THE TRUTH LIES IN JEST

Ask Catherine Cohen: How Do I Read a Book When There’s a TV Nearby?

The comedian responds to queries about fashionable Halloween costumes and balancing the urge to flake with the urge to build friendships.


Catherine Cohen standing in front of Central Park in the fall with a black dog
Skirt and jacket by Dries Van Noten; earrings by Mondo Mondo; shoes by Manolo Blahnik. Photographed by Ryan Lowry.

Catherine Cohen is a comedian and actress. In her original show tunes, in her character videos, and on her popular podcast Seek Treatment (cohosted 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.

Have a question for Catherine? Send it to askcatherine@wmagazine.com for a chance to be answered in her next column.

I don’t know how to read a book when there is a television in the room. Any advice on how to disconnect?

Honey, did you just invoke the holy trinity, because let me tell you: Mood, Same, and It Me. Let us get on our knees and pray, because I think we all struggle with this in a very spiritual way. We’ve been programmed by modernity and her little dog too to consume content solely in snippets. Lately I find myself fast-forwarding through TikToks. Yeah, you read that right! Tik. Toks! Don’t Worry Darling? More like Worry, Darling. Damn I love that evergreen joke about a film I’ll never see. Do you see what the media landscape has done to my brain?

It’s time to disconnect. And disconnecting—*smokes weed once*—begins with connecting. Connecting with your body, that is. I find that the TV/phone scrolling is a self-soothing response I turn to when there’s something within that I’m avoiding—a fear or a feeling that I’m hovering above. If you take four to six inhale-exhale combos and check in with yourself before you dip into your favorite distractions—TV, phone, food, whatever it is—you’ll be able to make a decision while standing on more solid ground. And once you’re in tune with yourself you’ll find it easier to tune into entertainment not as a way to escape but as a way to unwind and broaden your horizons.

I would also urge you to be kind to yourself (how passé!), and don’t over romanticize books. If you’re addicted to TV, maybe try just listening to a podcast (gateway drug to books) with your eyes closed instead. Or find a book that beckons you—like a page-turner featuring sex and/or murder. Ideally, both! I always enter Barnes and Noble with grand designs and leave with the entire Norton Anthology of English Literature, which just sets me up to fail (aka lands me on the couch rewatching season 3 of Love Island). I want to go to Kem’s restaurant in Essex!!!

Moving on. When all else fails, leave your phone at home and take a book with you to a nearby café. This isn’t Toy Story, honey; your electronics will be there when you return. Or will they? Okay…new franchise alert. BRB—Pixar is calling.

What is the recipe for the perfect Halloween costume? Any ideas for a costume that’s fun and maybe even a little bit fashionable?

I’m too exhausted/hormonally imbalanced to ruffle any feathers, but I do feel that Halloween adults exist on a similar plane as Disney adults. I’m all for dressing up—hell, every day is Halloween when you’re a 31-year-old starlet—but I get sad when I think someone only feels they can express themselves sartorially on a holiday for children. Sorry I’m being a bit of a bitch this month/year, but putting too much pressure on a Halloween costume to be perfect takes all the fun out of it. Now that I’ve been a total buzzkill and you’ve lost all respect for me, I’d like to answer your question. I’d suggest wearing something fun, something you’ve been too nervous or shy to wear in everyday life, and then name your “costume” after whatever that thing is. I’m going to wear a blonde wig and go as a blonde. XO

Do you believe the phrase “if he wanted to he would”?

Oh I simply believe it in the deepest fiber of my being! Perhaps in another universe the “he” in question is texting you goodnight or kissing you with tongue. In another universe, he’s buying you Phoebe Bridgers tickets six months in advance and telling you about the time he shit his pants outside a CVS before it was cool. Is that cool yet? I’m trying to make this a thing. Bear with me.

Maybe in another timeline he shows up on time and doesn’t whine when he’s invited to Aunt Carol’s for dinner. Aunt Carol’s favorite drink is a Dirty Miller Light. Yeah, that’s what you think it is—you can put olive juice in anything these days! Maybe in these imagined realms, he’s the he you always dreamed of, but if you’re reading this with a pit in your stomach, he doesn’t want to be. And now that you know, you can find someone who wants it all, baby!

I believe in the healing power of canceling plans, but I still want to build friendships as an adult. How do I know if I’m striking the right balance?

As time unfurls itself toward us, plans become nearly impossible to keep. Places seem off-putting, friendships feel untenable, but the good news is that the universe is addicted to surprising us. There are so many fabulous people and parties just around the corner. In these trying times, I’d urge you to stick to a hard-and-fast rule: Never cancel on the first friend date. After that, you can cancel on an alternating schedule. It’s important to leave room for your new friend to give you the ultimate gift—a cancel on their end. Life and people will surprise you in more ways than one. If I had backed out of every plan I dreaded, I would have so few stories to tell…and isn’t that what life’s about? Collecting stories? Is that not what life is about? Wait, what is life about? We’ll unpack that in next month’s column. Stay tuned, sweeties.