Catherine Cohen and Alan Cumming Talk Boys, Balls, and World Domination

By
Photography Molly Matalon

Published July 10, 2019

Catherine Cohen is the first to arrive at Cafe Mogador. Draped in an orange blouse and silky pink skirt, she greets me with her signature “What’s happening? Tell me absolutely everything.” This is Cohen in a nutshell–despite having a critically acclaimed musical comedy show at Joe’s Pub (The Twist?… She’s Gorgeous!), a hit podcast (Seek Treatment), and dozens of other lavish New York engagements, she always wants to know how you’re doing. What you’re working on. Who you’re in love with this week. 

A few minutes later, Cohen and I are joined by Alan Cumming, who is donning a Marsha P. Johnson t-shirt and silver bracelet. The two immediately launch into a giggly conversation about boys, balls, babies, and world domination. After a year that included roles on High Maintenance, Broad City, and the upcoming Michael Showalter film The Lovebirds— not to mention a skyrocket in Twitter followers—Cohen is certainly on her way toward it. Cumming, meanwhile, is a veteran of the spotlight. His show Instinct is back on CBS; he’s working on a new television project with Rosario Dawson. Cohen is gearing up for The Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the very place where Cumming got his start). 

The two met in 2017 at the nearby Club Cumming, a swanky cabaret bar in the East Village that Cumming founded to support performers and patrons of all ages, genders, and sexualities. Cohen’s glitzy musical variety show, Cabernet Cabaret, has quickly become one of the club’s most popular events. Each week, Cohen and her musical partner Henry Koperski present a hand-picked lineup of up-and-coming NY talent. Cohen hosts, belting berserk original ballads as the crowd laughs, drinks, and basks in the magic of the space. Cumming and Cohen note this magic as their halloumi, eggs, and hummus arrive. For them, it’s “New York forever” and “live performance forever.” They want to star in more television and film projects, absolutely. But at the end of the day, it all comes back to the stage. The Village. Cabaret. “Divine decadence, darling.” So put down your knitting, your book, and your broom… pick up a Cabernet… and head to Club Cumming, old chum. Check out the cabaret. 

———

ALAN CUMMING: I’ve just been in five different countries in Europe in the last two weeks. 

CAT COHEN: Oh my god. How the hell do you do everything? Are you always sick or exhausted? How do you stay healthy? 

CUMMING: I take lots of vitamins. I look after myself. I suppose I drink too much, but aside from that… We all drink too much, don’t we? 

COHEN: That’s what I say. 

CUMMING: I went to Croatia. All I could think of was that Liza Minnelli song, “Ring Them Bells.” She goes to Dubrovnik to find a man. 

COHEN: You find a man in Dubrovnik?

CUMMING: I did not. But I wasn’t looking.

WAITER: My friends, shall we talk food, or do you need more time? 

COHEN: Yes. 

CUMMING: I’ll do the hummus plate. 

COHEN: Could I do the halloumi eggs, please? 

CUMMING: Good choice. So, what has been happening to you? 

COHEN: I was just in San Francisco for the Comedy Central Festival, and we did a live reading of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

CUMMING: Who did you play? 

COHEN: I played Christie Masters. 

CUMMING: Oh, the meanie. 

COHEN: It was so fun. Matteo Lane played your role. 

CUMMING: He did? I love him. I follow him on Instagram, he’s hilarious. 

COHEN: Trixie and Katya played Romy and Michele, and Peaches Christ did the Janeane Garofalo role. They had a live band playing all the music from the movie. It was a huge theater. People were going nuts. I re-watched the movie before, and I was like, “This is the funniest movie ever.” Did you have the time of your life? 

CUMMING: It was my first film in America. I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t understand why they cast me. I didn’t even know how you pronounce “Tucson.” I’d never been to a prom. All those things were so alien to me. I was basically asking people, “what is a prom?” 

COHEN: I have such vivid memories of being at Blockbuster with my family and seeing the VHS cover for Romy and Michele. But I couldn’t see it, because it was rated PG-13. 

CUMMING: Oh, was it really? 

COHEN: Yeah. And then the other iconic film of yours that defined my youth was Josie and the Pussycats

CUMMING: Another one that came out and was disastrous, actually. Nobody liked it. It’s interesting because it was a parody of itself. They aimed it at tweens, and it was actually quite an adult film in terms of the themes and the wit of it. It’s funny, I’m about to do a thing with Rosario Dawson. 

COHEN: Oh my god, what are you guys doing? 

