To understand where Bravo TV executive and talk show host Andy Cohen gets his prodigious energy and gift for gab, one need only meet his mom. Evelyn Cohen, 75, silver-haired and diminutive, proves that big personalities can come in small packages.
On this spring day, mother and son are having dinner at one of the Palm steak houses in Manhattan. Evelyn arrived in the afternoon from Clayton, Mo., the St. Louis suburb where 43-year-old Andy and his older sister, Emily, were raised (and which he fondly refers to as “Pleasantville”). They are dining on separate orders of filet mignon, Andy having announced preemptively, “I don’t want to split with you; I want a whole one for myself.”
Cohen’s appetite is well earned. He has already finished up work at his day job, as executive vice president for development and talent at Bravo, and had a session with his trainer. Next he will head to his second gig, as host of Watch What Happens Live, a half-hour, five-night-a-week celebrity chatfest that airs live on Bravo at 11 p.m. on the East Coast. Evelyn is coming along to watch him work.
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“She texts me a review of my show every night,” says Andy, holding up his iPhone as proof. “She’ll say, ‘Fantastic.’ ‘You seem drunk.’ ‘Funny one.’”
Evelyn chortles. “‘Too dirty,’” she chimes in.
“‘Not our demographic.’ ‘Get some sleep.’ ‘Didn’t laugh once,’” Andy continues.
“I feel a need before I go to bed to text him,” Evelyn explains.
“I like it,” says Andy. “And my staff now asks, ‘What did your mom say?’”
Evelyn may be critical of individual episodes of her son’s show, but she’s his biggest supporter. “Andy was a magnetic personality from the time he was a little boy,” she says. “He brings this energy with him and makes people happy.”
The rest of the country is only now catching up with Evelyn in fully appreciating her beaming baby boy. After a career spent behind the scenes as a TV news producer and programming executive (overseeing Top Chef and the Real Housewives franchise, among other popular Bravo reality shows), Cohen has in recent years become a recognizable face himself, as the host—or, more accurately, referee—of the Housewives reunions as well as Watch What Happens Live.
The freewheeling gabathon that is Live broadcasts from a tiny, bric-a-brac-filled studio that Cohen has dubbed the Clubhouse. Typically, it features an actor or singer promoting a project and a second guest who’s often a Bravo personality (a.k.a. a Bravolebrity). Liam Neeson, Anderson Cooper, and Sarah Jessica Parker, all friends of Cohen’s, have sat in Live’s swivel chairs, as have Housewives NeNe, LuAnn, Teresa, and many others.
Part of Live’s shtick is that Cohen and his guests imbibe freely, and there’s an on-set bartender. “Anyone else need a refill on their Fresquila?” Cohen will ask, waving his tumbler of Fresca and tequila. (He also quaffs Maker’s Mark bourbon mixed with ginger ale on the air.) Then he’ll urge viewers to tweet him, contact him via Facebook, dial in with questions, post to Live’s website, and otherwise interact with the show.
This month, Cohen also published a breezy memoir, Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture. Mixed in with the boldface names are warm family tales and reminiscences of growing up Jewish, gay, and television-obsessed in the Midwest. Why a book now? “I’ve been working in TV for 22 years, so I don’t want anyone to think that I just showed up and all this happened,” he says of his newfound fame. “Besides, I had good stories and I love to write. I just needed a deadline.”
The surest sign that Cohen has arrived came last month when he and his talk show were parodied on Saturday Night Live. SNL cast member Taran Killam lampooned Cohen as self-adoring and obsessed with the trivial. “Look, I’m wearing floaties,” the faux Cohen announced, waving colorful blow-up water wings on his arms.
Cohen says he regards being satirized as an honor. “It was funny; I revere SNL,” he says. (For the record, he has never worn floaties.) Mom is markedly less pleased. “It hurt my feelings as a mother,” says Evelyn. “Lou [husband Lou Cohen] and I turned it off. Andy is nothing like that. He isn’t an egotist.”
Cohen grew up in Clayton glued to All My Children (a passion his mother came to share), Battle of the Network Stars, and CHiPs (he had an early crush on Erik Estrada).