Andy Cohen is one of a handful of individuals working with The Lincoln Motor Company on the Dream Ride, a project celebrating the release of the 2015 Lincoln MKC.
“There’s happiness at the core of everything I do. That’s what keeps me centered.” – @Andy
You’ve always known Andy Cohen, you just haven’t met him yet.
A news producer for 10 years and programming director for close to a decade after, Cohen has developed and distributed thousands of stories for American television. He has a natural talent for getting A-list celebrities and unknown call-ins to share their stories, sometimes in the same hour of his show, Watch What Happens Live.
Cohen has earned his place as the great equalizer. He brings people of all walks together every night, and has been doing it, in some form, for years. We were surprised to find that his life is relatively quiet, and full of simple pleasures like a walk to the dog park or a dream ride to the beach.
The Glamour of a New Producer
“I always loved TV. It just seems like the thing that everybody connected to, and had in common, and talked about – and is really accessible,” says Cohen. Cohen’s pet beagle-mix, Wacha, is lying on top of his feet, slowly dozing to the familiar voice of Cohen. “TV is the most, to me, accessible form of mass media. It’s just there in your room. You turn it on and you’re there with everybody else watching the same thing.”
Seeing the friendly and fashionable Cohen in the flesh, one might not take him for a former hard-hitting news producer who has covered everything from floods in Missouri to fires in southern California. He meets us in his West Village neighborhood and his style is dapper yet preppy, effortless yet dazzling. On this rainy summer Monday in New York, he wears a perfectly tailored blue jacket and his bag smells faintly of sunscreen. Wacha, miraculously avoiding the typical scent of a dog in the rain, wears a yellow dog poncho that he suspiciously sniffs when it’s removed.
Cohen flashes a bright smile. Wacha disappears to investigate our film gear, and Andy begins to talk about his life, his love, and his passion: television. “TV seemed really glamorous and fun and exciting and just something that I wanted to be a part of in any way that I could. To me, news seemed like the apex of kind of everything – current events, entertainment. News brings people together.”
As a producer, Cohen had a knack for uncovering stories from people experiencing events that made the news. He lived in New York but traveled around the country with anchors and camera crews. Firefighters, victims, survivors, and witnesses were the people Cohen searched for to put on camera for the world to listen to and he had a way of making them feel comfortable being there. His eyes are warm and trusting, and his voice is soothing. Each week was a new disaster or interesting moment the world experienced together, and Cohen found the people living it.
“I spent 10 years working in broadcast journalism and I kind of got burnt out. I was flying everywhere, and I was living kind of at the mercy of my beeper. In those days, we all had a beeper,” says Cohen. At this point, Wacha has awoken and is sniffing the moldings of the pre-war Greenwich Village building walls. “I got an opportunity to work at a startup cable channel and be in charge of programming for new arts at a kind of pop culture cable channel. It was an opportunity to learn about cable production from the ground up, and I took it.”
Wacha walks back to Cohen and stares at him with warm – and trusting – eyes. “That changed my life. From there I got an opportunity to work at another network where I remained for a long time and where I think I’ve made the most impact on the pop culture water cooler.”
Today, Cohen is the host of his own show, Watch What Happens Live, but it didn’t happen overnight. “I didn’t just one day decide to be in front of the camera,” he says. He started with web series, one-off shows, and hosting once a week at the new network. He didn’t give up, and pursued his goal while still producing for his company. “You should set your sights on what you know you can do and then learn along the way and build, build, build, and that’s what I did. That’s how I reinvented myself.”
On an episode of Watch What Happens Live, Cohen interviews celebrities with questions of his own and from his viewers’ social media posts, and invites fans to call in and speak their minds. He brings people together to share their stories and gather around the TV set. The premise is simple, and the outcome is never the same, but always comedic perfection.
Finding the Funny
Funny is big with Cohen. A prank, joke, or humorous aside is one that will resound with him. Perhaps it was his years of serious news that gives him this appreciation, but after spending time with him, one can see that it’s simply in his own sense of humor. He is by no means a comedian, show-off, or stand-up, but his quiet humor is drawn from the smarts and wits of his interviews. He searches for a laugh in others rather than overly trying to provide one himself, and he’s rarely disappointed.
It goes back, Cohen says, to being surprised. “You always go into meeting someone with a preconceived notion and then you start talking to them and you realize ‘oh wait.’ It’s all kind of intuitive,” says Cohen. “I think I’m a pretty good judge of character and I just vibe people out. The longer you talk to someone, the more you can find out.”
