by Elaine Stehel
Andy Cohen has a perfect Mother’s Day message for moms like his who love their gay kids — asked if his confidence on-screen was something that he felt he had to work on, or if it came naturally, Cohen responds thoughtfully, “I think my mom gave me my self-confidence. She’s very fearless … I always knew that anything was possible.”
I spoke with Cohen over the phone and learned that he has never before visited Utah.
“I’m excited — seems like a gorgeous place,” he assured me, and I told him, yes, our mountains are breathtaking. I also broke the news to him that Utah is a difficult place for young LGBTQ kids to grow up. We rank fifth in the nation for youth rates of suicide, and between 20 and 40 percent of our homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
“That’s terrible,” Cohen sympathized. I asked him what he would you say to youth here in Utah who see him as an inspiring figure — the nation’s first openly gay man to host a late-night talk show. His answer is thoughtful, and encouraging: “If you can’t find your happiness now, you need to find a support group of friends who will love you for who you are. Just rely on that support group to be your community and your support. Your life will get better, I promise. I didn’t think I would be able to come out either — and now, here I am.”
“Live at the Eccles” on Saturday, June 10th will bring Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen to Salt Lake City for “AC² — An Intimate Evening — Deep Talk & Shallow Tales,” which the website for the George S. & Dolores Dore Eccles Theater bills as “an unscripted, uncensored and unforgettable night of conversation” with the two Emmy-award-winning journalists, television personalities, authors, and friends.
In anticipation of welcoming them to Salt Lake City, I asked Cohen about how he and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper decided to collaborate on AC². Admittedly, it took me longer than it should have to realize it’s called “AC²” because both Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen share the initials, “AC.” Cohen tells me they’ve been friends for many years, have “always had a great rapport,” and how these evenings feel “like going out for cocktails with me and Anderson.”
Cohen is humble, when I ask him how he knew he wanted to be himself, on television. How, I wonder, when the only examples of “reality television” people were familiar with were talk shows, had he imagined people might want to watch him, or others, simply being themselves?
“I never expected anyone to want to watch, I just always wanted to be on TV, or in TV, it’s just always what I wanted to do,” Cohen said.
Many gay men consider themselves feminists, because they can identify with some of the discrimination, bullying, and casual degradation that women face. And many feminists are quite critical of The Real Housewives franchise, of which Cohen is producer. Feminists claim the show perpetuates harmful stereotypes of women. I ask Cohen how he responds to critics of The Real Housewives?
“I think that if The Real Housewives was the only portrayal of women on TV, or anywhere, that would need to be examined, but … I think it’s a real look at a microcosm of the way that friendships of women play out, some great, some not so great.”
Knowing what you want to do, and being successful at doing it are of course two different beasts to tame. Cohen says, “my passion always got me to the next level,” from a CBS intern to a senior producer over the course of 10 years. To young journalists today, he’s encouraging: “Just be true to yourself, and follow your passion. Just do what you love.”
Every evening now, Cohen is able to do exactly this — be himself — on his late-night talk show, Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen. This show is what Cohen tells me he is most proud of in his career, calling it “a real representation of me, every night on TV — it’s fun, and I’m certainly proud of being the only openly-gay late-night talk show host.”
Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper will be at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater Saturday, June 10th, 2017 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at artsaltlake.org or 801-355-ARTS.