Read What Happens Next
A new diary captures a year in the wild ride that is Andy Cohens life.
Andy Cohen is a juggernaut of modern media. He hosts, he posts, he tweets, he produces—and always with an enthusiasm that makes the work seem effortless. But when the man behind some of the most successful reality shows on TV decided to lay bare a year of his own life, he did it on the most classic of platforms: a book.
Releasing Nov. 11—and bringing Cohen back to his hometown for a couple of choice events—”The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year” chronicles the period of his life starting in September 2013. It’s a rollicking ride through New York City nightlife, celebrity jet-setting and television glamour that will please longtime fans who followed Cohen from his years of overseeing unscripted shows like “The Real Housewives” franchises, “Project Runway,” “Top Chef,” “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “The Rachel Zoe Project” on Bravo.
It’s also the story of a 46-year-old veteran television executive who leaves his high-level position to found a production company—in effect, swapping roles from vetting pitches to making them—while still hosting a nightly talk show, “Watch What Happens Live,” and serving as executive producer for both his own show and the “Housewives” shows. As his longtime fans also know, the book includes the surprisingly poignant details around Cohen’s adoption of a dog, Wacha, and his head-over-heels plunge into canine companionship.
“I look at the book as a living, breathing document,” Cohen explained while on a three-week vacation in the Hamptons where, true to form, he seemed to be spending as much time on the job as on the beach. “I’m really taking you inside my daily life.”
The Real Life of Andy Cohen
Not only is Cohen taking readers “behind closed doors that they don’t normally get to see,” he says, “I’m going places in my mind that I haven’t put out there either.” It’s an introspective journey that he started with his 2012 bestseller, “Most Talkative: Stories from the Frontlines of Pop Culture.” Cohen admits that he did tweak his life a little because—with his perfectly honed eye for drama—he knew some things would make for good copy. For example, with prompting from fellow St. Louis native Jon Hamm, he played in an MLB celebrity softball game. “I was really scared to play because I suck at baseball,” Cohen says. “I decided to do it, but I don’t know if I would have if I hadn’t been writing the book—not least because it was a Sunday in July, which is prime beach time for me!” After getting two hits and being on the field with the likes of Ozzie Smith and Nelly, Cohen wound up giving the game a “fun” rating.
When asked if he sanitized the diary to avoid embarrassment, Cohen laughs. “I still behaved like a reprobate, but I didn’t necessarily put all of my disgusting behavior in the book.” He adds that he was purposeful about leaving out some details, and he ran the content by key people like his parents, who live in Clayton, and his siblings, also in the St. Louis area. But he says sharing his personal life got easier over the course of the year. “The longer you do something, the more comfortable you get and the more you’re like, ‘I’m going to write about my dating or this fight I had or this moment with a celebrity backstage at ‘Watch What Happens Live.'” And Cohen does indeed write about those moments and more, sharing cringe-inducing, foot-in-mouth moments that we’ve all had—except that some of his happened on live TV. The overall impression for readers is that Cohen isn’t asking anything of his reality TV stars that he himself isn’t doing over the course of the book. “I feel like I’m a pretty good filter of figuring out how far is too far on revealing dishy things, but on the other hand, I’m an advocate for the real,” he says.
Still, while he’s a celebrity, his parents and siblings aren’t, so you have to admire their willingness to open their lives. The family banter Cohen shares rings true for most of us, to the point where his celebrity status becomes almost an afterthought. He’s just a kid eating a popsicle at bedtime…and then, in the next sentence, he mentions being in the box with Jim Edmonds at a Cardinals game, and you remember that he’s often included among TV’s most influential names: Fast Company named him one of the business world’s 100 most creative people in 2013. For all his talk about partying and being a pothead, Cohen’s media savvy has garnered him more than 1.46 million followers on Twitter alone, about the same number as the CEO of Cisco and the Brazilian national soccer team.
Professionally, Cohen says he’s now insularly focused on growing “Watch What Happens Live.” “The dance of hosting a talk show, I kind of peel off the layers of the machinations of that in the book,” he says. “We’ve had such success and growth over the past five years. I just want it to get bigger and bigger.” He’s gradually worked up the chain to attract top-tier guests, and he’s always angling for the biggest fish in the pond, people like Madonna, Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Justin Timberlake. Down the road, he says he’d like to interview celebrities without the constraints of his show’s fast-paced, frenetic format. “Just have a conversation,” he explains. It harkens back to his earlier days at CBS News, where he was a producer for several news shows and covered breaking stories like the Oklahoma City bombing and Hurricane Andrew.
His background as an executive is still in full force at his production company, Most Talkative, where Cohen develops ideas for shows, makes and hears pitches, looks for new formats and personalities and, at times, muses about the state of the television industry. “It’s hard to get people to watch live TV, and it’s certainly hard to get people to watch commercials,” he says. “You’re fighting against DVR, people watching on their phone or iPad.” Still, he’s anything but resigned to see his most beloved medium fade away. “I love TV, and I want [‘Watch What Happens Live’] to be as big as it can.”
And then, in a blink, Cohen’s back to focusing on everyday life in his hometown, where he returns four times during the course of the book. “I go to St. Louis for the [baseball] playoffs and the World Series, Thanksgiving and the [Mardi Gras] Pet Parade,” he says. “There’s a ton of St. Louis stuff in the book.” He mentions go-to entertainment districts like The Grove, his favorite cover band (Jake’s Leg), the charity event Guns and Hoses, his Thanksgiving traditions and the nice people who approach him for photos—and more. “A lot of people want to do a shot with me,” he says. “Sometimes I indulge them, sometimes not!”
He also shares his overall impression of the city as being caught in a kind of time warp. “I guess it’s changed a lot,” he says, “but it always feels like Mayberry to me. Everybody knows everybody’s business. It’s very constant to me.”
Besides watching Cardinals baseball in his downtime, Cohen relaxes with a two-hour massage once a week after the show and by spending time with Wacha. “My life really changed when I got my dog,” he says. “I started waking up earlier so that I could take him out in the morning. He comes to the show a lot. He’s down in the Hamptons with me now. He was in Fire Island with me last week. He’s a mobile unit—I even take him on helicopters. He’s as much of a superstar as his namesake!”
But downtime isn’t all that important to Cohen—he leads a charmed life, and he knows it. “Writing a book doesn’t feel like work to me,” he says. “My work is very satisfying. I’m passionate about it and it’s fun, so I don’t feel like it’s work. Hosting a talk show is something you get to do; it’s not something you have to do.”
And would he break out the computer for a sequel to his diary? “I could do ‘The Andy Cohen Diaries Volume 2′ quite comfortably,” he says. “There’s definitely another book that is really the down and dirty. And that hasn’t happened yet. That’s something that will maybe happen next year.”
Catch Cohen in action at 7pm on Nov. 25 for the Left Bank Books and Maryville Talks Books event at Skip Viragh Center for the Arts. A $30 ticket includes a copy of the book (tickets available at andycohen.brownpapertickets.com). “The Andy Cohen Diaries” releases Nov. 11 at Left Bank Books and is available for pre-order at left-bank.com.
Photo credit: Photo by Mike McGregor