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Comedian Catherine Cohen on growing up in Texas, being a star, Moontower

Kelsey Bradshaw
Austin 360

When something is especially funny — a friend's story, a standup special, a line in a movie — I will repeat the funny thing, dragging the moment out longer. If something is really funny, I develop a lazy left eye because I'm laughing so hard.

There's a moment in Catherine Cohen's new Netflix special "The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous" where the comedian, writer, poet, singer and Texan says nothing at all, and it sent my left eyelid flying. I cannot repeat the joke here, because this is a family-friendly publication, and also, you need to watch the special, which debuted March 15, yourself.

Catherine Cohen's Netflix special "The Twist...? She's Gorgeous" is about an hourlong.

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In her hourlong special, Cohen, who is from Houston, uses musical theater to bring you on an extremely relatable journey. Musician Henry Koperski accompanies her on piano. She talks and sings about growing up, running a marathon, sex, women's health and what it means to be near a baguette. You'll also get to hear some of her poems.

"It was a total dream come true," Cohen said of the special when we chatted last month ahead of her visit to town for the Moontower Just for Laughs Austin. The comedy festival runs April 13-24.

Cohen had been developing the set she shows on Netflix since 2017. Steve Brill, who directed Adam Sandler's 2018 Netflix comedy special, reached out to Cohen. After many meetings, she got the offer to do her own special for the streaming service.

(I asked Cohen if Sandler is perhaps the Beyoncé of the comedy world, and she said: "That's a great phrase. Potentially.")

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"I'm so happy that Steve's the director. I can't believe it's on Netflix now. I feel very lucky," Cohen said. 

Cohen was supposed to film her special in 2020, and then the coronavirus pandemic happened. She filmed it in September 2021.

She pulls from her real life to develop her jokes and songs. At least one of them may hit you viscerally: She recalls stealing a boy's hat when she was a tween because it was something she saw the "skinny, hot girls do" and the boy just ... asked for his hat back. 

"I'm so glad people related to the hat moment," Cohen said. 

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Catherine Cohen grew up in Houston before moving to New York City after college.

Cohen grew up in Southside Place, a neighborhood in southwest Houston near Bellaire. 

"I was in between. I grew up in Houston. I always wanted to leave. I got kind of sucked into youth group culture, and I think that's super creepy and bizarre. My parents didn't make me do it, but it was the cool thing to go to church and stuff," she said. 

Cohen added, "In high school, I played sports, I did theater. ... I definitely wasn't cool or popular, but I had amazing friends who I'm still in touch with today," she said. "I always just knew I wanted to leave and move to New York."

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In New York, Cohen performs weekly at Club Cumming in the East Village and will often use the show to test new material.

"It's a lot of like, 'What should I talk about that's going on?'" she said. 

Cohen is working on a new hour, and her Moontower jokes will not be the same as her Netflix special. Another way Cohen comes up with new material is via her body.

"This is so silly, but sometimes I'll scan my body, and be like, 'What's going on in each part of my body, and is there something there?' Because I can only speak through my point of view. It has to feel personal. It has to be something I'm passionate about, otherwise it's not going to ring true or be any good," she said.

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She's also appeared on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," does a podcast called "Seek Treatment" with comic Pat Regan and has made appearances on your favorite TV shows, including "Broad City" and "Search Party." 

I asked if she feels like a rising star.

"I'm definitely a star. I just don't know if everyone else agrees," Cohen said, with a palpable wink coming through the phone.

I asked Cohen how to be a star.

"I don't know. I've always been one. If you know, you know," Cohen said.

As for what's next? 

"Hopefully, I'll become a movie star. I'm waiting for the call," Cohen said. 

When I first called Cohen for our interview, she answered with a sing-songy "Hello!" She starts her special with a similar hello and then quickly launches into a song where she sings: "Look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me."

People are definitely looking, Catherine.

If you go

Catherine Cohen at Moontower Just For Laughs Austin

9 p.m. April 20 at Parker Jazz Club

9 p.m. April 21 at Parker Jazz Club

6 p.m. April 22 at the Creek and the Cave

7 p.m. April 22 at the Parish

7 p.m. April 23 at Parker Jazz Club

Single tickets to Moontower shows, as well as festival badges, can be purchased online. Go to austintheatre.org/moontower-comedy/performers/catherine-cohen.