Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Andy Cohen is Bravo TV’s executive vice-president of programming and development and the mastermind of such hits as Top Chef and the Real Housewives franchise. He also hosts a fast-moving, outspoken talk show Watch What Happens. What is wonderful about Andy is that, despite his success and friendships with “stars,” he is still the same funny, friendly kid who hung out at our house in St. Louis with our daughter Jackie, loves his family (especially his Mom), and keeps up with all of us. Andy grew up knowing he was gay and keeping it a secret until his senior year at college. His new memoir Most Talkative: Stories from the front lines of pop culture tells that story, but also chronicles his meteoric rise in the world of T.V.
As a student at Boston University, Andy began to follow his dream to be a journalist. A hilarious chapter describes a hard won interview for the school newspaper with his all time idol Susan Lucci. Most Talkative gives a candid, inside view of life in television, as well as a poignant and often funny account of his life as a teenager in the Midwest. Several of us, including Sue Macy, Karen Romano Young, Cheryl Harness, Susan E. Goodman, and Gretchen Woelfle, have written posts about the need for nonfiction books for kids about growing up gay in America. I hope Andy Cohen’s memoir will fill this gap.
Jan: The text reads just the way you talk- funny, honest, anecdotal and fast-moving. Most Talkative is an apt title. How did you come to it?
Andy: I WAS VOTED MOST TALKATIVE IN HIGH SCHOOL AND IT SEEMED SUCH AN APT TITLE WHEN I LOOKED BACK AT MY LIFE AND HOW MY MOUTH HAS NOT ONLY GOTTEN ME IN A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF TROUBLE OVER THE YEARS, BUT HAS ALSO HELPED ME ACHIEVE MY PROFESSIONAL DREAMS.
Jan: Your descriptions of growing up in St. Louis were so vivid and immediate. Did you keep a journal all those years?
Andy: I KEPT JOURNALS FROM 1987 THROUGH '98, SO THIS WAS AFTER I'D GRADUATED HIGH SCHOOL BUT CERTAINLY DURING THE PERIOD WHEN I WAS WRESTLING WITH COMING OUT OF THE CLOSET AND THEN THE AFTERMATH OF THAT DECISION. THE JOURNALS WERE PAINFUL TO READ - AS THEY ALL CAN BE - BUT PROVIDED ME WITH SOME VERY SPECIFIC DETAILS ABOUT MY FEARS ABOUT COMING OUT, AS WELL AS SOME HILARIOUS COLOR COMMENTARY DURING MY TIME AT CBS NEWS.
Jan: You are a people person. You are known as a TV talk show host and you appear as a guest on other interview shows. As a writer myself, I know how much alone time it takes to write a book. Was writing the memoir difficult for you to do in terms of time, concentration, or the writing process?
Andy: WRITING THIS BOOK WAS SUCH A CHALLENGING AND ENERGIZING EXPERIENCE. I HAVE NEVER FELT MORE ACCOMPLISHED ABOUT ANYTHING I'VE DONE IN MY LIFE THAN I DO ABOUT THE BOOK. I AM VERY DEADLINE ORIENTED, AND I HAD A TIGHT, ESSENTIALLY FOUR MONTH DEADLINE FOR THIS ENTIRE BOOK TO BE WRITTEN AND EDITED. (I STARTED IN LATE AUGUST AND IT WAS DUE JAN 1.) PLUS I HAVE TWO JOBS (EVP OF DEVELOPMENT AND PRODUCTION AT BRAVO AS WELL AS HOSTING 'WWHL'). I CAN'T BELIEVE I DID IT BUT I SPENT EVERY MINUTE THAT I WASN'T WORKING - AND MOST ESPECIALLY EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND NONSTOP - WRITING NEW PAGES AND EMAILING CHAPTERS IN VARIOUS STAGES OF EDIT BACK AND FORTH TO MY PHENOMINAL EDITOR AT HOLT, GILLIAN BLAKE. I ALSO SPENT 30-60 MINUTES DAILY ON THE PHONE WITH GILLIAN, USUALLY FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, TALKING ABOUT EVERYTHING RELATED TO THE BOOK - NEW IDEAS, THEMES THAT WE WERE SEEING ABOUT MY LIFE, DIFFERENT WAYS TO TELL MY STORY, HOW TO CONNECT THE PUZZLE PIECES OF MY LIFE IN A WAY THAT WAS FUN FOR THE READER. THE TWO THINGS IN MY FAVOR WERE THAT I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT STORIES I WANTED TO TELL, AND I FEEL CONFIDENT WITH MY VOICE AS A WRITER, AND I'M NOT AFRAID TO WRITE. I JUST KNEW I HAD TO GET IT DONE, THAT I HAD TO BE HAPPY WITH IT, AND THAT I WOULD SUCCEED. AND I DID!
Jan: The reason I wanted to interview you for I.N.K. about Most Talkative is that I think this is a crossover book. It will appeal to adults but junior high and high school kids will find it interesting, amusing and moving, as well. What is the most significant message you might hope kids will get from reading your book?
Andy: I THINK THE BIGGEST MESSAGE, WHETHER IT'S SAID DIRECTLY OR JUST INFERRED, IS TO BE YOURSELF AND FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. I HAVE BEEN LUCKY ENOUGH TO KNOW FROM A YOUNG AGE THAT I WANTED TO WORK IN TV, AND THIS IS ON ONE HAND A HOW-TO OF HOW I DID THAT, BUT ALSO A ROAD MAP OF MISTAKES I MADE ALONG THE WAY. I WAS ALWAYS A BIT FEARLESS, FOR BETTER OR WORSE, AND THAT SEEMS TO HAVE WORKED FOR ME. I HOPE PEOPLE FIND IT FUN AND FUNNY, AND ALSO REALIZE IT TAKES A LOT OF HARD WORK AND CONFIDENCE TO GET WHERE YOU WANT TO BE.
Jan: Writing a memoir can be a tricky business. I don’t mean the kind of exaggeration and outright lying that sometimes occurs in so-called memoirs. I’m talking about the challenge to make the work authentic, as well as compelling. Reading Andy’s memoir, I couldn’t help noting that even when the writer tries to give an honest account of events in his/her life, memory can be an unreliable witness. Several of the incidents he describes I am familiar with, but, from my point of view, they happened quite differently. To read about myself from Andy’s perspective was difficult. I wanted to shout, ”Hey wait a minute. It didn’t happen this way.” That said, Most Talkative is engaging and heartfelt, a fun read that offers many insights, not only for Andy’s many fans but also for young readers.