cohen, in our research about you, we learned that you once worked at a Casper Mattress showroom.

COHEN: The rumors are true. When I worked at the Casper Mattress showroom, it was truly a - just a tiny but gorgeous loft apartment in SoHo.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Oh, yeah.

COHEN: And I would sit around all day, like, eating the free food and laying on the mattress.

(LAUGHTER)

JOSH GONDELMAN: This sounds like performance art (laughter).

EISENBERG: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And then people walk in there, like, I want to see this mattress.

COHEN: It was truly, like, two people would come in during the whole day...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COHEN: And they'd be, like, can I try the bed? And I'd be, like, yeah. Let me get off it. One sec.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: It was a poor excuse for a job.

EISENBERG: OK.

COHEN: I mean, yeah. Wild.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: So we're going to put your bed knowledge to the test in a game called Go To The Mattresses. It is not multiple choice, so if you don't know the answer, feel free just to ring in and make something up. Here we go. What supportive mattress technology was patented in 1865 but did not catch on until the 1950s?

COHEN: What?

EISENBERG: What...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: That was great. Josh?

GONDELMAN: I almost said Tempur-Pedic, but they didn't have Tempur-Pedic in 1865.

EISENBERG: No.

GONDELMAN: That's just logic.

(LAUGHTER)

GONDELMAN: I want to say box spring.

EISENBERG: You are correct - bed springs, yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: What Broadway musical premiered in 1959 and is an adaptation of the fairy tale "The Princess And The Pea?"

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

EISENBERG: Catherine Cohen.

COHEN: "Once Upon A Mattress."

EISENBERG: That is correct.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: All right. We've got two more for you. According to The Washington Post, what mattress was popularized in the 1960s but dates back to 3600 BCE when it was made by Persians out of goat skin?

GONDELMAN: You seem...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

GONDELMAN: Yeah, there it is.

EISENBERG: Catherine.

COHEN: Waterbed.

EISENBERG: Waterbed is correct, yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

GONDELMAN: Sure.

EISENBERG: They were also known as bladder mattresses.

COHEN: No.

GONDELMAN: Yeah, that's why no one has them anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly.

COHEN: It is - that isn't right.

GONDELMAN: I haven't seen a waterbed in probably 20 years.

EISENBERG: No.

GONDELMAN: And if...

COHEN: Well, we have some good news for you, Josh.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: Open the curtain. Open the curtain.

EISENBERG: You won a waterbed.

GONDELMAN: Can I try it? Cat, get off my waterbed.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: But they just must've been so heavy. Like, I can't imagine putting them on the fifth floor of a New York apartment building.

GONDELMAN: Do you fill them once they get into your house?

EISENBERG: I assume so, yeah.

GONDELMAN: You've got to, right? You just run a hose to your sink. And you're just, like, this is going to be pretty cool under a leopard-skin blanket.

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: That does sound pretty cool.

GONDELMAN: It does sound pretty cool, yeah. I said it ironically, but now I mean it sincerely.

EISENBERG: Yeah, you're, like, maybe. Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right. This is your last clue. What mattress technology was originally invented by NASA to absorb shock in airplane seats?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

GONDELMAN: That's Tempur-Pedic technology.

EISENBERG: That is Tempur-pedic foam...

GONDELMAN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...Memory foam.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Hey, guess what? It's a tie. You guys tied it up. You're so good.

COHEN: Aw.

GONDELMAN: Buddy.

(APPLAUSE)

COHEN: What a rush.

EISENBERG: Catherine Cohen is performing her show "The Twist?...She's Gorgeous" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Let's hear one more time for Catherine Cohen and Josh Gondelman.

(APPLAUSE)

COHEN: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.