Andy Cohen is the kind of star that everyone wants to be friends with. It’s that magical mix of an easy-going demeanor and a devilish charm that makes people open up (read: spill their guts) to him. And that’s exactly what happens every night on his Emmy-nominated TV show, Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.
In fact, the St. Louis, MO, native has a knack for getting the biggest names in pop culture—hello, Meryl Streep, Ryan Reynolds, Oprah and Lady Gaga!—to reveal salacious details about their closely guarded lives. (And the on-set bar is just the icing on the cake.) But hosting the smash late-night show is just one of Cohen’s many jobs.
Cohen joined Bravo 17 years ago, producing a number of super successful shows, including Top Chef and Project Runway—and, of course, the mega-hit Housewives franchise. And while he stepped down from his role as executive vice president of development and talent at Bravo in 2014, these days he’s still the executive producer of The Real Housewives—and continues to host the network’s highly rated reunion specials. But that’s not all: he hosts Radio Andy on Sirius XM, runs his own book imprint, Andy Cohen Books, is the author of three bestselling books, recently launched his newest show, For Real: The Story of Reality TV on E!, and regularly tours the country holding uncensored conversations with close pal Anderson Cooper. “No one makes me laugh like Andy—and that’s one of the reasons I love working with him,” says Cooper, who also hosts CNN’s New Year’s Eve special each year with Cohen—and can regularly be spotted on Cohen’s Instagram feed.
But Cooper isn’t the only one singing his praises. “As an executive, Andy proved himself as forthright, well-pre- pared, and doing it all with incredible warmth and enthusiasm,” says Lauren Zalaznick, Cohen’s mentor. “I believed that he would bring those qualities as ‘talent’ to the front of the camera. What I didn’t know was just how much he would grow to be the world-class talent he is today, successful in so many different ways, not only on camera but as a writer, behind the radio mic, and on the stage, as well.”
But there’s no doubt that Cohen’s most important—and exciting—new role has been becoming a father. His adorable son, Benjamin arrived via surrogate in 2019. “My son, Ben, really just saved my life,” says Cohen, who says this pandemic year would have been “incredibly, incredibly bleak” without him.
We chatted (sadly without cocktails) with Cohen about his multi-faceted career, the one trait he considers essential to his success and why The Real Housewives is deeper than just “wine tosses and table flips.”
Did you ever dream of hosting your own show?
In my fantasy, yes, in my reality, no. I was in my late 30s when all of this happened and I considered myself firmly established behind the camera. I had kind of given up the dream because this whole idea of me hosting happened so late in my career.
How did the career change happen?
It happened organically and slowly and I never let go of my day job, which was EVP of production and development at Bravo. I got an opportunity to host a web show on bravotv.com when I was in charge of programming there. As a result of doing the web show—which cost nothing to produce and was on after Top Chef—there I was. When we needed someone to host the second Housewives reunion show and my boss asked if I wanted to do it, I said “YES!”. I knew it was a huge opportunity. I started hosting more reunion shows and years later my producer said he could produce the web show for Bravo if they were interested. And that’s how Watch What Happens Live started.
How do you describe Watch What Happens Live as a show?
Authentic, fun and dishy.
What do people love most about The Real Housewives?
I think it’s replaced the modern-day soap opera. People inherently love judging other people. And I think there is a play-at-home component in this show. There are people you love and people you love to hate. It’s about being a wife and a friend and a mother and a sister and that’s all things that people can identify with. Believe it or not, I think it’s really relatable to a lot of people. If it was just wine tosses and table flips it wouldn’t still be on the air 15 years later.
Did you ever dream it would be this successful?
Yes, I dreamed it—but I can’t believe it.
What’s the one trait you consider essential to your success?
I think passion. Everything that I am doing and have done, I’ve been passionate about and engaged with and into. I think it was good that I didn’t put the cart before the horse. I took every opportunity but I was not overly aggressive. There’s a dance that you have to do between being a lunatic and just kind of letting things happen. And I also had people who believed in me.
Did you have a mentor?
Lauren Zalaznick, who ran Bravo for years, really believed in me as an on-air personality. And at the time there was no clamoring from anyone in the universe saying, ‘We need Andy on television!’ She really helped make that happen.
What is the one thing people would be most surprised to learn about you?
That I’m smart. I think people might think I’m an idiot.
What has this past year taught you?
It’s taught me to appreciate my home, my life and what I have. It’s taught me that my son Ben really just saved my life—he just totally grounded me. Without him this past year would have been incredibly, incredibly bleak.
How has fatherhood changed you?
God, how has it not changed me? It’s totally changed my life. I’m up changing poopy diapers every morning, giving him breakfast, and getting him ready for his day. It’s changed my schedule, my values, my priorities and my sleeping. I knew I was in for a major life haul, but as much as it’s changed everything, I’m still me and my life is still great. I don’t feel like I had my balls cut off.
Tell us about Andy Cohen Books.
I love the publishing industry and I love reading. I got an offer where I could filter my own books through my own imprint and it was—again— something I could be really passionate about, something I could have ownership of, and something that could be a lot of fun. It is definitely not a job that I was looking for, but one that I was grateful to be able to pursue.
Did you enjoy writing your own books?
I loved writing my books. It exercises a totally different muscle and there is an incredible sense of accomplishment that you feel after writing your own book. I’ve now gotten to feel that three times and it’s gratifying like nothing else I’ve ever done. When I was doing book tours and I saw people waiting in line with my book in their hands and knew they were going to take it home and spend time reading it—it just meant so much to me. It really touched me.
What is it like hosting CNN’S New Year’s Eve show?
I love doing that because I get to work with Anderson Cooper, I get paid for working on New Year’s Eve, which is great, and I don’t have to figure out what I’m doing that night.
Tell us about your new show “For Real: The Story of Reality TV,” which premiered on E! at the end of March.
“For Real” is a seven-part series looking at the history of reality TV; I spoke to some of the biggest stars of the genre— from the Kardashians to ‘Bachelors’ and ‘Housewives’—and revealed behind the scenes secrets from great shows.
I could see myself directing documentaries, which is a clear extension of everything else I’ve already done. I’ve produced long-form shows at CBS News, so that’s in my level of capabilities
FAVE NYC RESTAURANT
Via Carota on Grove Street. Get the house salad and the cacio e pepe. If I want to see and be seen, I go to the Polo Bar.
BEST PLACE FOR A DRINK
The Bravo Clubhouse where we film Watch What Happens Live. I started having guest bartenders on the show because we were airing live at 11 p.m. and I just thought if you were coming over to my house at 11 at night the first thing I would do is offer you a drink. So I said, “We’ve got to have a bar.”
I’ll be back and forth from the city and the Hamptons, and I’m hoping things will be opened up.
FAVE HAMPTONS RESTAURANT
Sam’s in East Hampton, NY. They have the best pizza.
FAVE SKIN CARE PRODUCT
La Prairie Skin Caviar
Portrait by Jennifer S. Altman