Cat Cohen won the Best Newcomer prize for her cabaret debut at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but had to wait a few more years to get the show filmed in front of a live audience for Netflix, thanks to the pandemic. Was the wait worth it?
The Gist: Catherine Cohen’s first Netflix comedy special, filmed at Joe’s Pub in New York City, encapsulates both a time and a movement, as Cohen helped usher in a revival of the cabaret scene among her fellow millennials that welcomed more young women and LGBTQ+ personalities, and with them, a variety of voices and perspectives in comedy toward the turn of the decade.
Cohen has hosted a weekly showcase at actor Alan Cumming’s East Village hole in the wall, Club Cumming; she’s also co-hosted a weekly podcast with Pat Regan called “Seek Treatment.”
Her TV credits include parts in Search Party, What We Do in the Shadows, Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, High Maintenance, and Broad City, as well as on the big-screen in The Lovebirds and Dating & New York. But none of those appearances quite demonstrate what Cohen does so much as her own hour of cabaret, which sets several of her thoughts to song, plus a few of the poems she wrote that you could find in her published 2021 collection, God I Feel Modern Tonight.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: Though she shares sensibilities with at least a couple of The Characters from Netflix’s 2016 showcases (namely, Kate Berlant and John Early), Cohen is perhaps even more of a blend of two of her predecessors to make frequent use of the Joe’s Pub stage: Amy Schumer and Bridget Everett. But make her more like a character you’d find in HBO’s Girls.
Memorable Jokes: Cohen’s opening musical number, “Look At Me,” serves as an introductory mission statement, explaining her presence as a need for attention as compensation for lacking such validation in her youth, singing: “Boys never wanted to kiss me, so I need all of you to look at me.” Perhaps you saw her perform this ditty a few years ago when she first appeared on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Other song titles: “Events,” “That Time of Year,” “Take My Money,” “What Are You Running From?” “Upstate,” and “Live or Die.”
She’ll tell you why men shouldn’t make all of the movies, claiming superhero films are boring, yet quickly adding that if you’re casting for a Marvel flick, then please, by all means, slip into her DMs.
But mostly, she just wants to sing her own song, and hope that you (still) love her.
Our Take: What happens when a show built for 2019 gets put on hold for three years? How much could’ve changed since 2019? Well, um, yeah.
Not only a pandemic and war to check our perspective and privilege, but also even just in Cohen’s world, the consequences of her past transgressions in performative art have come back to bite her. As the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement stopped finding the humor in her work, Cohen apologized.
Is it all an act? Of course it is. Cohen’s cabaret show remains all about mocking that self-absorbed millennial lifestyle. When she gasps, “Oh my God, I guess I am the actual voice of my generation,” we can see what it might’ve been like had Lena Dunham’s Girls protagonists been in on the joke themselves. Cohen’s Betty Boop affectations and her singing style and subject matter juxtapose 1920s tone with 2020s sensibilities.
The schtick can only take her so far, though.
Even within the hour, she eventually dives into more meaningful material, eschewing self-absorption for self-reflection. From questioning the mental fitness of runners, to questioning herself for hoping a quick geographic relocation “Upstate” can mend what’s wrong with her on the inside, and in between, navigating the “portal” of modern healthcare provides her with the closest thing to a traditional stand-up routine in the hour.
She came up on the scene as a provocateur. But the Cohen of today likely has more weighty things to sing and talk about now. We’ll have to wait to find out.
Our Call: SKIP IT. There was a time and place for a cabaret show from a privileged young white woman to lament and celebrate the relative adversities she has overcome, but this doesn’t feel like the time nor the place for that.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.