Entertainment

Cher and 'Superstar': Catherine Cohen's Inspirations For 'The Twist?… She's Gorgeous'

The NYC-based comedian breaks down everything that informed her musical comedy style and first-ever Netflix special.

Aaron Ricketts/ Netflix
Aaron Ricketts/ Netflix
Aaron Ricketts/ Netflix

If there is a pristine example of a gal-about-town, it’s Catherine Cohen. The New York City-based comedian performs stand-up in sequins and feathers, filling her set with original show tunes and glamorous tales about her indulgent lifestyle. You can just about imagine that as soon as she steps off stage, she has another affair of the cocktail-and-disco-ball variety to attend to before ending the night with a bubble bath at her West Village pied-à-terre.

If you ask anyone closely following the NYC comedy scene in the past couple of years, they’ll tell you that Cohen is simply fabulous. She has become a stand-up staple in the city thanks to her weekly “Cabernet Cabaret,” which she performs at the Alan Cumming-co-owned East Village joint Club Cumming, and the podcast she co-hosts, Seek Treatment. But like any gal-about-town is wont to do, she’s also made a handful of film and TV appearances, including a starring role in the 2021 indie rom-com Dating & New York, published a book of poetry, and, most recently, released her first Netflix special, Catherine Cohen: The Twist?… She’s Gorgeous.

The Twist?… She’s Gorgeous, which was directed by Adam Sandler collaborator Steven Brill (who actually reached out to Cohen via Facebook) and shot at Joe’s Pub in fall 2021, finds the comedian telling intermittent jokes with a slate of some of her classic songs, which she co-wrote with pianist Henry Koperski, who joins her onstage. It’s as if Cohen treats the set like a Broadway revue, donning a transatlantic accent while gallivanting about, completely unfiltered. She sings about her experiences with sex, body image, and everything that makes her a thoroughly modern woman in a way that sounds like a millennial’s most shameful Notes app entry. As Cohen tells Thrillist, “I’ve always been a compulsive over-sharer, and I felt like the only way to get over something or work through it was to put it all out there. So that’s what I do in my work, and it feels exciting and therapeutic and celebratory all at once.”

Because Cohen radiates big theater-kid energy and takes on a diva-like persona as she zips up her white go-go boots before stepping into the spotlight, we had the performer break down all of her sources of inspiration for her Netflix special. Below, Cohen explains how pop icons like Cher and comedy legends like Molly Shannon inspired her and The Twist?… She’s Gorgeous.

Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Cher

The special begins with a home video of tiny Cohen in a tutu, shouting, “I’m starring in a show!” before cutting to the 29-year-old backstage at Joe’s Pub, prepping for her special. “I feel completely insane, but I look literally stunning,” she says, dropping her feather robe to reveal a sparkly, hot-pink romper as she struts out onstage to grace her crowd. It’s not an ensemble that’s unusual to one of her performances; she’s known to dress to the nines, often in custom-made looks. Because she’s all about embracing a bit of je ne sais quoi in her style and stage presence, it’s no surprise that one of the most maximalist pop icons, Cher, is among her reference points.

Cher was a major influence in my style and [what I wear in the special]. I love the ’70s glam vibe. Kelsey Randall, who designed the romper, is a genius, and we became friends a few years ago-I just fell in love with her work. She makes super-glam rock-star looks. When I was at her place for a fitting, I saw one of her mood boards that has a picture of Cher in this amazing gold dress, so I feel like our sensibility is totally aligned.

Randall is very big on [creating a look that’s] over-the-top and fabulous, but also comfortable and something I can move in, and also sexy at the same time. So working with her was a dream, and she has a team of amazing women who put all those rhinestones on by hand-it was like 25,000 rhinestones. I think looking amazing is so important to me.

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Molly Shannon in Superstar

Although Cohen may radiate the confidence and energy of a cabaret star-at one point in her special, she says, “You look at me and think she has it all”-the crux of her comedy is about being bold and unfiltered. She’s unafraid to make jokes about jealousy, wanting to be objectified, and how disgusting or uncomfortable sex and bodies can be, all the while taking up as much of the spotlight as she can and dancing around like a little kid in a talent show. Cohen attributes her vision for exploring cringe-worthy but ultimately relatable topics in a brazen way to Molly Shannon’s performance as Saturday Night Live‘s Mary Katherine Gallagher, a sexually repressed Catholic schoolgirl who’s desperate to be famous, specifically in the 1999 film Superstar.

Superstar the best movie ever. First of all, Molly Shannon is a genius and I love her, but also that movie-just how she’s not afraid to be disgusting, yet obsessed with her sexuality, and loud and full of desire-those are all things I related to when I first saw the movie and still relate to. I remember renting the VHS-which, oh my God, I’m 100 years old-and just watching it again and again. When you’re little, sometimes you don’t even know why you’re laughing because you don’t really understand all the jokes, but you know it’s funny. I think there was something about her star quality that made me laugh, even if I didn’t understand everything I was laughing at at that age. Channeling that fearlessness that she does is definitely an inspiration for what I do onstage.

