BlackBook 3 Minutes: Andy Cohen and Billy Eichner Part II

One afternoon in January, Andy Cohen, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live sat down to chat with Billy Eichner, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous star of Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street. Eichner had been on Cohen’s show a few times, and Cohen—an avid booster of social media—is a keen follower of Eichner’s hilarious Twitter feed (sample: “Just remember – without Ringo Starr there would be no Beyoncé”) which has become essential reading during awards season. Cohen and Eichner, not surprisingly, have a lot in common—not only are they Jewish and gay and funny, they also enjoy Girls, love Fashion Queens, and adore Madonna. Well, what else did you expect?

If you missed Part 1, can you find it here.

BlackBook 3 Minutes: Andy Cohen and Billy Eichner Part I

One afternoon in January, Andy Cohen, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live sat down to chat with Billy Eichner, the grinning, gleeful, garrulous star of Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street. Eichner had been on Cohen’s show a few times, and Cohen—an avid booster of social media—is a keen follower of Eichner’s hilarious Twitter feed (sample: “Just remember – without Ringo Starr there would be no Beyoncé”) which has become essential reading during awards season. Cohen and Eichner, not surprisingly, have a lot in common—not only are they Jewish and gay and funny, they also enjoy Girls, love Fashion Queens, and adore Madonna. Well, what else did you expect?

Linkage: A Successful Golden Globes, a Zack Snyder ‘Star Wars,’ and New Natalie Wood Evidence

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but last night’s Golden Globes were a big hit. The combination of nominated movies that people actually saw and liked as well as the pairing of beloved stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as the co-hosts brought in the biggest ratings in six years. Maybe that’ll be a lesson to the honchos who were sure that a surly British man who has had success in his homeland and on American cable might not have the biggest draw compared to two funny ladies who have captured our collective hearts for years. [EW]

No matter how you feel about Jodie Foster, Anne Hathaway, or Fey and Poehler appearance at last night’s Golden Globes, let’s all agree that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig could probably knock the socks off all of us if they ever got the chance to host an awards show. [Hypervocal]

“Sure, it’s fine to joke about Meryl Streep always winning everything, but announcing, "I beat Meryl"? When you’re 22 and you’ve been in Hollywood for, like, a minute? Not very classy, Jen.” Seems like someone didn’t catch Jennifer Lawrence’s subtle First Wives Club reference last night. [Fox News]

My apologies to Star Wars fans, particularly those who prefer subtlety over slow-motion bouncing boobs (I’m sure there are maybe four of you): Zack Snyder, who is responsible for 300 and that giant blue penis we had to look at in Watchmen, is developing a project for Lucasfilm that will be a “Jedi epic loosely based on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai.” [Vulture]

Woody Allen, who prefers the term “alarmist” over “hypochondriac,” might be one of the few people in history who has written personally about hickeys in The New York Times. [NYT]

Last year, investigators reopened the case of Natalie Wood’s mysterious death, and it seems that there may be new evidence to support the claim that the actress was assaulted. [CBS]

It’s pretty obvious that Andy Cohen is perhaps the only person who can name all of the songs that fit into the Real Housewives genre of music, right? [Gawker]

AV Club offers a fantastic look at A Different World, which began as a Cosby Show spin-off and settled on its own as a top-ten primetime hit. Why hasn’t a predominantly African-American sitcom performed nearly as well in years since? [AV Club]

It’s finally time to throw out those dusty boxes of Rid you’ve been hiding under the sink, ladies. The rise in Brazilian waxes has, in turn, brought a decline in pubic lice. [Jezebel]

Do you like great writing and intelligent thoughts? Do you appreciate it when those things are delivered right to you, via your smartphone? Might I suggest you subscribe to Maura Magazine, the new product from former Village Voice music editor and brilliant badass Maura Johnston. [The Awl]

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Gay Actors Are Coming Out in a “New” Way

June is Gay Pride Month, so everybody’s talkin’ about gay people. Yesterday the New York Observer took a look at the business of outing celebrities (while slyly suggesting that Gossip Girl star Chase Crawford might indeed be in a glass closet himself). Today Entertainment Weekly shared a sneak peak at this week’s cover story, which focuses on "the new art" of coming out. On the cover are popular TV actors like Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jane Lynch, Zachary Quinto, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jim Parsons, as well as comedian Wanda Sykes and Bravo’s Andy Cohen. But is this a rising trend or just a puffy trend piece?

