Andy Cohen on 10 Years of Late Night and Why He's Not Surprised to Still Be the Only Gay Host

The Bravo multi-hyphenate of 'Watch What Happens Live' speaks to The Hollywood Reporter about progress, success, 'Real Housewives' longevity and taping live: "Anything can happen."
Charlie Sykes/Bravo Media
Andy Cohen

When Andy Cohen receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which Real Housewives stars will he invite to the ceremony? "That's a really good question!" Cohen tells The Hollywood Reporter of the daunting task ahead of him in 2020.

It's little surprise that picking from the deep bench of Bravo's reality star lineup would be a challenge for the Real Housewives brand ambassador. Stars across all cities of the franchise came out in full force when the executive producer (who helped launch the franchise in the early 2000s) and longtime Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen host held a baby shower before the arrival of son Benjamin Allen, who was born via surrogate in February. Adding to the Bravo star power was the single father's pal John Mayer, who made a surprise appearance at the extravagant event.

Now, Mayer is once again showing up for the late-night host by adding his name to the guest list for Cohen's 10th anniversary show of Watch What Happens Live. Joining Mayer is superfan Chrissy Teigen and Real Housewives of New York City star Luann de Lesseps, the latter performing her new single to cap off a night that promises to be filled with Bravo fandom and nostalgia. "We have a lot to get through, but we jam a lot into a half hour every night. That’s one of the hallmarks of the show," says Cohen, who remains the only gay late night host on TV, of the pop-culture powerhouse he's created.

Below, in a chat with THR, Cohen looks back on 10 years of clubhouse success, which he credits to a "homemade" and "high-low" vibe that it is "unlike all of the shiny floor late-night shows." WWHL, which he calls an extension of his living room, has become a must-visit for A-listers and even predicted the election of Donald Trump. He also shares his hopes for more diversity across the late-night dial ("It’s time for a network to put a woman on five nights a week") and teases a Bravo float that is "going to break gay Pride" at this weekend's New York City WorldPride parade.

Chrissy Teigen and Luann de Lesseps (aka "the Countess") are your Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen 10th anniversary guests. The show, airing Thursday, closes out two weeks of a 10 p.m. programming move to honor the 10-year milestone. Why these stars? 

Well, we added a third special guest: John Mayer. And if you look at those three people, they are so emblematic of the diversity of Watch What Happens Live. You have a Real Housewife, a Real Housewives superfan and then you have an absolute rock star who has nothing to do with Real Housewives but who is part of the Watch What Happens Live culture. John hosted my 50th birthday show, so we obviously love him and I’m so excited that he’ll be on the 10th anniversary show as well. It’s going to be a lot of fun and a look back. John is going to help us play a game and the Countess is going to perform her new song. 

The WWHL clubhouse got a 2017 makeover, but the 30-seat downtown Manhattan set remains as intimate as when you launched in 2009. As you've grown over the years and expanded with large-scale L.A. shows, how tempted have you been to go bigger — and why haven’t you?

We always love the opportunity to bring the show to larger audiences. It’s exciting and it’s a jolt for us. But, I have to say, I think our real roots will always remain in the show being a combination of Wayne’s World and Playboy After Dark, and I think the small studio lends itself to that experience. Part of the longevity and appeal of the show is that it is unlike all of the shiny floor late-night shows. This feels more homemade. We’re the only live show in late night and anything can happen, and there’s an authenticity to the experience of being in this little 30-seat clubhouse that conveys onscreen and into peoples’ homes. There’s a connection that people have to that experience that is unlike the other shows.

In this 10th anniversary lead-up you’ve been looking back at iconic clubhouse moments. While memory lane is fresh, what are some of your personal favorites — and what are the most cringeworthy?

There have been so many peaks and so many valleys in 10 years; so many shows and so many guests. I guess the peaks are rather obvious, if you know me: Meryl Streep, Cher, Oprah. With all of the kind of divas we’ve had on the show — J. Lo, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga — I feel like we’ve gotten such a different interview out of them than any other show. I’m really proud that you could have seen someone on so many other shows, but when you see them on ours, it’s an entirely different experience. That’s another reason why those interviews stand out to me. And, of course, all the times Joan Rivers was on. That was really special to me. And in terms of the low points? Oh, man. I step my foot it in so many times. Sometimes I’ve gone one step too far in prying. We’ve had some technical difficulties; we’ve had a fire alarm go off and the lights go out. Hurricane Sandy sidelined us for a minute. And I made out with Cloris Leachman — I can’t tell if that's a highlight or not!

