Late last month, Andy Cohen posted a throwback photo of himself on Instagram during the very first “Real Housewives of Orange County” reunion, over a decade ago. Physically, not much has changed: He still has that adorable, crooked smile, salt-and-pepper hair and just the right amount of authority to preside over the franchise’s ongoing mayhem. But beyond that, he’s come a long way since that photo was taken in 2006.
Since then, Cohen, 48, has gone from head of development at Bravo to executive producer of “The Real Housewives” franchise, developed and become the host of “Watch What Happens Live,” started Radio Andy on SiriusXM radio, partnered with CNN anchor and close friend Anderson Cooper on a national talk tour, launched Andy Cohen Books, a new book imprint under Henry Holt and Company, and authored three tell-alls, the latest of which, Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries ($16.07; Barnesandnoble.com), was released last month.
Though the diary-style tome chronicles escapades within his enviable clique of celebrity friends — accompanying Sarah Jessica Parker to the Met Ball, sailing on a yacht in the Caribbean with Diane von Furstenberg and getting an invite to see Cher’s bedroom — the St. Louis native is as relatable as ever. “I have a very Midwestern sensibility, [and] I haven’t forgotten where I came from,” he told Splash while in town signing about 400 books at the Union League Club of Chicago as part of his 10-city book tour. “I’m still excited about doing what I do. I think you can sense my awe and excitement about celebrity and the people I interview. I think that’s what people relate to.”
Before he’d even published his second book, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, in 2014, Cohen had started writing his third — or, at least, keeping a new diary that could potentially become another book. “I was in such a groove from writing,” he says. “I was getting really great at it and I just thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to keep going, whether I wind up publishing it or not.’ But I knew that I would end up publishing it. My life lends itself well to this format.” His publishers thought so, too. This year, Henry Holt and Company approached him about launching Andy Cohen Books, which will publish nonfiction stories, biographies, anthologies and more that Cohen selects. He’ll also be signing on authors, giving input on manuscripts and helping with promotion. “I just have a great love of reading and I think I’ve got a good eye,” he says. “I’ve become really fascinated by the business of books.”
To write or not to write
Superficial — a diary that spans two years — is chock-full of name-dropping and juicy celebrity stories and gossip. Among the highlights: The author’s top-secret lunch with New Jersey Housewife Teresa Giudice before her imprisonment, an awkward Taylor Swift-Katy Perry moment at the Met Gala, and Madonna’s gypsy-themed birthday party. But most of the stories feature his close friends — think SJP, Kelly Ripa and John Mayer. Though he says he hasn’t received any major backlash so far, SJP cleared up a story he shared about her daughters at a recent signing in New York. In the book, Cohen wrote the twins were keeping lemonade stand profits to themselves, instead of donating them to charity. “She gave me some crap about that, but she was kidding,” he laughs. “I certainly don’t want to sell any of my friends out. I wouldn’t want to publish anything that [makes] them mad. I want to be respectful, but I also want to deliver to the audience.”
With the new book, Cohen offers a candid look into his personal life — and the person he is off camera. “I’ve gone further [than in past books] talking about my own feelings and questioning my own life and actions and future,” he says. That includes his interactions with celebrities, some of which left him feeling self-conscious (like one encounter with Ralph Lauren, who teased him about what he was wearing). “I wanted to be honest [in this book]. We all have a certain level of self-doubt; I’m not immune to that. I’ve learned to not let things get me too crazy … you can’t. Otherwise you’d just be paralyzed.”
A cultural phenomenon
Since “The Real Housewives of Orange County” premiered in 2006, the “Housewives” franchise on Bravo has been catapulted into the zeitgeist. It’s inspired seven national shows — with two newcomers joining the roster this year, “Potomac” and “Dallas” — eight international series and 13 spinoffs (among them “Vanderpump Rules,” which follows the scandalous staff of Beverly Hills Housewife Lisa Vanderpump’s West Hollywood restaurant, SUR). “At this point I’m not surprised [by its success], but I certainly was in the beginning,” Cohen admits. “The good thing about the ‘Housewives’ is that we can keep shuffling the deck and bringing new ones in and taking them out. I think that’s part of the reason why it’s still going after so long. It’s an ensemble show, so we’re not dependent on just one person.”
With the premiere of “Watch What Happens Live” in 2009, Cohen became the first openly gay late-night host. In each 30-minute episode, he coaxes Bravo-lebrities and big name stars — think Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Neeson and even Oprah — to reveal secrets through a series of games, like Plead the Fifth, where guests are asked three questions and can only skip one. “I think people know that I’m ultimately rooting for them,” he says of how he breaks down his interview subjects. “I don’t want anyone to leave angry, but I think when they come on my show they know I’m going to ‘go there’ in some way. So I do.”
As Cohen preps for Season 7 of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” premiering Dec. 6, he keeps a laser-sharp focus on the projects he believes in. “I’ve always followed my passion and it’s just kind of organically led me to the next discovery. I’ve had big failures, which I’ve learned from. But so far, so good. One thing has led to the next.”
SPLASH: What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about SJP?
ANDY COHEN: That she remembers every single person she ever meets.
S: If you had to be stuck in an elevator with three Housewives, which ones would you choose and why?
AC: I would choose Carole Radziwill, Phaedra Parks and Erika Girardi because they’re all calm and quiet.
S: Who were your favorite “WWHL” guests in 2016?
AC: John Mayer and Bob Weir.
S: Have you ever felt like there was a time the Housewives were too unprofessional with you?
AC: Absolutely. I mean on and on and on. I get texts at all hours of the night. I have people showing me their boobs … [although] I will never stop anyone from showing me their boobs.
S: What qualities make the perfect “Housewife?”
AC: I think what makes the perfect “Housewife” is someone who is willing to let the cameras into every aspect of their life and be genuine, driven and outgoing, and have a point of view — and someone who is friends with the existing group of Housewives.
S: Can we ever expect a “Real Housewives of Chicago”?
AC: We’ve cast in Chicago over the years. We just didn’t find the right people. [But] listen, there’s drama everywhere … You want a city that has its own identity. Chicago certainly does.
AT THE SHOOT
The “Real Housewives” creator cracked jokes in a room full of Bravo fans during a stop on his 10-city book tour, then sat down with Splash in the library to dish about his latest tome, Superficial.
Photographer: Maria Ponce
Shot on location at: The Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W. Jackson