Live, from the pop-cul­ture trenches

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY ROGER CATLIN style@wash­ Catlin is a free­lance writer.

Four days af­ter CNN an­chor An­der­son Cooper mod­er­ates the first Demo­cratic pri­mary sea­son de­bate, he’ll be the one an­swer­ing the ques­tions— on­stage at the Warner Theatre with his old friend Andy Co­hen, the Bravo net­work host and an

ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of “The Real Housewives” fran­chise. There isn’t any in­di­ca­tion that Wal­ter Cronkite ever went on a sim­i­lar tour with, say, Merv Grif­fin, but au­di­ences seem to be re­spond­ing, said Cooper, 48, who added that he’ll be pre­pared to talk about a va­ri­ety of sub­jects— from Hil­lary Clin­ton to

Vicki Gun­val­son of “The Real Housewives of Or­ange County.” We spoke re­cently with Cooper from Europe, where he was cov­er­ing

the refugee cri­sis for “60Min­utes.”

How­did this tour come about?

[Co­hen’s] sec­ond book came out [“The Andy Co­hen Di­aries: A Deep­LookataShal­lowYear”], and I in­ter­viewed him at the 92nd Street Y on­stage and it was real fun, and the au­di­ence had a re­ally great time. After­wewere done, we thought it would be fun to just go on the road, book a theater oc­ca­sion­ally. ... It’s not, like, a con­stant tour­ing. It’s like a night hang­ing out with us.

What do you talk about?

We sort of frame it as a be­hindthe-scenes look at the world of pop cul­ture and world events. It’s a lot of per­sonal, funny sto­ries, about him and about me. I in­ter­view him, he also in­ter­views me, but it’s re­ally a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween us. We open it up to au­di­ence ques­tions, and peo­ple can ask what­ever they want, whether it’s se­ri­ous stuff in the news or pop cul­ture with Andy. We cover all the bases. We call it “deep talk and shal­low tales.” I sort of leave it up to the au­di­ence who does the deep talk and who does the shal­low tales.

What are peo­ple most in­ter­ested in hear­ing about?

It’s a lot of women hav­ing a friends’ night out. A lot of peo­ple who have been drink­ing be­fore­hand are there. They usu­ally seem to be start­ing early. It’s a lit­tle like, I don’t know, if you’ve ever been to Kenny Ch­es­ney con­cert. Peo­ple are kind of tail­gat­ing be­fore.

When they get to the theater they’re re­ally look­ing to hav­ing a good time. . . . We talk about re­ally ev­ery­thing. Andy and I know each other so well that we know what sto­ries are funny. We like to sur­prise each other and have pushed each other and see­how­far each other will go in terms of what sto­ries we ac­tu­ally tell. We also sur­prise each other with videos we’ve made, like the most ridicu­lous ques­tions Andy has asked in those “Housewives” re­unions.

So there aren’t a lot of ques­tions about the refugee cri­sis or pol­i­tics?

Some­times there are. As the po­lit­i­cal sea­son has been heat­ing up, there have been some po­lit­i­cal ques­tions. Andy gets a lot of ques­tions al­ways on “Housewives” stuff. . . . I tend to get more se­ri­ous ques­tions, but I get a lot of per­sonal ques­tions. I get a lot of ques­tions about how I started. It’s ranged the gamut from com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate ques­tions to re­ally in­ter­est­ing, thought-pro­vok­ing ques­tions.

Doyou keep up with the “Housewives” and other Bravo shows to keep in the con­ver­sa­tion?

Iwatch “The Soup” a lot, so I get the ab­bre­vi­ated ver­sion. . . . I used to be a huge “Housewives” fan. I tried to take a lit­tle bit of a hia­tus from re­al­ity TV. It started to get stress­ful for me. There was a lot of fight­ing and stuff. I’ve slowly been dip­pingmy toe­back­into it, and­for the show, I just fol­low up with ev­ery­body so I know when Andy is not an­swer­ing a ques­tion di­rectly and I can sort of push him on it.

Howis he on news events? Does he keep up with that?