It’s true that we’ve come a very long way from when Ellen DeGeneres came out fifteen years ago, which truly ushered in a new age in which LGBTQ actors (and, hell, normal people) were seen in a completely different light. For a community still struggling with the impact of HIV/AIDS and continued discrimination, DeGeneres and her show’s treatment of her sexuality was groundbreaking—displaying it matter-of-factly and as a normal thing rather than something to be terrified of or find revolting. While her show was cancelled soon after, she bounced right back and is today a much-loved TV personality. And her coming out certainly inspired others to do the same. As EW says on its site:

Even if it’s accomplished in a subordinate clause or a passing reference, coming out casually is, in its way, as activist as DeGeneres’ Time cover, although few of these actors would probably choose to label themselves as such. The current vibe for discussing one’s sexuality is almost defiantly mellow: This is part of who I am, I don’t consider it a big deal or a crisis, and if you do, that’s not my problem. It may sound like a shrug, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for indifference. By daring anyone to overreact, the newest generation of gay public figures is making a clear statement that there is a “new normal” — and it consists of being plainspoken, clear, and truthful about who you are.

But, are people being plainspoken, clear, and truthful? Jim Parsons made headlines when his sexuality was revealed in a New York Times profile last month, but it was buried in the end of piece. Is it not a big deal that someone on a high-rated show is gay and has kept it mostly hidden from his audience for years? EW also brings up T.R. Knight’s name, but you may remember that he was outed after gossipy rumors about his sexuality circulated online following a on-set fight in which his Grey’s Anatomy co-star Isaiah Washington called him a "faggot." 

And what can we say about the fact that there are still no major film actors who are open and out? Isn’t it still clear that an actor’s sexuality impacts his or her career? Of the eight celebrities on the magazine’s cover, only three have recently played or are currently playing gay characters on TV. (Neil Patrick Harris, for example, has been playing a womanizing sleazeball for years.) In an industry in which most gay characters are reserved for straight actors (actors who are then lauded with awards for bravely portraying those who are generally doomed), I ask this question: Should we reward a handful of people who treat their sexuality with a casual shrug, or should we ask for more? After all, there are still people who every day struggle with their sexuality, often keeping it hidden from friends and loved ones out of fear. Whether you want to admit it or not, coming out is still sort of a big deal.

I Was a Celebrity Look-Alike!

It started in January 2010. One of the temps in my office came up to me early in the morning and said, "Tyler! There’s a guy on TV who looks just like you? Have you seen Modern Family yet?" I hadn’t, and I said that I’d try to watch it based on his recommendation. I didn’t, although I Googled the show and saw that there was a gay character who also had red hair and a beard. "Oh, I can see it, I guess," I thought, and went about my day as normal. The same week, someone on Tumblr reblogged one of my posts with a similar comment. "Tyler reminds me so much of Mitchell," the blogger wrote. "And he looks EXACTLY like him!" Again, I shrugged it off.

People had told me I looked like famous actors before. Once, when I was working at a winery in my hometown the summer after my college graduation, two girls who had bought a bottle of wine came up to me as they were paying their bill and said, "Oh my God, you look so much like Eric Stoltz! But, you know, Some Kind of Wonderful Eric Stoltz, not Mask Eric Stoltz!" "Oh great!," I thought, grateful for the clarification that I did not look like someone with a giant, disfigured face. Right after random people decided to tell me that I looked like a person on a popular TV sitcom, most of my Facebook friends were participating in Doppelgänger Week, when users was encouraged to change their profile picture to an image of the actor or actress that others said they looked like. It was an entertaining time, when one could log in and laugh at their random acquaintances who were convinced they looked like very attractive famous people. (Oh, does she really think she looks like Rachel Weisz? Hmm.) I didn’t change my picture, but I did post one of Stoltz with a half-hearted comment about looking similar to him. The reaction was hilarious, but many of my friends commented, "What about Jesse Tyler Ferguson? You remind me so much of him!!!!"

