Ask Catherine Cohen: I’m Burnt Out! What Do I Do?

Comedian Catherine Cohen wearing a blazer, red lipstick and gold earrings.
Catherine Cohen styled by Ryan Lowry; styled by Daniel Gaines.

Catherine Cohen is a comedian and actress. In her original show tunes, character videos and on her popular podcast Seek Treatment(co-hosted with fellow comedian Pat Regan) she skewers the clichés of millennial aspiration, deadpans about sex on antidepressants, and earnestly celebrates such triumphs as finding love or drinking seven beers. Her Netflix Special, The Twist...? She’s Gorgeous, and her book, God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems From a Gal About Town are out now.

How are you able to be so vulnerable with your art? I’m paralyzed by my fear of judgment and rejection. How do I stop finding everything I do so damn embarrassing and just start putting myself out there creatively?

I simply remind myself that I am not uniquely fucked in my suffering—that whatever humiliation I’m experiencing has been experienced before, by others like me and unlike me, hundreds, even thousands of times. I’m not the first woman to have an unruly amount of hair in her crevices. I am not the lone drunk biking over the Williamsburg bridge to a house party she has not been invited to. Have you been on TikTok? We’re all doing the same things: listening to true crime, putting on creams, wearing leggings near our dogs.

Nothing is embarrassing because everything is. Love, fluids, throwing things in a bowl and calling it salad. Life is cringe. We move on.

When it comes to putting yourself out there, what’s the worst that could happen? Someone says you’re untalented or annoying or fully rocking a camel toe at the comedy club? Been there! All that matters is whether or not you believe those things about yourself. If you don’t like your work, no one will. The way your peers respond to your art is out of your hands. All you can do is make something you’re proud of. The reaction to that thing cannot take away from what you have accomplished by making a hat where there never was a hat!!! Did you think I was gonna get through this without a Sondheim reference?

Feedback is hell unless it’s positive. Then it’s heaven. But unfortunately receiving feedback is a crucial part of doing creative work. Rarely is a first draft the final product. Let your first draft be a mess and trust that if you keep at it and accept the constructive criticism thrown your way, you’ll be able to share something that truly feels like your best effort.

That being said, there’s a difference between constructive criticism and trolling/bullying/people being generally depraved online. A very wise friend once told me that every negative comment holds the same weight as every positive comment: You can be an unfunny bitch to some and an IcoNiC QUEEN to others. Both comments don’t change who you are, only you have the power to do that.

I’m so overworked that I am starting to hate doing what I once loved. Any tips on how to manage burnout?

SAME WOW. I’m not the first person to say this but…we just went through a pandemic! We all spent the past two years with literally nothing to do and now we’re all hooked back up to a steady IV drip of calendar invites and coffee dates with our mom’s friend’s son who just graduated with a BFA in Creative Thinking. It’s hard not to miss the days when I felt swamped because I only had 12 hours to both jerk off and go for a walk. We must be kind to ourselves as we transition back into the never-ending cycle of obligations called Life.

On her latest album, the hit recording artist Billie Eilish sings “things I once enjoyed/ just keep me employed now” which is mood/vibes/bae. It’s 2022 and burnout abounds. When I’m not busy Googling “why do I dread everything that I do?” or journaling about how whenever I arrive at where I wanted to go I yearn to be somewhere else, I have found it helpful to a) up my Prozac b) get more sleep c) say no to things. All. The. Time. This is the summer of saying no. No to parties that feel like work. No to taking on projects that aren’t the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning. No to social obligations with people that don’t ask you questions.

Last weekend I made a concerted effort to make no plans. Nothing on Saturday or Sunday. Just whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. And it was truly medicine. I got a foot massage, cleaned out my whole room, woke up without a hangover… Bliss! Let yourself take what time you can away from work. Do the bare minimum for a while and give yourself permission to do things that have nothing to do with work—read a novel on a bench, make a sauce, organize your jewelry box. Do less. And at some point you’ll want to do more again. Or you won’t! We don’t need to do so much all the time!!! What are we trying to prove? You can’t take any of it with you when you die xoxo

Should I spend my money on clothes or on furniture? What’s the more worthy investment?

As someone who just spent $140 on athleisure skorts, I don’t really know what the word investment means, per se, but I think you should buy clothes AND furniture—is that helpful? If you must choose, it depends on what your priorities are—do you work from home? Get a heavy desk that screams “I read” and a couch plush enough to fall into and sigh as the day comes to a close. Or do you spend most of your day out and about? Because in that case we’re gonna need some LOOKS honey. Up to you. I’m a big fan of buying things to feel something so you really can’t go wrong. I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing Poshmark and Depop for vintage/gently worn garments. I also love AptDeco and Chairish for chic used furniture. Good for the environment and the wallet, darling!

Summer has always been a hard season for me, as I’m constantly comparing my body to other people’s. Is there anything I can do to get myself mentally ready for this tricky time? I just want to practice self-love, but it’s hard!

Summer sucks soooo bad. My whole body swells up and my hair frizzes and my thighs intertwine like two shipwrecked sailors clinging to one another for dear life. Self-love is hard when you can’t drape yourself in faux fur cloaks and go-go boots. I’ve found that I’m happiest when I’m appreciating my body for what it does rather than how it looks. I’ve stayed sane during NYC summers by going on long walks as the sun sets (extra points if you listen to Rilo Kiley and reflect on the idea of 2011), taking the train out to Rockaway Beach and letting the waves carry my relatively tiny form to and fro, biting into a juicy ripe jewel of a peach, feeling my freckles come out to play as the sun graces my get it. When I appreciate all the ways my body takes care of me and provides me with pleasure I feel so silly for ever wishing it were tauter or tighter or whatever the fuck we’re supposed to want out bodies to look like right now. This summer and beyond is all about looking less in the mirror and more in awe of the world we get to move through. Also, when it comes to social media, it helps to follow more body positive influencers and fewer people who are always on yachts. Some people are always on yachts. Good for them!