It’s in­ter­est­ing. When I ac­tu­ally first met him, he was a news pro­ducer. He was a pro­ducer for Dan Rather, he was a pro­ducer on “The Morn­ing Show” for CBS for years. So he’s ac­tu­ally in­cred­i­bly well in­formed on stuff.

His news judg­ment is com­pletely lack­ing. He’d be the first to ad­mit this. He and I went on va­ca­tion to­gether 10 years ago the week be­fore Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, and I got the call about the storm, so I de­cided to leavemy va­ca­tion and get a flight back, and Andy was like, “Don’t go! They’re us­ing you! It’s not go­ing to be a big deal.” And I was like, “Andy, you don’t know what you’re talk­ing about, clearly.”

Have you ever had to can­cel one of these ap­pear­ances for a news story? Could that hap­pen?

It’s very pos­si­ble. Ob­vi­ously, my job is my pri­or­ity. I’ve can­celed pretty much ev­ery va­ca­tion I’ve ever­beenon. Igen­er­al­ly­now­don’t even take them, just be­cause the oc­ca­sional times I have in the past I would last for three or four days and then have to go. I once brought a cou­ple of friends to Africa on a sa­fari, and none of them had never been there be­fore, and I left them three or four days into it. They were kind of sur­prised I was aban­don­ing them in the mid­dle of nowhere.

I can’t find many ex­am­ples of other news anchors who have done these kind of shows. Do you think this might un­der­cut your usu­ally se­ri­ous role?

I un­der­stand that con­cern. Bill O’Reilly ac­tu­ally has been tour­ing for years, I be­lieve, with Dennis Miller with great reg­u­lar­ity. And there are other peo­ple who do it as well. Mika Brzezin­ski has a show she has been do­ing on stages around the coun­try. So it’s ac­tu­ally prob­a­bly a lot more com­mon than you re­al­ize.

Also, peo­ple are aware that you can be in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics, and you can be in­ter­ested in world events, and you can take your job very se­ri­ously and at the same time en­joy watch­ing stupid tele­vi­sion pro­grams or go­ing to funny movies, or you can have other in­ter­ests.

So I think there’s noth­ing wrong with it, as long as you’re not pre­tend­ing you’re some­thing that you’re not.

Howare your de­bate prepa­ra­tions go­ing?

I’ve got binders of re­search that I’m go­ing through and state­ments that have been made by all the can­di­dates, and 4 mil­lion ques­tions. It’s a lengthy process. You pre­pare weeks and weeks for some­thing like this.

It seems like rat­ings for the de­bates so far have been set­ting records on ca­ble.

Cer­tainly on the Repub­li­can side, peo­ple are more in­ter­ested ear­lier than I’ve ever seen be­fore on a pri­mary race. Ob­vi­ously, Don­ald Trump has been re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing to a lot of peo­ple. I think there’s a num­ber of can­di­dates — Dr. Ben Car­son, Carly Fio­r­ina now — who have sparked peo­ple’s in­ter­est and they want to hear more about them and see where they are com­ing from. So I think that’s def­i­nitely driv­ing a lot of this early in­ter­est.

What do you think the Demo­cratic de­bate story line will be?

There’s a lot of un­knowns at this point, so I think it’s pre­ma­ture to try to pre­dict what other peo­ple are go­ing to use as the story line the day af­ter. From my van­tage point, it’s just kind of: Be as fair as pos­si­ble and ask in­ter­est­ing ques­tions and keep the con­ver­sa­tion mov­ing and mod­er­ate the best I can. And frankly, have the story the next day not be about who was mod­er­at­ing or what the ques­tions were, but be about what the can­di­dates said. For me, that’s the def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess.

How­long do you think you’ll be do­ing this tour with Andy?

I don’t know. I’m not think­ing that far ahead. We’ll see. As long as it’s fun, and dif­fer­ent, and as long asau­di­encesseemto en­joy itan­dit doesn’t in­ter­fere withmy real job, we’ll keep do­ing it.


Bravo TV host Andy Co­hen, left, has teamed up with jour­nal­ist An­der­son Cooper to dis­cuss news, re­al­ity TV or what­ever else the au­di­ence wants. The duo will be at theWarner Theatre on Satur­day.

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