What is your all-time favorite "Plead the Fifth" game admission?

It’s every time we play the game. I have to say, there’s no one admission that sounds out. We’ve cut more highlight reels than you can believe. This show has generated so much clickbait, we’re like a clickbait machine.

At what point in these last 10 years did you feel a shift and that WWHL had cemented itself in pop culture?

Meryl Streep coming on [in 2012] was really a turning point for the show. She had a movie out and it was more female-centric and it was big for us. I had been leaning on the kindness of friends to do the show, like Sarah Jessica Parker and Liam Neeson and Jerry Seinfeld. And they were all very kind and did the show. And then when we started booking guests who came on just because they thought it would be good for one reason or another, that was big. She opened the door [on future asks] and Oprah [the following year] did, too.

Who is still on your dream guest wishlist?

So many. Madonna, Michelle Obama, to name a few.

A year ago, you said you would welcome President Trump on the show. Is he still on that list?

Sure. I think he would wind up storming off, but yeah, why not?

Would you pair him with a Real Housewife?

He is a Housewife. I would pair him with no one.

What about the 2020 candidates? You use moments on your show to address major political and social issues. Do you have plans to wade more into politics during election season? 

I’m the only gay late-night host and so I view it as a personal responsibility to speak up when our rights are being threatened, which has happened more, or when someone says something terrible or when there’s a teachable moment. Those are the opportunities that I really lean into, otherwise I feel like there’s enough politics everywhere else. And in terms of presidential candidates, for sure we’ll have some on. But I don’t like to go too deep. I really like to have fun. I will say that we predicted Trump winning. We had a poll on our show that asked: "Who would you vote for if the election was held today?" And Trump won. So, there you go.

Your 10th anniversary show comes during Pride Month. Does the fact that you are still the only gay late-night host surprise you?

It doesn’t really surprise me. There is Samantha Bee, but it’s incredible to me that there are no five-night-a-week talk shows helmed by women. It makes no sense to me. So, no. The idea that I’d be the only gay guy and that it’s been 10 years, that doesn’t really surprise me.

What would you like to see in terms of more progress on late night — more streaming opportunities?

I don’t know the answer. I think it’s time for a network to put a woman on five nights a week. I’d love to see that. 

WWHL is unique in that you have big guests who come on to revisit the events of the latest Bravo episode. How do you warm them up?

I don’t have non-Bravo guests on to talk about Bravo shows unless they’re fans. This week, I [had] Chaka Khan and Adam Lambert on and we’re going to talk about Chaka Khan and Adam Lambert. So it just depends what night it is and what we’re going for that night. But one of the reasons that I love Watch What Happens Live is that I think it’s high-low. If you open up an Us Weekly magazine, you not only see Kerry Washington, you also see [Real Housewives of Atlanta star] NeNe Leakes. I feel like we’re a true representation of who America is viewing as stars these days. And I like that. I think it’s democratic.

How many hours of Bravo do you watch a week?

I really watch the shows that I’m responsible for, which is all the Real Housewives. When there are reunion shows that I’m doing, I usually binge those shows. I don't have time to watch a ton of other shows. I do watch a lot of documentaries.

How has being a dad impacted your long-term goals for WWHL?

The good news is that he goes to bed at 8:30 p.m. and I leave for my show between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. And then he wakes up between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., which is the time I was waking up anyway. So, the schedule actually works pretty well for me.

In addition to WWHL and your Bravo role, you also have a SiriusXM show, an imprint and a U.S. tour with Anderson Cooper. Will you also keep hosting CNN's New Year's Eve Live celebration?

I would love to do New Year’s Eve again. We’ve had two years of incredible ratings success for a franchise that existed on CNN for years and years before it, and I’m really proud of that. And I obviously love working with Anderson. We just had two very successful shows Friday and Saturday at the Beacon Theater. I have Radio Andy, all the Housewives, the reunion shows for all of those and the other Bravo shows, plus Watch What Happens Live. So I have to say, my dance card is pretty full. And I’m just focusing on all of that.

What has turning 10 made you re-evaluate the most? Are there any regrets?

I have no professional regrets. There was a moment in my life where I had been offered the job of head of production at Bravo and Logo was starting, and I wanted to be head of Logo production, because I thought, “There’s no one gayer in programming.” I didn’t get that job. And I remember being depressed that I didn’t get the job, but thank God I didn’t because this whole thing wouldn’t have happened without Bravo. I’m so grateful to Bravo. Bravo is so a part of my life.

What about the next decade of WHHL: How many years do you envision doing the show?

I haven’t thought about that. For us, every new guest, every new big star that we get to come on the show who has never been on is why I keep doing it. And, beyond that, it's for people who love the show. One of the things that keeps me engaged is, “Oh, wow. We have Chaka Khan this week. She’s never been on. That’s really exciting. John [Mayer] agreed to come back — how awesome.” The Rock was on a few months ago and we had never had him on. That’s cool for me, because I had never met The Rock and him viewing this show as important enough to come on and do? That’s exciting.

Why do you think the Real Housewives franchise has stayed strong after all these years? And would you call it empowering?

People think of the show and they sometimes think of a table flip or more conflict or drama, but if that was the only note of the show, it wouldn’t still be going as strong and it wouldn’t be the pop-culture powerhouse it still is today on every platform that is presented. It’s relatable, it’s funny, it is shocking. And people love to judge human behavior. Being able to look at these women — who you either love or love to hate, or root for or root against — and see how they’re living their lives as wives, mothers, sisters, friends; there is something that satisfies us about that. There are some endorphins that are released in us. I think it’s replaced the soap opera and it’s like guilt-free gossiping. You can watch it and not feel bad about it. It’s fun and it’s also something that bonds us together. I know more people who have said, “My mom and I get along about nothing, but we love talking about the Housewives. It’s our happy place.” And I think that’s a real thing.

You once said you would never scale back when it comes to hosting the Real Housewives reunion shows. Do you still stand by that?

I’ll host them for as long as Bravo wants me to host them. I love it. And also, it’s where I cut my teeth. I think one of the reasons people love Watch What Happens Live is that I go there and ask questions you aren’t going to see on other shows. But the way that I cut my teeth as a host is with the Housewives and asking them questions they couldn’t believe they were being asked in front of polite company. Now I can transfer those questions and ask them to big stars. I appreciate that.

How would you characterize the upcoming Beverly Hills and New York reunion shows?

They are excellent. They’re really good. New York is that perfect mix of intense drama with some hilarious moments and some fantastic resolution. And Beverly Hills is really good and really dramatic. [Co-star Lisa] Vanderpump wasn’t there. I wish she had been there and I think she would have come out of it with more resolution. I think she hopefully would have been able to resolve some stuff. I gather that she doesn’t want to so, there you go.

Lisa Vanderpump exited Beverly Hills after nine years and skipped the reunion taping. Have you spoken with her about returning?

No. I think she knows it’s an open door and, like all these shows, the show will go on. We will miss her. But there is a fantastic group of all-stars that remain on the show so I can’t wait to see what happens next.

How many Housewives do you have coming on the Bravo float for the NYC WorldPride parade? 

The float is going to break gay Pride. It really is. It’s basically my baby shower, but on a float. It’s me and NeNe Leakes and Teresa [Giudice] and Dorinda [Medley] and Sonja [Morgan] and Melissa [Gorga] and Margaret Josephs and LeeAnne Locken and Gizelle Bryant and Cynthia Bailey. And we have a drag Lisa Vanderpump and a drag Lisa Rinna. Kelly Dodd from Orange County. Plus Captain Sandy from Below Deck and Pat Altschul from Southern Charm. People are truly going to lose their minds. It’s honestly going to be next-level.

Any last words to say about Luann de Lesseps' new single "Feeling Jovani" (which features Cohen)?

I think the song speaks for itself!

The 10th anniversary show of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen airs June 27 at 10 p.m. on Bravo.