CUMMING: This thing in Albuquerque. It’s a TV series, but I’m a killer.

COHEN: A killer

CUMMING: I’m an arms dealer and being investigated by her, but I come back to a town in Texas and take my revenge on people. I’ve only seen a couple of scripts, but this is the reason I did it: there’s a scene, I’m in a diner. There are these kids in a booth. I walk over, and I start to sit down with them, and I’m all really dapper, and then I get my gun and put it on the table and walk away. And then later that night, you just see a burning student residence and me in my car, and I burned them all to death. When you read a script and in the first five pages you killed a boy band. It’s like, “I’m in.” 

COHEN: I hope to one day read a script that exciting on my metaphorical desk. I just wait until someone tells me to be here, do this, and I’m like, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” I’m trying to get better at saying no. How do you decide what you’re going to work on?

CUMMING: Well, you have to learn to say no. Certain times you have to think, all right, line in the sand. It’s a gut thing. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I’m going to do this Beckett Play in London with Daniel Radcliffe. He said this really interesting thing about how he feels that he’s lucky enough that when he chooses a part, that he only does something that he thinks he can bring something to. I think that’s really good, if you have that choice. Although, I think there’s a danger in not doing things that challenge you. This play with him will be a challenge.

COHEN: Which play is it? 

CUMMING: Endgame

COHEN: Oh my god. That’s so intense. I remember reading that in college and being like, “What the fuck is this?” Just throwing it across the room. 

WAITER: Hummus plate? 

CUMMING: Yes. 

COHEN: Thank you. Beautiful. [Cohen is handed her halloumi eggs.] Performing at Club Cumming has been the best thing of my life. Not only have I gotten so much better at what I do, and feel very powerful, but it’s truly the only thing in life that brings me joy. Being there with all those people—you know?

CUMMING: I know. 

COHEN: Every night is so different, but every night has that magic to it. Why do you think it’s so special? Besides your magic touch. 

CUMMING: It’s so interesting, I was in Florida on tour and my manager says, “The New York Post heard you’re going to open a bar, maybe you should do a statement about it so they get it right.” And I was like, “Okay.” And I actually thought, this is a really important moment. This is how the world is going to hear about what I want the bar to be like. So, I wrote this thing about exactly how what I wanted it to be. All ages, all genders, all sexualities, and that’s actually manifested itself. I made a guy who was dressed as Baby Spice leave the stage because he was mean about the other Baby Spice in the Spice Girls dress-up competition. 

COHEN: No. 

CUMMING: Yes. I let people go for being unkind. One of the things I really love is when people say how they went there and it was welcoming. That’s so important. 

COHEN: Oh my god, it’s the best. For me to be able to walk in every Wednesday, and see everyone and catch up on each other’s lives. I bring a new date or whatever, and they’re like, “What’s the deal with this one?” They all know the scoop. It’s this little family. People must go nuts when you’re onstage. 

CUMMING: Yes. Especially if it’s a surprise. 

COHEN: I heard Miley Cyrus was there. 

CUMMING: Miley was there on Friday, yeah. 

COHEN: Oh come on. How did I miss that? I love her. 

CUMMING: Me too. I once played played Miley Cyrus’ daddy. I was a hedgehog and she was a baby hedgehog. 

COHEN: That’s so fun. 

CUMMING: Did you hear the thing when Adele went and Jennifer Lawrence peed in a bucket in the basement, because she didn’t want to go all the way up to the loo? And Adele went, “You’re the fucking face of Dior.” 

COHEN: Only at Club Cumming. What I’ve always loved is that you guys at Club Cumming paid me for the show. Nowhere else does that.

CUMMING: Right, yes. We pay everybody. It’s important, as you get more into the business. You have to understand your worth and what you bring to something.

COHEN: I already feel like so many of the jobs I do are for barely even enough to pay for a car there, and I’m like, “Why am I doing this?” But you want to get exposure, and all that. Hopefully I’m starting to get past that. 

CUMMING: That seems to be going well. 

COHEN: You sick of me?

CUMMING: It’s so incredible watching you have this explosion.

COHEN: I love it. That’s why every day I should wake up, call you, and say, “Thank you.” I might cry. You have given me this platform that has made my entire life. It’s given me this space, encouragement, and room to do what I’ve always wanted to do. 

CUMMING: How old are you? 

COHEN: 27. When you were my age, did you know what you wanted? 

CUMMING: Oh, by the time I was 27, I was— 

MEGAN POPE: An A-List Hollywood celeb. 

COHEN: Okay. Kill myself. 

CUMMING: 27 was ‘92, so, yeah, I’d won an Olivier Award. I was about to play Hamlet. 

COHEN: That’s what I’ve done too.

CUMMING: I was married.

COHEN: Where were you living? 

CUMMING: London. 

COHEN: Oh, chic. Now that you’ve been everywhere, you’ve seen everything, does anything still shock or delight or surprise you? 

CUMMING: I met Craig from Craig’s List. I met the man who is actually Craig!

COHEN: That’s not what I expected. Who knew that’s what would send you over the edge?

CUMMING: I was just like, “You’re Craig?” He’s just this guy. Me and Anne Hathaway—we were both so googly. He was really appalled. He said, “You’ve got to get out more.” What about you? Who makes you googly? 

COHEN: Literally everyone. I’m surprised and delighted by everything. When someone pays for my plane ticket, I’m like, okayyy I’m famous. Then sometimes someone will look at me, and I’m like, “They must listen to my podcast,” and then they’ll be looking right past me. And I’m mortified. 

CUMMING: That happened to me the other day in Spain. I was at one little market thing. When people come up and say, “Photo?” normally I say, “I don’t want to, but it’s nice to meet you.” I always say, “If I was to take one with you, others will see and then they’ll come over.” I do this very nicely. It really works.

COHEN: Right, because you have such a kind face. 

CUMMING: The kind you like to rest your balls on.

COHEN: That’s why you’ll be great as the killer. The trippy eyes. 

CUMMING: These people at the market though, with the camera, were like, “Oh no, we wanted you to take a photo of us.” 

COHEN: No! 

CUMMING: Absolutely. Are you touring for your comedy show? 

COHEN: I’ve been doing lots of shows all over. And then I’m getting ready for the big Edinburgh madness. Tell me everything about your Edinburgh experiences. I’m really nervous. My voice—how do you take care? 

CUMMING: Water. I also do a thing that Cyndi Lauper taught me. I was going to show you it. I can show you it tonight with a paper towel.

COHEN: The Cyndi Lauper special. 

CUMMING: Her singing teacher showed me it. She’s one of those people that coaches rock stars so they can sing every night. It’s incredible. Sometimes I’m really hoarse. 30 minutes of that and I’m fine again. 

COHEN: Really? 

CUMMING: Seriously. It’s never let me down. And drink lots of water. Try and sleep. It’ll be fine. It’s just theater. Get some steam before. Actually, if it’s raining, it’s good for your skin and your throat. I totally love the rain.

COHEN: One of my fave memories is, I was on my way to Club Cumming and you were walking your dog and I was like, “I have to go find a bar bathroom to change into this glittery outfit for the show”, and you were like, “Just come over.” And I was like, “Nicest man alive.” You’re the most popular man in showbiz. 

CUMMING: I got one of the three most fun people in showbiz

COHEN: You’re number one. Who’s two and three? 

CUMMING: Cher, Stanley Tucci, and me. I imagine Cher was number one, but I love Stanley Tucci.

COHEN: There was just this really funny article where this woman was saying what she’s looking for romantically is a “sauce man,” based off this character in Julie & Julia, where Tucci’s like, “Here, try this sauce.”

CUMMING: “Give me some sauce.” That’s great. 

COHEN: That’s what I’m looking for, ultimately. 

CUMMING: A sauce guy. 

COHEN: Saucy. How did you find the love of your life? 

CUMMING: Well, I was ready, and I’d had enough bad relationships and understood things about myself. I was just very honest about my own desires, as well as my shortcomings. And he was too. We were 39 when we met. So, we’d been around the block a few times. Me, especially. The nitty gritty story is that I was fucking his best friend.  

COHEN: There we go. 

CUMMING: We met and a couple years went by before we got together, but that’s how I actually met him. And the best friend married us. 

COHEN: That’s gorgeous. So, you’re saying I have to learn about myself? 

CUMMING: I think it’s probably a good idea. 

COHEN: No. Boring. I’m asleep. 

CUMMING: Too busy. Hashtag busy. 

COHEN: I’m really enamored with this guy I met, but I was feeling frustrated. So I called him, and I was like, “Look, I need you to do this if you’re interested in me.” And I’m like, either it’ll freak him out, or he’ll be like, “Cool. I can do that.” 

CUMMING: Good. I think that being direct is good. I was on this press tour in Amsterdam. There was one guy I love, and he was like, “Look at that chick over there.” I’m like, “First of all, don’t call them chicks.