“You know, there’s so many people on TV. There’s so many famous people, but I’m always looking for someone really unique and funny and special and unlike anyone else,” says Cohen. “So for me, it’s about a gut kind of reaction to people and whether they have something to say, whether they’re different or unusual. And fun – and funny – is big with me.”
“I think that’s a big kind of point of entry for people,” Cohen says about humor. “I think humor brings people together. When things are really dramatic or upsetting or shocking, if there is a baseline of humor, that’s what keeps people coming back.”
At this point in the conversation, Cohen asks Wacha to show a few of his tricks. “Shake!” he almost whispers. Wacha offers Cohen a paw and a toothy smile, captivating everyone in the room, and Cohen throws his head back and laughs. “He’s the life of the party.”
One night after taping a show, Cohen found himself browsing pet-adoption sites. It was 2 in the morning, and Cohen came across a beagle-mix with rust-colored spots. “He was just sitting there with these eyes that were so big and so expressive and it almost looked like he had eyeliner on,” says Cohen. The dog was a puppy from a kill-shelter in West Virginia who had been brought him up to New York and put him in a foster home. Cohen contacted the adoption agency that night.
When Cohen met his future dog, he was surprised to find he was much bigger than anticipated. He was a 40 pound puppy, to be exact, and a concern for a dog-owner in New York City. He took the pup home to get to know him, and over a baseball game viewed together in Cohen’s apartment, they very quickly became best friends. Cohen named him Wacha, after a player in that very game.
“My life has not been the same. He’s my companion. He’s just fun to spend the day with,” says Cohen. “He makes New York even more fun. I’m seeing New York through a different set of eyes as I travel around the city with him.”
Cohen is a master of finding the characters that make a good story. For the first time, though, Cohen recognized traits that not only make a great character, but a great dog. “He’s really playful. And he’s – when he goes to the dog run, he gets everybody going. He’s a leader not a follower,” says Cohen. “We have a similar personality. He’s a party guy, but he’s mellow – like me.”
The two of them can be found at the park doing what they love best: observing. Wacha sniffing, and Cohen perfecting his craft. “I love people watching. That was one of the first few things I did in New York and that’s why I like going and sitting at a park. It’s just fun to watch people in the city.”
It was All a Dream Ride
Watch What Happens Live airs every weeknight, 46 weeks a year. Cohen develops each show with the guests and finds what they might have in common with him or the other people on air. His set is modeled after his den and features trinkets and artifacts from moments of importance in his and the show’s life. The interviews with celebrities, politicians, and even fans calling in are energetic and informative. “It’s like hosting a party every night,” says Cohen. “But somebody’s got to do it.”
Still, Cohen is able to center himself each day to keep finding and building stories. His biggest inspiration is the city that took him in and made him the storyteller he is. “I find my quiet in New York. Just walking around the streets with the dog is a way for me to find peace,” says Cohen. “There is chaos, but for me I go into a zone. Being outside with people, with air, with the dog – it’s restive for me, and it’s calming.”
When asked about his ideal Dream Ride, Cohen responds that he takes it often. Wacha and Cohen often travel to Sag Harbor, just the two of them, to find some peace and regroup for another week of interviewing – and party hosting.
“It’s a great feeling for me when I’m loading up the dog in the car, leaving the city, heading for the beach,” says Cohen “I feel the promise of something great at the end of my journey. I feel a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I feel a reward coming my way. I feel peace in the future. I feel like I’m letting go of things, trivial things that I’m leaving behind in the city; and I’m getting in the car with my dog and my towel and my ball and my music and my sunglasses and my picnic; and I’m just feeling hope and a promise of just something fun and simple.”
“My trip doesn’t involve anything that isn’t accessible to everybody. Everybody can experience time at the beach. It’s the great equalizer. Doesn’t matter how much money you make. Doesn’t matter what you do. Doesn’t matter who you are. The ocean is free, and the feeling you get is the most accessible, unifying feeling.”
Cohen, the great equalizer, can’t help but find commonalities between his dream and his reality. “It’s almost as unifying as sitting on your couch and watching TV, sitting at the ocean. Weirdly, it might give me a similar feeling.”
A Few Words for Proust
We asked Cohen to answer a few questions from us and the Proust questionnaire
What is your present state of mind?
What makes a good story?
Heart and humor
What has been the biggest moment of your career?
The first night I did my show, Watch What Happens Live.
Who are your real life heroes?