Andy Cohen is a longtime TV producer (Top Chef, The Real Housewives franchise) who became the first openly gay host of an American late-night talk show, Bravo’s irreverent Watch What Happens Live, during which he serves drinks to his guests and gets them to answer shockingly personal questions through games such as “Plead the Fifth.”
Cohen talked to Miami.com about his upcoming show with Anderson Cooper, the story behind a would-be blind date with Cooper years ago and the embarrassing question he asked Oprah Winfrey, before graciously and fearlessly playing his own game, “Plead the Fifth.”
What inspired this team-up?
We’re great friends, and every time we get together it’s a lot of fun. And I think both of us kind of represent two sides of the brain, you know? It’s like, high and low, news and pop culture, right and left. So I think combined, we can give people a real, behind-the-scenes of all ends of news and pop culture. It started with Anderson interviewing me at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and we had an incredibly raucous, hilarious conversation. And everyone had such a great time, we thought we should take this show on the road, expand it and have a lot of fun with it.
You guys were set up on a blind date a long time ago, right?
That is true, like 20 years ago. But it never really happened, because we never made it past the introductory phone call, in which I think both of us realized, “Wait a minute — we are not meant to be in that way.” But I would love to hear a tape of that phone call now.
Love the show Watch What Happens Live. Is that your concept all the way?
Absolutely. I was really clear about what I wanted to do on the show. The concept is very simple: If I invited you over to my house at 11 o’clock, I would want to ply you with alcohol and get as much gossip as I could out of you. And that’s what I do on TV.
It seems like you can get just about anyone to come on your show. Is there anyone you’ve been desperately trying to get but haven’t had any luck?
We’re working on Madonna. Hopefully that’s gonna happen in the next couple of months. We would love Beyonce, and we would love Michelle Obama, so those are a few.
You talked about the alcohol angle. How often do your guests get more than a little sloshed?
Occasionally. Last night we did a keg party for Dakota Fanning’s 21st birthday, and we wound up sticking around afterward and killing the keg. But I remember one night when Kylie Minogue and Elijah Wood were on, and I thought, “Oh my God, we all got so drunk!” And I ran into Kylie about a year later and she said, “No, you got so drunk!” The guests have a great time, though.
Was there any resistance from the network about the alcohol?
No, they were really cool about it. Bravo loves to push the envelope when it’s appropriate. There was no reason not to, and they understood that, look, it’s 11 at night. If I go on some of these late night talk shows that tape at 6 o’clock, I don’t want to have a drink, really, at 5 or 6. But at 11, that’s what you want to do.
You get away with murder with your guests. What are some of the most inappropriate things you’ve asked them?
Oh, wow. I think asking Oprah if she’d ever swum in the lady pond was pretty high up there. But Anderson and I talk about this. It’s one of my trademarks a little bit. I definitely go there, and I’m definitely very aware that there’s always a question that you’re not supposed to ask, you know? And I’m usually the one that’s going to ask it.
Are you as much a fan of reality TV as you seem?
I am. Obviously, I’m a fan of the shows I produce. And I’m certainly the Housewives No. 1 fan.
You grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Boston University. What do you think of Miami?
Oh my god, I love Miami! I go to Miami as much as I possibly can. It’s the most international city in America, it’s beautiful, and just the second you step off the plane, you feel like you’re somewhere far, far away. I love it, and just can’t say enough about it.
Mind if I put you on the spot a little bit? Let’s play one of your games: “Plead the Fifth.”
Of course. Yeah, let’s do it.
No. 1: Have you ever slept with a woman, and if not, whom would you choose?
Not fully [laughs]. Who would it be? Wow. I’m gonna say Cameron Diaz.
Have you ever hooked up with anyone you’ve had on the show immediately afterward in the studio?
No! I would like to. Actually, I might be too scared to do it in the studio. There are cameras in there.
That reminds me, you had quite the chemistry going on with [Biggest Loser trainer] Bob Harper recently on your show. What’s the story there?
You know, we definitely followed up with each other, and were definitely very much in touch. We live on separate coasts, but there’s definitely some chemistry there. Who knows? But you were right to see that.
OK, question No. 3. Name a guest whose performance on the show disappointed you the most, and why.
[Pause] I plead the fifth.
Yeah, I saved that one for last, thinking you might not want to throw anyone under the bus.
Well, I totally still would have pleaded the fifth even if it was early. You play the game, and trust that if you use your plead the fifth early, it’ll be OK.