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 “60 Minutes.”
How did this tour come about?
[Cohen’s] second book came out [“The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year”], and I interviewed him at the 92nd Street Y onstage and it was real fun, and the audience had a really great time. After we were 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 behind-the-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 see how far 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.
Do you keep up with the “Housewives” and other Bravo shows to keep in the conversation?
I watch “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 dipping my toe back into it, and for 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.
How is 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 leave my 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 ever been on. I generally now don’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.
How are 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.
How long 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 as audiences seem to enjoy it and it doesn’t interfere with my real job, we’ll keep doing it.
Catlin is a freelance writer.
Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen: Deep Talk and Shallow Tales Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. Warner Theatre, 501 13th St. NW. Tickets: $75-$125. 202-783-4000. www.warnertheatredc.