I was planning to move to New York that fall, and I took a trip to the city in the summer to visit and get a sense of the city. I boarded my flight at Midway, and one of the flight attendants stopped me as I lugged my unweildy suitcase onto the plane. "Have you ever watched Modern Family?" he asked. I sighed and said, "No, but I know.". As we exited at LaGuardia, the same man said, "You should really watch that show! It’s hilarious!" the woman in line behind me interjected, "Modern Family, right? My daughter thought he was him!" I bit my tongue, wanting to respond, "Please explain to your daughter that if I was an actor on TV, I probably wouldn’t be flying Southwest, and would definitely not be in the B group."

I moved to New York in September 2010. I was very excited about living in the city (I was crashing on my friend’s couch on the Lower East Side), especially because, within my first week, I saw tons of celebrities. It’s something that rarely happened in my five years in Chicago–the most famous people I saw were guys who had been rejected from Bravo reality shows—you can imagine how fun it was to be walking around and spot Gary Busey or Adrien Grenier. I had enough sense to not say anything to them—after all, what could I offer—but I still silently relished the fact that a real-life celebrity was in close proximity to me. It’s inherently a new York experience: we like to pretend that living in the same place as famous people, but we still gush with friends about each spotting. "Natasha Lyonne goes to my gym!" a friend once told me. "Yeah, well," I replied, "I bumped into Vanessa Williams at Angus McIndoe last night, and she apologized to me!"

On the second weekend I lived in New York, I got out of a cab near the Delancey/Essex subway stop. My friends and I had been drinking in Brooklyn and were stupidly drunk. As we walked by the train station, I made eye contact with this guy who immediately looked flushed as his eyes darted to the ground. Then, with the same drunken intensity, he shouted, "Are you on Modern Family?!" before I could even respond, my friend threw up his arms and laughed hysterically, and I replied, "No, I’m not him." I tried to ignore the experience, but not before another stranger on the street who had watched the exchange chuckled. "You do look like him," as if I didn’t already know.

That’s sort of what fascinates me about strangers who approach me: yes, I do, in fact, know that I resemble a famous person, yet people I don’t know are extremely aggressive about informing me, as if they’re the only ones to figure it out. What’s more surprising are the folks who think that I actually am Jesse Tyler Ferguson. I was in the Apple store earlier this year to buy a new laptop, and as one of the sales associates was processing my order, one of the other geniuses (that’s the Apple store term, not mine) came up to me and said, "I just want to shake your hand!" "Um, OK," I replied, thinking, "Well, all I’m doing is spending entirely too much money on this computer." I had to break it to the guy when he then said, "I just love you and your show so much!"

What if I had been Jesse Tyler Ferguson? Wouldn’t that have been weird? I can’t speak for him, obviously, but maybe he would like to buy a computer without talking about his job? Or how about the guy who came up to me while I was at a urinal during the intermission of Shakespeare in the Park last summer. Luckily for him, I was just some normal person who happened to look like a celebrity, and he was the crazy person who assumed it was perfectly fine to walk up to someone he thought was famous while peeing to make small talk about something he had seen on TV.

In the spring of last year, my friend Mikala and I created a webseries called Disappointing Gay Best Friend. She’s a comedian, and I’m not—nor am I an actor—but the videos, which averaged about thirty seconds each, required very little from me except to glare at her character’s suggestion that we do typical, stereotypical gay activities like go out to a bar so she can get a drag queen to touch her boobs, suggestions I would always shut down with a disgruntled look. It did well enough that people would occasionally come up to me if they spotted me in a gay bar. It was pretty exciting at first to be recognized as myself, but it still didn’t happen as often as strangers would say the familiar line, "Do you know you look like that guy from Modern Family" Eventually it got to the point where I could recognize the look that some guy would give in a bar when he saw me: a double-take, a few awkward glances, possibly turning to a friend and whisper something to him while he kept his eyes locked on mine. Who the hell did he think I was? Me, or some famous person? It typically wasn’t me, but I could still acknowledge my own narcissism that a stranger was looking at me with some sort of interest in who I was.

