Catherine Cohen has always wanted to be a performer. Her new cabaret-inspired comedy special, The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous, out now on Netflix, opens with footage of the comedian/singer as a toddler, twirling around in a tutu and confidently declaring, “I’m Catherine and I dance beautiful.” It’s a moment that cleverly parallels the present-day intro to the special, in which Cohen does vocal warm-ups in front of the mirror in her dressing room. Laughing and inspecting her dramatic winged eyeliner, she says, “I feel completely insane, but I look literally stunning.”
The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous is a comedy cabaret show, filmed last September at Joe’s Pub in New York City. It’s an updated version of the act Cohen first developed in 2017 with pianist Henry Koperski, for which she won Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019. During the set, she seamlessly segues from stand-up monologues about how she wants to be the kind of girl who wears jeans and hates the taste of beer, to riotously funny songs with lyrics like, “Boys never wanted to kiss me, so now I do comedy.”
“I was set to tape the special in 2020, and then the world shut down. And so I feel really grateful that we got to do it this year,” Cohen tells The Daily Beast. “I think all the time away from the stage just made me appreciate it more. And it was just the most magical thing ever. And now tons of people are finally going to see it. It feels surreal.”
On stage and off, Cohen is an unabashed girly girl. She oozes confidence in her pink rhinestone romper and go-go boots, convincingly playing the part of a self-obsessed millennial, like when she pauses after hitting a high note to marvel in mock disbelief, “Oh my god. I have an amazing voice. wow.”
Citing Liza Minnelli, Britney Spears, and Molly Shannon in Super star as her influences, Cohen describes her onstage energy as “the confidence and glamor of being a pop star combined with, like, the old-timey kind of theatrical, glamorous musical theater woman.” Throughout her set, she slips in and out of an exaggerated accent not unlike that of a Disney witch (but one of the fabulous ones, like the Evil Queen in Snow White). Her blink-and-you’ll-miss-them asides—such as, “which I absolutely–foot-pop–j’adore”—are just as amusing as her actual jokes.
But there’s a sharp sense of mindfulness and irony underscoring this self-aggrandizing act. Ascribing to the grand comedic tradition of oversharing, Cohen juxtaposes her boastful glamorous queen persona with self-deprecating anecdotes about sobbing in a bikini, resembling a beached whale when she masturbates, and ruining her “one and only butthole” with a single sip of iced coffee.
“Some days I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m the most beautiful woman who’s ever landed on planet Earth.’ And some days I’m like, ‘I’m an absolute ogre from hell,’” she says. “So I think it’s all about balance. And I think overall, like, I love myself and I love life and I’m literally happy, which is crazy, but there are still some days where I feel like I don’t how I’m going to fucking go on.”
“Some days I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m the most beautiful woman who’s ever landed on planet Earth.’ And some days I’m like, ‘I’m an absolute ogre from hell.’”
That duality is what makes Cohen’s voice both refreshing and endlessly relatable. Self-deprecation is run-of-the-mill comedy fodder for a reason. But demanding attention (the chorus of one of Cohen’s songs is literally, “Look at me, look at me, seriously, please, look at me!”) and talking about how much you love yourself in a society where a woman’s confidence is often , infuriatingly, perceived as obnoxious, is nothing short of radical. In The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous, Cohen manages to strike the perfect balance. She gives narcissism a good name.
Cohen grew up singing and doing theater in Houston, Texas, but she didn’t always plan to incorporate her musical background into her comedy. She was all-in on stand-up after moving to New York after college, and eventually rekindled her love of music a few years later when fellow comedian Mitra Jouhari asked Cohen to do an audience bit involving singing at a performance of Jouhari’s sketch comedy group , Three Busy Debras.
“I got up and sang in the middle of the show, and I had so much fun doing it,” Cohen recalls. “And I was like, damn, I really miss singing, like, that felt so good. I was like, ‘I wonder if I could write some funny songs and put them in my act and would that be totally embarrassing or would that be cool?’”
The songs, it turned out, became the crux of the show, performed by Cohen with manic, wide-eyed campiness and set to upbeat melodies that contrast with her darkly funny lyrics. “Don’t get me started on boyfriend jeans, I’ve never been thinner than any man that I have dated,” she sings in a standout number about limited size options for women’s clothes. “I like a skeleton man, it must be a subconscious thing. If I fuck this skinny guy I won’t have a chubby daughter that I’ll have to fight with in the dressing room.”
It’s just one of many glimpses throughout the hourlong special into Cohen’s most intimate insecurities; the 30-year-old does not shy away from discussing personal topics like sex, dating, porn, body image, and mental health. She’s like Amy Schumer, if Schumer were a theater kid. But it took Cohen a long time to become the oversharer she is today, and she credits comedy with giving her an outlet to process the things she once felt shameful about.
“I literally was, like, in Christian high school and went to youth group camp in Arkansas and I was terrified of sex, terrified of my body,” she says. “But then I got really horny and I couldn’t bear it anymore and I went to college and became my true self.”
And thank goodness for that. Her show’s cathartic closing number, “Live or Die,” is a spectacularly raw opus on the psychological roots of Cohen’s attraction to men who treat her terribly, tied up with past failed relationships, deep-seated body image issues, and unquenchable horniness. “This world is so bad, but I’m addicted to it,” she unapologetically sings.
The Twist marks Cohen’s first Netflix comedy special, a major milestone on a summary that also includes a book of original poems, the podcast Seek Treatment that she co-hosts with Pat Regan, and a weekly cabaret show at Club Cumming in the East Village. As for what’s next, Cohen unsurprisingly has her sights set sky-high. “I want to be a movie star and I want to be flown all over the world, laughing and having fun,” she said, adding, “And I want to be a plus-size model.”
As our conversation nears its end, she offers up a more serious explanation for her trademark self-assuredness and, as she puts it, her lack of imposter syndrome. “Life’s hard enough. You know? It’s hell. And it’s impossible. As hard as I try, it’s impossible for everyone on Earth to like me at all or think I’m fabulous. But if just a few people do and they connect with it and we make each other feel less alone, then I’ve done my job. Fulfilled my destiny.”