Andy Cohen is a man who wears many hats: shtick-y late night talk show host who knows how to bring a reluctant guest out her shell with a heavy pour; legendary development executive almost single-handedly responsible for the multi-tentacled grasp the Real Housewives franchise has on our increasingly fragile ecosystem; bon vivant and man about town who seems to know everybody, turn up everywhere, and record it all meticulously and flatteringly on Instagram.
So perhaps it comes as no surprise that on the first page of his newish book (it was published last year in time for the Christmas rush, so forgive me, I’m a little late to the party), The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, Cohen announces himself as a devoted acolyte of another renowned chronicler of the famous and the freakish, Andy Warhol, and specifically his famous Diaries. Their posthumous publication, in 1989, became for Cohen (then a 21-year-old intern at NBC) a kind of manifesto for living a glamorous, well-connected existence full of fabulous parties and fabulous people.
It’s the kind of bold opening statement that begs for comparison, so here is one that I don’t think either Andy would find insulting: As a public figure, Andy Cohen is the Warhol of our time, a brilliant marketer whose obsession with artifice has allowed him to peer more deeply into the black heart of our culture than anybody working today.
As people, however, they couldn’t be more different. Warhol was the freakish, semi-disfigured, possibly albino gay son of blue collar Eastern European factory workers—the perennial outsider who made himself an insider, but an insider content and most comfortable posing as voyeur or naïf (the shy interjections of “Gee, Liza, that’s great” etc.) while quietly behaving as puppet master. There’s nothing furtive—or creepy—about Cohen. The cheerful, confident, decidedly haimish son of upper-middle-class Midwestern Jews who, his mother’s loving jibes about his weight and dress sense aside, clearly instilled a belief that everything about him was completely wonderful (as the product of same, I am obviously saying this in the nicest possible way). Cohen at his darkest is really just a little lonely—a void shallow enough to be filled when he adopts Wacha, his beloved beagle mix. Basically, Andy Cohen is the affable, good-looking (but not intimidatingly so) guy you loudly sang show tunes with and didn’t quite make out with on the final night of camp when you were a little too young to understand the root cause of those two events. If it’s a choice between him and the other Andy, I’d much prefer to be friends with Cohen. You know what you’re dealing with.
And that’s precisely what makes his diary an almost too-perfect inversion of Warhol’s. Andy Warhol made his name, and his art, by inserting a profound and chilly glamour into the mundane: the Campbell’s Soup Cans, the actuarial recording of taxicab routes and entrée prices into his diaries. Cohen, on the other hand, has an endearing way of making the glamorous seem utterly mundane. He refers to famous friends like Sarah Jessica Parker, Ralph Fiennes, and Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld as cozily and off-handed as you might remember Stacy, the one whose braces got caught in Danny Stein’s zipper at Trevor’s bar mitzvah party, or, to paraphrase your mother, “You know Bob Fried? Who used to play golf with Grandpa? His funeral is today.” Somehow, Andy Cohen has managed to take the glittering world of global superstardom and make it seem like a particularly good Oneg Shabbat at a suburban St. Louis temple. Or maybe even one better: he’s fond of referring to the five block radius of his West Village neighborhood where everyone knows each other’s business as “Mayberry.” It sounds more like Anatevka to me.