I think Jesse Tyler Ferguson is somewhat aware of my existence. Sometimes people will at-reply both of us on Twitter as a joke, and I assume he probably thinks it’s annoying. And who knows, maybe there are other bearded redheads on the internet who get the same thing from their friends—it’s a bit silly to suggest that I have any influence on this stranger’s life in any way; he’s the famous one, not me, and naturally, as a celebrity, he means a lot more to people than they do to him.

I did meet him once, hilariously enough at a taping of Andy Cohen’s talk show on Bravo. It was before I had started our webseries, and Modern Family had just started its second season. I had gone on a date with this guy who found the resemblance hilarious, and he told me that his friend worked on the Cohen’s show and that Ferguson was going to be a guest the following week. On Wednesday I got an email from him: he had gotten us seats at the taping. I was excited and nervous (I also had a huge, dumb crush on Andy Cohen), so naturally I met up with my friend beforehand and drank as many martinis as possible (which, luckily, was only three) and had a beer for good measure. I met the date at the studio in Soho, and when we walked into the small room set up to look like the clubhouse, Cohen immediately welcomed us (the studio audience is super, super small). When Ferguson walked in and sat in his seat under the lights, I noticed how remarkably different we look. The coloring is all off! He had also shaved his beard, so the resemblance wasn’t very strong at all. After the thirty minute show, there was a ten-minute segment that would be played online. That’s when Cohen announced that there was a "JTF look-alike in the audience," which is when I loudly (and drunkenly) shouted, "Oh, no." Cohen beckoned me to come in front of the camera and squat down next to his chair. I sat there for three minutes, rambling and sweating and trying to be cool, but the whole situation was so weird that I was immediately ready to return to my seat. The second guest, the celebrity stylist Brad Goreski, sat in the middle of the set, probably wondering why this sweaty weirdo who needed a haircut had suddenly bum-rushed the stage.

After the taping, we all returned to the green room, and I shook Ferguson’s hand and thanked him. The guy who brought me took our picture, and I said to him right before he hit the little button on my iPhone, "So, I’m sure strangers come up to you and ask if you’re Tyler Coates, huh?" "Oh yeah," he replied. "All the time."

jesse tyler ferguson tyler coates

Morning Links: Katy Perry Is Still Not Pregnant, Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart Shack Up

●Pippa Middleton’s bridesmaid dress can now be yours for only $3,100. The perfect butt is, however, not included. [People]

● Rumors had it that Katy Perry might be baring a bump, but she assures that she still likes drinking too much to be pregnant. And so, for the mean time, any weight gain should be attributed to fastfood and booze. "I like In-N-Out Burger and Taco Bell, and if you want to make that pregnant, that’s your problem," she says. [Us]

● Whispery couple Rob Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are shacking-up together in a swanky London "love nest" complete with nude curtains, minimalist furniture, and breathtaking rooftop views, while Kristen films Snow White. [Radar]

● Padma Lakshmi’s billionaire boyfriend, Theodore Forstmann, has passed away of brain cancer at the age of 71. [E!]

● Come January, Andy Cohen’s twice weekly talk show Watch What Happens: Live will be extended to five nights, solidifying his position as king of the reality stars. [NYT]

● The New York Times can’t quite figure out why planking is still a thing. [NYT]

Morning Links: Arnold Makes Terrible T-Shirt Choice, Gavin Degraw Terribly Beaten in New York

● Incredibly level-headed young exes Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner shared a nice evening together at the Teen Choice Awards. Reportedly, the two “were laughing and having nonstop fun.” Swallowed pride works every time. [NYDN] ● Arnold Schwarzenegger went out for a bike ride in an unfortunate t-shirt that read “I SURVIVED MARIA” on the front, and had the dates “1977-2010” — the years they dated — on the back. Oops! [TMZ] ● Eldest Palin child Track and his wife Britta welcomed their first child, Kayla Grace, in Wasilla, AK over the weekend. [People]

Twilight actor Booboo Stewart says that the Kristen Stewart/Rob Pattinson wedding scene is actually and truly beautiful. “It was weird. I was sitting there and I was like, ‘This is actually really touching,” said the young werewolf. [Us] ● Singer-songwriter Gavin Degraw was attacked by a group of “marauding goons” outside a Lower East Side bar early yesterday. Beaten, battered, and with a broken nose, he stumbled about fifteen blocks before getting hit by a cab, at which point he was taken to Bellevue Hospital where he spent the night under observation. [NYP] ● Prince of Bravo Andy Cohen has pulled a seven-figure advance for his untitled memoir about growing up gay. “Housewives who think Andy is their gay best friend,” said someone familiar with the deal. [THR]

