"I'm Too Emotional For My Own Good": A Q&A With Catherine Cohen
Texting with the comedian, cabaret star, and writer about earnestness, comedy, and the reasons we stay alive.
Comedian, cabaret star, writer, and general Renaissance woman Catherine Cohen has been sharing her raw, stream-of-consciousness poems on her Instagram since 2016. Now they’re gathered in God I Feel Modern Tonight — an unflinching collection that explores sex, ego, art, bodies, millennial ennui, and longing. Last week, I chatted with Cohen via text message about earnestness, comedy, and the reasons we fight to survive, in a conversation as free-flowing and unaffected as her poetry.
AR: Hi Catherine! It’s Arianna from BuzzFeed Books. Thanks for taking the time to chat today! How are you doing this Friday?
CC: Omggggg hello!! A text interview, how exciting.
CC: I’m…ok lol
CC: We live in hell obviously but
AR: True, living for the honesty
CC: Too honest for my own good vibes
CC: No but things are looking up I just watched the finale of Bling Empire on Netflix
CC: Sooo good
CC: How r u?
AR: Same more or less, I discovered this British show called Rosemary & Thyme and it’s about gardeners who solve murders, which I can’t recommend enough. So that’s been a real highlight.
CC: Omg sign me up
CC: I famously love British
AR: Let’s talk about the book!! How does it feel to (almost) have it out in the world?
CC: I'm so excited
CC: Love that girl
CC: (My book)
CC: She’s rly good
AR: I am, full disclosure, a big fan
CC: Eeee !
AR: I suppose we should probably say what it is — God, I Feel Modern Tonight, a poetry collection. For people who might not be aware already, can you tell us about it, how it came to be, etc.?
CC: Yes! Its a collection of lil poems I wrote, some are funny some are
CC: Dare I say…earnest?
CC: Heartwarming etc
CC: I’ve always loved poetry because I’m Too Emotional For My Own Good (TM) and started writing and posting lil funny poems to insta in 2016
CC: then I started reading them on stage during my act and that evolved into me bravely thinking I should have a book
AR: Knopf agreed!
CC: LOVE Knopf
CC: Working with them has been a dream
AR: What was it like integrating something more earnest into your act/“brand” (sorry) — were you nervous about it?
CC: Hehe yes!!
CC: It's mortifying
CC: But I will be dead one day (annoying) so might as well share the things I’m proud of !
AR: True! Solid advice
AR: I’d love to hear about how you approach comedy vs poetry, how they feel similar or different
AR: I know you do a lot of songwriting too, which feels sort of between the two
CC: ya sometimes I’ll have an idea that could be a poem or a song or a joke and I have to decide what feels right
CC: All of it is very stream of consciousness
CC: Writing poems and songs is easiest for me. Jokes are hard and boring lol
CC: I’ve come up with most of my standup bits from just being on stage every night and now that we famously cant do that, poetry has been a good outlet for whatever I'm feeling in the moment
CC: I try not to overthink it…..I just kind of throw shit out there….I don't rly edit……my attention span is short because I love my phone....
AR: Understandable. How have you been coping with the shutdowns, as a really prolific performer? Have you been doing virtual events?
CC: at first it was totally devastating but now I'm just happy to be healthy and alive
CC: I've done lots of virtual show and will be doing a few events for the Virtual Book Tour (horrible phrase) as well !
CC: the show must go on as they say in the biz
AR: I’m torn right now because on some level I think questions like “aren’t you NERVOUS about being so OPEN?” are overdone, but at the same time I’m curious if you’ve ever regretted posting a poem. I say this as someone who used LiveJournal religiously and would constantly wake up and think “yikes.” Have you had to figure out a balance of what you explore?
CC: EEEE omg I knoiiiii why am I like this
CC: Sometimes I feel like being so open is a defense mechanism like….u cant say something about me that I wouldn’t say about myself
CC: But also there are things I don’t include..or sometimes I’ll check with my bf or a friend like…can I say this and sometimes they’re like…mmm no
CC: So I’m down to be open to make fun of Moi self but I don't want to write anything that would upset someone I love
CC: Someone I hate? Sure
AR: Yeah that makes sense. Are there poems in this collection that are favorites, especially dear to you?
CC: the road trip poems are prob closest to my heart
CC: Wrote them when my bf and I drove across the country camping in national parks over the summer
CC: It's obviously been a terrible time for everyone and our trip was a reminder of what we stay alive for
CC: Trees, lakes, kissing under the stars, burnt hot dogs, McDonalds drive thru, etc
AR: I love that. Have you always been into camping or was that part of the adventure?
CC: Surprisingly I have…I used to go on nature trips with my church in high school hahahahahah
CC: Now I wrote poems about my pussy and asshole ❤️
CC: Can I say pussy?
AR: Hahahah yes, by all means
AR: Have you experimented with other types of writing — do you see yourself working on a novel or essay collection somewhere down the road?
CC: 1000% my dream is to do an essay collection next
CC: Have no urge to write a novel….bc they aren’t tru
AR: It seems like working a very different muscle
CC: Yeah I have a hard time writing scripts too…anything that isn’t from the first person lollll
CC: but most of creating is just seeing bad art and being like…ok well I can def do better than that and then going for it
CC: Especially when it comes to standup hahha
AR: I truly can’t imagine something scarier than stand-up
CC: Its not scary after the first time
AR: Have you been able to focus on reading this past year? Anything you’ve loved?
AR: Omg yes I’m in the middle of We Keep the Dead Close too and I’m loving it
CC: It's sooo my vibe
CC: Also this summer when I rly missed NYC I read Natasha Stagg’s Sleeveless
CC: She’s so great
AR: Ooh I missed that one! I’ll pick it up.
AR: I won’t keep you for much longer — any upcoming projects you can talk about? Book or non-book?
CC: Hehe I'm working on a few things that I cant chat about (how glam!) but in the meantime, we are releasing new eps of my podcast Seek Treatment that I co-host w my bff Pat Regan every Tuesday
CC: Otherwise I'm just making audition tapes and waiting for someone to put my size 12 ass on the silver screen
AR: Final question! Can you describe GIFMT using three emojis?
CC: That was hard
CC: I was torn between the bathtub and the sunhat with the green bow
CC: But to be modern right now means being inside, in the tub, contemplating reality, and having a drink
AR: True. Well, this was really fun, thank you again for making time for it! Congrats on the book, can’t wait to see what’s next.
CC: Thank u so much !! ❤️
Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity.