Andy Cohen, the queer eye behind Real Housewives, Project Runway, Shear Genius and Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, loves a gay parade.
“What’s not fun about a gay-pride parade,” says the highly visible host of Watch What Happens: Live. “I got my waving down.”
Cohen’s wrists will get a workout Saturday, April 16, when he serves as grand marshal of the third annual Miami Beach Gay Pride parade on Ocean Drive.
“Just being who you are goes a long way,” Cohen says. “We’re still in a society where every person who comes out counts. You saw the impact Ricky Martin had. The more people are out and clear about who they are and open about what they are, that just helps. There becomes a greater community of people who are out.”
Cohen recalls being a “deeply closeted” kid in 1970s St. Louis and viewing his first images of gay men on television:
“I saw Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly on TV who were basically these two big huge queens, who were very funny, but everybody kind of laughed at them,” Cohen says in a YouTube video he made last fall for the It Gets Better Project anti-bullying campaign. “In my mind, gay people … weren’t really members of society that had any impact or any value.”
Three decades later, Cohen – now Bravo network’s executive vice president of original programming and development – controls much of the way gay men and women are seen by television viewers around the world. After joining the network in 2005, he oversaw the granddaddy of gay reality programs, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.
“That was really a watershed show,” Cohen says. “That was one of the first shows you saw gay people with straight people. And straight people week after week were really indebted to gay people. Every episode ended with a straight person tearfully thanking a gay person for changing their life.
“We have been proud to present an honest look at gays and lesbians in our community without spotlighting them as such,” Cohen says. “They’re just kind of living in a world where they’re kind of embraced as full members of the American family at home. That’s the world that we aspire to portray. It’s kind of the way we see the world — where gay people are inclusive and thriving.”
Cohen says he never consciously set out to change the broadcast world.
“It just happened and happily so. I was in the right place at the right time. If I was working at Spike or a different network …” says Cohen, who started at Bravo after stints at TRIO and CBS News. “We’re about food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture. Who excels at all of those but my gay brothers and sisters?”
Cohen, who grew up in a liberal, Reform Jewish household, came out at 20 in 1988, “when AIDS was still six years old. There was a lot of fear associated with being gay and what could happen to you.” Now 42, Cohen says “growing older as a gay person isn’t what it was 20 years ago.”
“People have families; people have children. Gay marriage is starting to become a real thing. I have many friends who have babies. I don’t, but I would love to,” says Cohen, who is single. “I would not want to do it alone. I would want to do it with someone.”
Miami Beach Gay Pride President Chad Richter says Cohen was chosen as grand marshal because of his “high national visibility.”
“He helps to put Miami Beach Gay Pride on the map. But more importantly, his success as a businessman and an out professional makes him a great role model and someone to celebrate as a grand marshal,” Richter says. “I was inspired by his It Gets Better video. It’s hard to have a pride without thinking about the youth and what they go through. I related to it, too.
“When you see someone who’s grown as a businessman and found his way — we forget. We live in a city like South Beach where everything is open and perfect. It’s not like that everywhere, in different parts of Miami, let alone different parts of the country.”
Superstar comic Kathy Griffin, a longtime “Bravolebrity,” attributes much of her TV success to Cohen.
“He’s easy,” Griffin says about working for Cohen and his network. “Here’s what I love: They let me make fun of them. Of course I love anyone that lets me give them shit. The truth is I love to make fun of them and call them a fake network. Truly, creatively, they honestly let me do anything I wanted. I think I got to do things on the D-List that as a 50-year-old on television, I just probably wouldn’t have been able to do on a network, one of the four bigs or whatever they’re called.”
Then, teases the bombastic comedienne, who can never leave well enough alone: “So he’s easy. And I mean that sexually, as well. He’s easy. He’ll put out.”