WASHINGTON — Anderson Cooper is getting ready to grill the Democrats as moderator of Tuesday’s CNN debate, but Saturday he’ll grill his best bud Andy Cohen at Warner Theatre.
“Anderson interviewed me for my last book and it was so fun and we got such a great response that we thought, wouldn’t it be fun if we did this on the road?” Cohen tells WTOP.
So, Cooper and Cohen created the touring act “AC2: An Intimate Evening with Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen,” which they bill as a combination of “Deep Talk and Shallow Tales.”
“I’ll leave it up to you to decide who’s the deep talk and who’s the shallow tales,” Cooper jokes. “It’s kind of a peek behind the curtain of television, world events and the world of pop culture. … We also like it being very interactive with the audience, so the audience asks questions as well. It’s very much a conversation between Andy, myself and the audience.”
The casual format pits Cooper and Cohen across from each other in plush chairs on stage, as the two ask each other revealing questions about their lives and careers.
“I interview Anderson, he interviews me, it winds up being a very freewheeling conversation … almost like you’re eavesdropping,” Cohen adds. “I’m very loose with my stories and my gossip, but I’ve been amazed by how much I’ve been able to get Anderson to reveal on stage.”
So what sort of things has he gotten Cooper to reveal?
“There’s a story behind what happened before Anderson went to Hurricane Katrina,” Cohen says. “It’s something that he’s never told before publicly to anyone, and I’m kind of amazed that I got him to do it. I hope I’m not jinxing it because I want him to tell it again in D.C.”
Cooper says the two push each other’s boundaries.
“We like to see how far each of us will go,” Cooper says. “We know each other so well, we’ve been friends for so long that we kind of know where all the bodies are buried, so we see which version of a story the other will tell and we try to push the other beyond their comfort zone.”
Turns out, Cooper and Cohen go back more than 20 years.
“We were set up initially on a blind date that never took,” Cohen recalls.
“Not only did it never take, it never actually even happened,” Cooper interjects. “We had an introductory phone call and I realized within two minutes of the phone call that there was no way I was gonna go on a date with this guy. I imagined him gesticulating a lot with his hands while he was talking to me, I dunno, it was just a turnoff.”
At that, Cohen zings a comeback: “In the words of NeNe Leakes: so nasty and so rude.”
All joking aside, the two say they’ve become great friends over the years.
You might say it’s respect for each other’s careers, though a little alcohol hasn’t hurt.
“There’s a lot of drinking that goes on (during the show),” Cooper says. “A lot of women make it a friends night out with their girlfriends, they go out to dinner beforehand, they have some pinot grigio and by the time the show actually starts, they’re ready to laugh and have a great time.”
The audience isn’t the only one loosened up for the show.
“(Andy) has tequila backstage, so he takes shots before he goes out,” Cooper dishes.
After taking shots backstage, the two take shots at each other on stage.
“We like to surprise each other with videos that we put together,” Cooper says. “I like to look at all those ‘Housewives’ reunions that he’s done and pick out the best moments and kind of get all of the behind-the-scenes stories of what’s going on with the Housewives.”
Cooper says it’s only human to switch hats between news and entertainment.
“I take the news very seriously. I don’t take myself as seriously,” he says. “People know that you can be interested in politics or history or world events … and at the same time like to watch movies or read books or have other interests. My dirty secret has always been bad reality television. … I think people know we’re all multidimensional people, and as long as what you’re doing is totally honest and you’re not making stuff up and you’re just being yourself, I think that’s how you balance it.”
When it’s time to put on the journalism hat, Cooper has an interview philosophy that differs slightly from former CNN colleague Larry King, who recently told WTOP he never prepares questions.
“I know Larry’s thing was to never do research and stuff, but I actually think you do need to do a ton of research. I like to know everything somebody has said,” Cooper says.
At the same time, he agrees with what late-night legend Dick Cavett told WTOP last year: that it’s important to listen to the guests with the flexibility of veering in another direction.
“There’s nothing worse than (when) you’re talking to someone and you can tell they’re not listening, all they’re thinking about is their next question,” Cooper says. “It’s important to be armed with knowledge, have all the facts, have all the figures, have a game plan, but you’ve got to be in the moment, and the most important thing in any interview is to listen.”
These skills will come in handy at Tuesday’s CNN Democratic presidential debate.
“I want to read every interview every candidate has given for the past six months and know what their talking points are, so I can predict what road they’re going to go down, so I can sort of get them off those talking points,” Cooper says.
Anderson’s debate moderation will be the first of just six debates for the Democrats, while the Republicans have scheduled 11. This has caused many candidates — including former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — to call for more debates to mount a challenge against frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“In terms of informing the electorate, I think the more information that’s out there, the better. … I like seeing as many of these things as possible,” Cooper says. “I can understand why it’s in the interest of some candidates to not have more. Obviously, those who are in the lead often don’t want more. I think it’ll be interesting to see if and when (Vice President) Biden enters the race, how that affects things … I think there’s still a lot to be seen on the Democratic side.”
Either way, there will be plenty to discuss post-debate during “AC2” at Warner Theatre.
“I’m really interested to get into the election,” Cohen says. “So much has happened since the last time we were on stage, and we’re going to be in D.C. It’ll be just after the debate, so I will be looking to Anderson for some fresh gossip about what was really going on in that debate.”
Cooper anticipates certain questions from Cohen.
“Hillary Clinton, who was she staring at? What was Bernie Sanders saying behind the scenes? Who was coming up at commercial breaks to complain they weren’t getting enough time?” Cooper says.
How would Republican front-runner Donald Trump react to their comedy show?
“These guys are total losers!” Cohen jokes, with his best Trump impression.
Whether it’s serious subjects like politics or lighthearted fare like the “Housewives,” Cooper and Cohen have an array of topics to tear into Saturday at Warner Theatre. And if their banter during our WTOP interview is any indication, there will be some friendly bickering.
“Are you in a wind tunnel, Andy?” Cooper quips. “You sound a little hollow.”
“Well I am a little hollow,” Cohen retorts. “As you know.”
Click here for ticket information. Hear the full interview below: