I sat down with Andy Cohen at the Columbia Journalism School. He opened up about coming to terms with his sexual orientation and about the traits he looks for in the ideal man.
He also spilled the tea on whether the Real Housewives is fake, and about the challenge of making sure the housewives aren't acting to maintain their job security.
Read the Q&A and watch the videos below. Enjoy!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: I heard that when you were 12 and 13, you had a lot of sleepless nights when you were grappling with your sexual orientation. Could you take me back to one of those nights and tell me what you were thinking?
A: It was a time when there weren't that many gay people on TV. Being gay seemed foreign and unacceptable. So the nights were spent thinking, 'Wow, I know that I'm gay, and I'm not going to be able to express this side of me,' and uh, just really kind of heartbreaking, heavy nights when I allowed myself to go there.
Q: And back in your hometown, St. Louis, what were your experiences with homophobia like? Was there one particular moment you remember?
A: I remember being at an Eddie Murphy concert when I was in high school, and he said the word fag and faggot so many times in his act. Everyone thought it was hilarious -- even my friends who I was with. That was kind of symptomatic of the times and the community and the perception of gay people.
Q: You always stand up to injustices against gay people. Would you ever take on a larger role in terms of advocacy for LGBT rights?
A: I just feel like using whatever platform I have to kind of express myself and be myself is the best that I'm gonna be able to do.
Q: I read your book, and you reference a time when you were a journalist. What makes you not a journalist today?
A: I don't have to adhere to the constraints and rules of journalism. If I'm sitting down on a hard-hitting interview with Bethenny Frankel, it would be fine for me to go over the questions beforehand. Whereas, if she was coming on 60 Minutes, they would probably just sit her down and do the interview. I worked at CBS News for 10 years, and you get the standards and practices book, which are the rules. And, reality TV and what I'm doing, it's just kind of an unregulated frontier.
Q: I'm obsessed with reality TV and the Real Housewives, and we know that to a certain extent, it's a constructed version of reality. How fake is it?
A: They're never told what to say. But on the flip side, we're not shooting them 24/7. So, if you and I just saw each other at a big party and there was a lot of drama, and then you and I were gonna have lunch three days later, I think it's fair to say that one thing we'll definitely be discussing is the party that happened. But everything else is free form. That's the reason the housewives are so successful. You can't make this stuff up. But we cast highly volatile, emotional, outgoing, fun, funny people. And so it's in the casting.
Q: As Real Housewives has become more successful, it's given the housewives a bigger platform to brand themselves and make money. How do you make sure that as they're on the show they're able to maintain a level of authenticity without just trying to boost ratings so their job security stays strong?
A: I think sometimes you can watch the show and think they're just kind of fighting for their job. And if it doesn't seem authentic to the show, then the viewers can detect B.S. and they can tell if something is not genuine. We try to cut around it or try not to make a big deal of it.
Q: You talked a lot about the physical characteristics you look for in an ideal man. What are some prerequisites to a lifelong partner for you, personality-wise?
A: Uh, well that's interesting, because I don't have a lifelong partner, so I should probably just lay up on the prerequisites because maybe my list is what's keeping me. I think someone who's smart, who has their own thing going. Someone who's independent. Um. gosh. Smart, independent, funny, strong. That's kind of on the list.
Q: Can they take center stage?
A: I'm cool with someone taking center stage. I like that.
Q: What's your proudest moment in your career?
Wow. I think it's when Watch What Happens Live went five nights a week. And then the books being bestsellers. Those two things are very big for me.