COHEN: Yeah, like what year is it? 

CUMMING: Yeah. That’s not going to go down well. I was like, just go tell her you think she’s gorgeous and you want to fuck her. I think it’s the way to do it. Sometimes you get a no, but mostly in my experience, you don’t, because you just go, “Let’s cut to the chase here.” The frankness is such a compliment. I always find that to be successful in any aspect. 

COHEN: Did it happen? 

CUMMING: Twice. 

COHEN: Very good. 

CUMMING: So, what’s your plan? 

COHEN: For life? Oh my god. I want to be a movie star. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing, but just on a bigger scale. I admire that you always do so much live stuff, even though you’re in all this TV and film. Was that always a priority for you? 

CUMMING: Yeah, I need my fix of that. I’m actually doing concerts. It’s only relatively recently I’ve done them, the last 10 years. Because I was always too scared. 

COHEN: Too scared? 

CUMMING: The difference between being a character and being just you is huge. I’ve done the most insane things as a character. All the plays I do are so fucking bleak. It’s so funny, someone said, “Why don’t you do a comedy?” I said, “I do comedies.” Then I realized in plays I’m being killed or I’m in a concentration camp, or something. It took me a while to feel comfortable just being me. Now I go in and do one or two concerts, and have a really amazing connection that’s actually better than I would have as a character. I don’t have to do it eight times a week. 

COHEN: I feel like now that I am comfortable being myself on stage, it makes me more confident as an actor. 

CUMMING: Sometimes I’m sleeping, and then 10 minutes later, I’m on camera. You get so tired, you have to go to nap whenever you can. Can you do that? 

COHEN: No, I’m not good at that. 

CUMMING: Oh, that’s terrible, you’ve got to learn to nap. 

COHEN: I got to learn to nap. What else do I do? Oh, I have to learn who I am. I got a big to-do list. 

CUMMING: And tell people you want to fuck them. 

COHEN: I’m good at that. 

CUMMING: I had a big thing about my balls in my last show. 

COHEN: Oh? 

CUMMING: I was getting my mole checked, and it was like someone had taken a Sharpie and gone, boop, boop, on one of my balls. It was some weird little pimple. I asked my dermatologist if it was something to worry about, and he went, “Oh, no, that’s all fine, Alan. That’s just a natural part of scrotal aging.” 

COHEN: A phrase you never want to hear.

CUMMING: I’m a scrotal aging survivor. 

COHEN: Did you know that would be a part of your life? When you were a young actor in Scotland, did you know that one day— 

CUMMING: One day, you would face scrotal aging. 

COHEN: Over halloumi and eggs. 

CUMMING: I did a whole monologue about my balls. Seeing saggy old men’s balls in a sauna in Budapest, and thinking, “Oh my god, I’ve got to get a jock strap right now.” I end this monologue with the dermatologist saying there’s a thing now where guys want to have big, dangly balls. They actually come to him and want Botox injected in their balls. It’s called Scrotox. 

COHEN: Scrotox. Now I’ve heard everything. 

CUMMING: It’s all about perspective. Keep those balls as small and tight as possible. Do you feel changes in your body as you’re reaching end of your 20s?

COHEN: No. I just want to fuck everybody and run around town all night. Did you ever want kids? 

CUMMING: I used to. Actually, the first book I wrote was about that. I’ve tried with two different people over the years, and I’m so glad it didn’t work. Now, I would rather stick pins in my eyes. 

COHEN: Can you imagine? 

CUMMING: No. Sometimes kids come around to our house, and I like them, they’re fun and everything, but they’re not behaving and they’re just being weird. I like my life. And also, our planet’s overpopulated. 

COHEN: I remember in Fire Island, there was that little boy. You remember? He was snorkeling in this hot sex Jacuzzi. I was like, “Someone get this kid out of here! There’s a naked man on the wall!”

CUMMING: He overstayed his welcome. Maybe you should freeze your eggs.

COHEN: That’s something I’ve been told. I have a hormone disorder in my ovaries. It’s called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It’s where your ovaries are covered in little cysts. Sometimes it can make it harder to have kids, too. Maybe it’s my body’s way of being like, babies aren’t for you. 

CUMMING: Maybe. 

COHEN: Watch me get pregnant next week. 

CUMMING: I was definitely an accident. 

COHEN: You were? I was an accident as well. 

CUMMING: Isn’t that nice? 

COHEN: And we’re amazing. 

CUMMING: Isn’t that funny?

COHEN: Oops, here we are.