Bernadette Peters and musical theater

With her luminous voice and the support of Henry Koperski on piano, most of Cohen’s songs sound like show tunes. Whether she’s singing her opener “Look At Me,” in which she explains why she got into comedy in the first place (“Boys never wanted to kiss me / so now I do comedy”), or a darker ditty about murdering a man who made “a joke” about wanting to assault her, you get the sense that musicals informed the songs she’s written herself.

I’m a big musical theater fan. My favorite musical is Sunday in the Park with George. Bernadette Peters in that is everything. I love all of Stephen Sondheim‘s stuff, but Bernadette Peters playing the witch in Into the Woods was especially a big influence-transforming from this grotesque monster into this glamorous queen at the end. I definitely connect with that.

I always grew up doing theater in school. When I was in high school, there was this trend of certain musical theater people posting cabaret videos of them singing. I would watch Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Vanessa Ray, and the U Michigan crew. It was a musical theater crew that I would watch their YouTube videos and felt they were also amazing. I’d be like, “That seems like the most fabulous thing in the world. How do you get there?”

So I started doing comedy in New York, but I realized I really missed singing, and I was like, “Oh, what if I could write a comedy song that I didn’t hate?” I, thankfully, had become friends with Henry Koperski, who is this amazing musician, and I said, “Henry, can we try and write a song together?” So I came to him with a melody, and I wrote a song about having polycystic ovarian syndrome, L-O-L. Then he came in with the accompaniment, and we just ran from there. As soon as we started playing together, I was like, “This is something special,” and I was so happy we’d met. We just kept chasing that high for the various songs that made it into the special.

MGM Distribution Co.
MGM Distribution Co.
MGM Distribution Co.

Romantic comedies and “lady-in-a-movie moments”

One of Cohen’s bits in her special centers on “lady-in-a-movie moments,” or scenes in which a character does something ordinary that might not be at all extravagant, but comes off as if it is. Many of these scenes, particularly ones from classic romantic comedies, are often what she shapes her own comedy around-from the aspirational nature of these moments to being able to find the humor in daily life.

I don’t remember which Sandra Bullock movie it is, but there’s one where she’s ordering Chinese food and they ask how many people it’s for and it’s just for her. That’s me every day. Also the Legally Blonde montage where Reese Witherspoon is buying the Mac in the bunny suit-that’s everything. Legally Blonde and Miss Congeniality came out around the same time, and those were very formative. [In general], rom-coms are the only movies I care about-You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, really any Meg Ryan feature, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

It’s not even a moment. There’s just a mood when a character’s putting on a sweater and I’m like, “Oh, it’s so glamorous.” It’s just the whole thing about knowing when someone else does something, it’s really beautiful and poetic, and then when you’re doing it, you’re like, “Why doesn’t this feel special?” That’s something I’m obsessed with. Like, I see someone in the city running errands, I’m like, “Oh my God, that looks so fabulous.” but when I’m schlepping around with all my shit, I’m like, “This sucks.”

Her favorite women writers

At one point in the special, Cohen jokes that, as she dry-swallowed her birth control while biking over the Williamsburg Bridge, she thought, “I guess I am the voice of my generation. It’s exhausting, but someone has to do it.” In some ways, she’s not wrong, being such an outspoken millennial comedy voice whom so many young people have discovered and found relatable. But while Cohen has always felt that “there was no other option” than to be as unfiltered as she is, she also gives credit to many outspoken women writers who came before her and were voices of their generations that have empowered her to write in the way that she does.

[There have been] all of these amazing female writers who so have distilled their particular experience in a way that feels so universal. I’m a huge Girls fan. I think that’s one of the best shows of all time. Girls was huge for me. I also think about Joan Didion and all of those Nora Ephron movies-she’s a voice of her generation, obviously. I’m obsessed with Sheila Heti-she’s an amazing writer. [Her novel] How Should a Person Be? was very formative when I first read it. Taylor Swift, too. I love that she’s turned her life into art and is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for herself. Whenever I’m sad, I like to read something by a powerful woman to make me feel less alone.

Aaron Ricketts/Netflix
Aaron Ricketts/Netflix
Aaron Ricketts/Netflix

Just sensual, glamorous moods in general

While Cohen can point to names like Cher, Molly Shannon, and even the Spice Girls as sources of inspiration, it’s ultimately all about vibe for her. It’s images of luxury and feelings of glamor that give her inspiration, which certainly makes sense, as she emulates that gal-about-town thing so seamlessly.

I’m most inspired by ideas and moods, rather than specific things. Like, I’m more inspired by just the idea of taking a bath or the idea of holding a book during a thunderstorm or sipping a martini in a red leather booth. Those are my main inspirations.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She’s on Twitter and Instagram.

Entertainment

Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.

Victoria

Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.

Queensland

BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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