Morning Links: RIP Nate Dogg, Anderson Cooper’s Mardi Gras

● Netflix may be close to picking up their first original television series, David Fincher’s House of Cards.[NYT] ● Rapper and hook-man Nate Dogg passed away in his sleep last night at the age of 41. As Snoop Dogg tweeted in tribute, “You put yo stamp on evrybdy u ever didit wit”. His funk lives on. [Billboard] ● Charlie Sheen pornstar lady-friend Kasey Jordan tweeted through a bender of her own yesterday. “The 16 hours I spent with Charlie messed me up … I can’t get that image out of my head,” she began, before admitting to downing pills and whiskey. Police, responding to an emergency call, intervened, taking the star to the hospital for psychiatric exams, where she tweeted, “I’m Sooo bored in this hospital bed! I want to have someone save me.” [NYDN]

● Bravo’s Andy Cohen is pretty sure Miami will be the last of the Real Housewives spinoffs. Which is too bad because, really, our taste for the Housewives is insatiable, and we’d totally be into Real Housewives Tulsa. [ONTD] ● Cohen also suggested yesterday that Anderson Cooper’s Mardi Gras technique is probably better than yours, saying that the way the way he laid his beads out mise en place style before the parade was “like chefs do.” [NYMag] ● High-waisted and highly unflattering bikini and all, Ke$ha doesn’t care. U r who u r, girl, and we respect that. [TMZ]

Andy Cohen on Whether Bravo Is a Gay Network

By day, Andy Cohen holds the coveted title of Bravo’s Senior VP of Original Programming and Development. By night, he’s in front of the camera, cocktail in hand, hosting his own late night talk show, Watch What Happens: Live. Once a week, Andy sits down with featured guests from across the world of pop culture—as well as your favorite Bravolebrities—to discuss everything from what’s making headlines that week to the latest Housewives drama. Recently named one of TV Guide’s “25 Most Influential People in Television,” Andy is elevating Bravo, and himself, to a whole new level of acclaim. On the morning after Top Chef won its first Emmy, which was, coincidentally, also the night of the big Real Housewives of New Jersey Reunion throw-down, we caught up with the pop culture icon to discuss the divas of Bravo, Watch What Happens’ rapid success, and whether Bravo is in fact a gay network.

What does a typical day in the life of Andy Cohen look like? There’s really not a typical day. I usually take a few pitches everyday, I watch cuts of shows and do notes on them, I meet with my team and with other Bravo teams to sort out what’s going on. We have so many shows in production and development at the same time, so typically it’s mainly about that. The on-air stuff usually takes me away from the day things.

How do you decide what will work for the network and what won’t? It’s typically whether it’s on-brand. We have the most upscale and educated audience, so it’s about that. Is it different, is it definitional, is it going to pull in over a million viewers? Is it fun? Does it fit in with food, fashion, beauty, design, and pop culture? Those are kind of the filters.

What’s the casting process like for these shows? Well, it depends on the show. In terms of Housewives we look for people that know each other, who have different relationships with each other, and people who represent different things to each other.

Since Bravo is so involved with social media, how much does audience feedback drive the plot lines of the shows? We don’t really drive the plot lines. I think in terms of audience feedback, it’s important for us to see what people want to know. I think they inform future seasons. I think Top Chef is a good example of a show that has evolved and changed as we’ve gone on. It’s evolved with an eye to what people like and what they want to see.

The network is filled with diva-esque, campy women. Have you always been a fan of these big, over the top characters? I have, yes, absolutely. I love a strong woman. I think they’re unpredictable, fun to watch, exciting, funny, and sometimes unintentionally funny.

How do you feel about people saying Bravo is just Andy Cohen’s interests and you’re just puppeteering these people’s lives? I didn’t know any of the housewives before the show went on. I can’t push them in any direction. They determine the story line by what’s going on with them. I couldn’t in a million years make up what is happening or what is going to possibly happen with the housewives. It’s beyond the scope of my capability.

