Catherine Cohen is sipping a drink that matches her slinky red dress. Normally, she’d be performing in a dimly lit room, in front of a red neon sign that reads “Club Cumming.” But quarantine has canceled live comedy in New York City, so tonight the backdrop for Cohen’s weekly show, Cabernet Cabaret, is her West Village apartment. Her only live audience member is her boyfriend, who wears nothing but red boxer briefs and functions as a makeshift pool boy, appearing at Cohen’s beck and call to refill her martini glass.
The rest of Cohen’s audience, about 3,000 followers, is tuning in every Wednesday night to Instagram where, over the last few weeks, comedians have begun to carve out a quarantine comedy scene on Instagram Live. The technology is accessible but glitchy, and many comedians’ attempts at re-creating a live atmosphere online are filled with false starts and awkward pauses.
Cohen leans into the ridiculousness of the situation. “Isn’t it sad that I’m doing this?” she croons during her signature opening number. She’s ad-libbing addendums to a refrain that will be familiar to her fans: “Boys never wanted to kiss me in high school / So now I do comedy.” Tonight she interjects, “In my dimly lit apartment!” And, “When the government shuts down my life, I support the government’s decisions!”
When asked about how she’s coping with the quarantine, she says, “I have a mini-fridge — a college dorm room fridge — so it’s been a journey.”
In a way, the circumstances are perfect for Cohen’s brand of humor, which is by turns as self-aggrandizing as it is self-deprecating. She is always both the butt of the joke and the belle of the ball, and her best jokes hinge on bravado, horniness, and general desperation. Recently, she posted footage of herself in an enormous blue, fur-trimmed coat and a string bikini, walking the empty streets of her West Village neighborhood and yelling, “Sorry, boys, but this is what a woman’s body looks like! Why are you hiding? … Grow up and come out to play!”
If quarantine has made us hungry for pleasure, connection, and a well-stocked fridge, Cohen serves her own yearning up on a platter. She hosted the second Instagram Live edition of Cabernet Cabaret in a sheer robe and black lingerie accessorized with a plate of pigs in a blanket.
Last week, Cohen and her pool boy/boyfriend relocated to his family’s upstate home. She appeared before a roaring fireplace and shimmied in a red fringe dress while eating mini pizza bagels. “I got this in Los Angeles before the world ended,” she explained. “I’ve never worn this before.” Then she flashed a hairy armpit to the camera and announced, “I’ve stopped shaving. I’ve stopped shaving everything!”
The bread and butter of Cabernet Cabaret remains Cohen’s hilarious earworm songs. In one painfully relatable new number, she laments, “I wanna feel good, not bad.” In another, she tries to understand the nature of the strange and twisted dreams she’s been having during the pandemic: “What is it about this that makes me want to have sex with a misogynist?”
Unlike during her typical live show, however, most of Cohen’s guests on Instagram aren’t doing their usual stand-up routines. In general, the humor tilts more toward experimental as comedians learn how to navigate a new format that demands they share the screen with the host and limits their ability to read audience reactions. Meg Stalter read a chapter of a fake novel she’s been writing while quarantined. Pat Regan began a search for his missing daughter based on tattoos on his body, Memento-style. Quinta Brunson did a bit where she changed characters every time she changed her wig.
So far, some of the most delightful moments of discovery to be found on the Instagram version of Cohen’s show are small, intimate ones. The peak of the debut show was when Stalter invited Cohen to make “one face” with her via the splitscreen display. Delighted at their success, the duo chanted, “One face!” Audience laughter, of course, could not be heard, but in the comments, they roared.
In addition to lifting spirits, Cohen hopes her Instagram Live shows will do some good by raising awareness. She’s encouraged fans and followers to donate to charities like Food Bank NYC, Planned Parenthood of New York, and No Kid Hungry using the hashtag #CabCabCares. When they do, Cohen reposts the donations in her stories. This week, she’s fundraising for Club Cumming, Cabernet Cabaret’s home venue. But she’s quick to disabuse the notion that what she’s doing is a gesture of service.
“It’s truly a selfish act,” she says. “I’m addicted to attention and I can’t stop, even when the government tells me to.”