By Leah R. Harrison
Andy Cohen is an affable, likable guy. After a dizzyingly busy network career that started at CBS just out of Boston University and includes head of development at Bravo for more than 10 years, he now hosts the nightly Bravo series “Watch What Happens Live.” He is also executive producer of the “Real Housewives” franchise.
At age 47, Cohen has written two books and is brainstorming a third. He has a close relationship with his mother, who follows every aspect of his career and is his biggest fan and at times his harshest critic.
I spoke with him about his career, his friendship with Anderson Cooper and their upcoming AC2 tour, his carefully considered coming-out process while he was in college, whether he has experienced discrimination, his Jewish roots, and the changing media and political environment.
AJT: Reading about all you have done both at CBS and at Bravo is exhausting. Do you think you’re just high energy, you bore easily, you have something to prove, or are you just really driven?
Cohen: I think it’s a little bit of all those, but I also … love what I do. I am fortunate. … I love writing books. I love producing television. I love being on TV, and I certainly love this tour that I’m doing with Anderson. … And I know Anderson feels the same way, by the way. He’s an incredibly driven, hard-working guy who happens to absolutely love what he does, and I think it’s just because we don’t consider what we’re doing work, it’s just part of our life.
AJT: How did you and Anderson Cooper first meet?
Cohen: We were set up for a date like 20 years ago, in the early ’90s, and we got on the phone, and as a result of the call the date kind of never happened. … He says I was too high energy for him. I was kind of ready to have the date — I thought he sounded interesting — but it never happened, and so I later actually found out onstage, during this tour, that I was too high energy for him on the phone (laughing). You know, I learn something new in every city.
AJT: How did the tour come about?
Cohen: We’re great friends, and we’ve traveled together a lot. My second book came out, “The Andy Cohen Diaries,” and he interviewed me about it at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. It was just a wonderful night. We have really nice chemistry. … It isn’t good enough to date, but we’ve got great chemistry, and we just thought this could be so fun to do this elsewhere, and we decided to take the show on the road.
AJT: Have you had an interview with someone you expected to hate but came away liking?
Cohen: Oh, that happens almost every night, where I’m like, “Oh, OK, Tom Bergeron’s on, whatever!” And then you start talking to them, and you’re like, “This person is fascinating!” You can watch me, and I’m kind of falling in love with people on the air in front of everybody. That happens all the time.
AJT: In your book, you talked about coming out to your loved ones and friends. It seemed there were very few, if any, negative reactions. I’m wondering if you just didn’t talk about it, or if you never really felt any types of discrimination.
Cohen: Well, no, I felt it through peer pressure at school, kids making fun of gay people, and I wrote about being at an Eddie Murphy concert where he’s … taunting gay people, and I’m very uncomfortable that he’s using the word faggot throughout his comedy, which was very distasteful. … But it was just a general fear and paranoia at that time that I was not going to be accepted when I came out because that was the mood of the day. This was in the ’80s.
AJT: You are completely upfront about your extremely supportive and loving parents and your Jewish upbringing. Is your Judaism always in the background, or does it somehow shape what you do?
Cohen: I think it’s part of the whole picture. When you grow up in a family where you’re bar mitzvahed and confirmed, you’ve just grown up with it. My family was Reform, but we celebrated all the holidays. There’s a lot of Yiddish thrown around in my entire family — yesterday I was trying to explain to someone what farbissina punim means — and it’s just part of my vernacular. I say it on the air a lot. Beyond my Mazel of the Day, Yiddish is really a part of my life; it’s a part of my vocabulary. I just think the Jewish culture … is so much more than going to temple. It’s about who you are and how you live and how you communicate and certainly how you eat. Anyone who watches my show sees what a part it is of my life. I give a Mazel of the Day every day at the end of my show. Bravo has created a whole line of Mazel merchandise based on me saying it every night on the show. I know it’s not the exact definition of mazel tov, but to me it’s like a shout-out. It’s something nice, something positive, so there’s a little luck in there too.
AJT: With the upsurge in anti-Semitism of late, have you felt a change in the environment?
Cohen: I certainly have from reading the papers, but, no, personally I would be lying if I told you I had.
AJT: Have you ever felt that you wanted to or should take a bolder stand Jewishly?
Cohen: Yes, I have. I’ve made bigger statements on air about people who are anti-gay. That’s something that has always struck me because it’s such a basic civil rights issue, and it’s obviously something that’s close to me and something that I care about. The truth is that I just really try not to get too political on the show, but the answer is, in my life, yes, but on the show it hasn’t gotten to that point.
AJT: Have you ever been to Israel?
Cohen: I’ve never been, and I’m overdue, and I need to go very soon. … I’m dying to go.
AJT: What are you most afraid of?
Cohen: Just dying.
AJT: Not public humiliation?
Cohen: Public humiliation I’m way over. I’ve been humiliated a thousand times in public. I’m humiliated every night at 11!
What: “AC2: An Intimate Evening With Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen”
Where: Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Cumberland
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 20