So tell me about how Watch What Happens came to be and how you ended up in front of the camera? In college I studied Broadcast Journalism. I wanted to be on camera as an anchor or a reporter. My last internship was at CBS News in New York, and I wound up working there behind the scenes for ten years, and my career grew and I kind of gave up the on-air thing. That was until I was at Bravo and Lauren Zalaznick, my boss, said that she would love to do a show online that was complimentary to my blog which I was writing on BravoTV.com. So I stated doing an online show after Top Chef, and funnily enough, they came to me and asked if I wanted to do my online show on air! I would have never in a million years have had the hubris, gumption, stupidity, idiocy, lunacy to think that I could wind up doing what I am doing now.

Over the past season, you’ve gained over two million viewers. What do you think it is about the show that grabs so many people? I think because it’s live and unpredictable and it’s fun. It’s often really complimentary to whatever we just had on the air. On our season premiere, we’re going to have Teresa from the Jersey Housewives and Stacie Turner from the DC Housewives. So that’s something that anybody who loves the housewives will be interested in seeing. Conversely, when you have someone like Jerry Seinfeld come to the Bravo Clubhouse it’s like, What’s he doing there and what’s he going to say? There he is kind of railing against the Housewives in the face of me, who’s in charge of programming for the network. It’s certainly unpredictable and fun.

Can you tell me about the reunion? It looked very physical. It’s nuts. It goes back to your questions about me controlling storylines or things like that. I cannot predict what’s going to happen with these women and on these shows and that’s one of the reasons why I love the show so much. It was the first time the women had been under the same roof in a year. It’s very raw and volatile—like lighting a match around a tank of gas—and I was lighting the match.

I saw some behind-the-scenes footage you had recorded and you weren’t sure how it was all going to come together. Did it all turn out like you hoped? It came together great. When you’re sitting there and you’re in the midst of this, you can’t imagine how it’s going to play out in a TV show, because it’s so meandering. My job is to keep everything in order, and there is no order. I think the shocking thing is how the two hours ends.

Do you think the Jersey Housewives have veered off in a different direction than the rest of the Housewives? I think they all have their own personality. I think the Orange County Housewives, who are the originals, are the Knots Landing of the group, whereas New York is kind of the Dynasty. New York is like a drawing room comedy—fighting about invitations and friendships and protocol. I find that especially entertaining and humorous. I think Jersey is loaded in, even though it has nothing to do with it, a Sopranos-esque vibe. To me, DC is the most intellectual of all of them because they do start fighting about politics. There’s a big debate about gay marriage that comes up that’s really surprising. There are real questions of race and class that keep coming up in DC that haven’t been seen in any of our other series.

Bethenny Frankel from Real Housewives of New York now has her own show. Are there other housewives that have been trying to push for their own show? There are some, but I think that their is great strength is being in an ensemble cast. I always make the analogy that Friends was a great ensemble cast, and then Joey came on after that and it was an unsuccessful spin off.

Bethenny is also an exception because she’s so candid about her life. She is bulls-eye Bravo.

Bravo seems to be a gay network, but is not as explicit gay as, say, Logo. How do you define it? I always saying we’re bi, but I think it’s kind of how I view myself being gay—it’s just one of things that I am. So Bravo may or may not be gay, but I think there’s a lot of other things going on. I think for the gay people on Bravo, it’s one of the things that they are—they’re not on Bravo because they’re gay. The people that are gay on Bravo, like Brad on Rachel Zoe or Jeff on Flipping Out, they’re gay but they’re also great at what they do and that’s why they’re on Bravo and that’s important.

What are some of your favorite places to go out in the city? I love the Boom Boom Room. I think it’s the most beautiful room in the New York City. There’s a new bar that opened on 8th Avenue between Jane and 12th called Anfora that I really like. I also like going to The Cubbyhole. It’s in my neighborhood because it has a great vibe, it’s fun, and they have Bravo on the TV, so I know I’ll be entertained.

Did you see the pictures of Danielle’s daughter in the latest Blackbook? Gorgeous, she’s really beautiful.