Sarah Jessica Parker and Andy Cohen were the first cover subjects of the magazine FourTwoNine where I was the founding Editor-in-Chief.  I called the premiere issue a Friendship one, and I will always be grateful that their saying yes to being on its first cover was an act of friendship.  They didn’t have to do it.  It was an act of kindness and generosity by them.

As I wrote in the Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe story, after I left FourTwoNine it went bankrupt and all its content was scrubbed from the internet.  I am repurposing some of the stories during my tenure in order for them to live on.  Below is an excerpt from the cover story in that premiere issue.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER: I’ve heard a lot about you.

ANDY COHEN: Yeah, you too.

SJP: I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.

AC: Yeah. I was a fan of Square Pegs.

SJP: And I was a fan of the CBS This Morning

AC: That’s where we “met cute,” as they say.

SJP: You mean when I was late for my segment? I think I was there to talk about UNICEF. I was atypically late, by the way.

AC: It was the only time in our long friendship that you have ever been late. But it was the first time, which means we “met cute.”

SJP: We “met cute” with potential repercussions because you might have decided that day that I was one of those types, and we would not have had these twenty years of friendship ever since.

AC: You were so apologetic. I don’t think you even got in the makeup chair beforehand. I think you literally rolled out of bed and came right into the studio.

SJP: Oh, those were the days. These days I would never be late because I would have been up at 3:30 a.m. spackling up. I bring in the whole hardware store now.

AC: Do you still work with UNICEF?

SJP: Yes. But I haven’t been doing as much lately as I should.

AC: Well, that’s because you and Angelina Jolie have had this huge rift, right?

SJP: Over UNICEF? No, not at all. What are you saying? I have nothing but admiration for Angelina.

AC: Just kidding. I’m such a shit-stirrer.

SJP: Well, are you? Let’s see…

AC: I think I try to be provocative.

SJP: Do you mean professionally or personally?

AC: Both. I will try to push it, don’t you think?

SJP: I think you do like to bring up potentially uncomfortable reminders and anything that will promote good conversation.

AC:  Like, “You two slept together, right?”

SJP: Funny that you should end up a talk-show host.

AC: Exactly. It’s kind of an apex.

SJP: Maybe it’s my love for you that makes me blind to your intentions, but I don’t think you do it in a mean-spirited way or in a hope to sever friendships.

AC: Never. I have a hard time being mean to people, actually, but I do have my frustrations that have led to boycotts.

SJP: But not over anything political.

AC: No, boycotts in our neighborhood. We live in the same neighborhood. There is a bodega that does not carry honey, even though they serve tea. Every time I went in there, I asked if I could have some honey with my tea just to see what they would say. They’d go, “No! No honey!  No!” So I slapped a boycott on them. I was the pioneer of boycotting in our neighborhood.

SJP: Yes, you were the Cesar Chavez of the West Village bodega boycott. I boycotted one bakery that I didn’t actually like very much, which has since closed.

AC: Oh my God. I remember that. You actually went nuts on that person. Didn’t you get into a screaming match?

SJP: Yeah. We had a fight. It was right after George Bush had won his first term. Little George. George #43. As anyone can recall, it was an ugly election. This bakery was located in the heart of the West Village and had been there for many years. It may have been there for maybe thirty years, and it has only recently closed in the last six months. I made a point to take a picture of that “Closed” sign, in fact, and send it to everyone. But back then, there was a picture behind the cash register of George Bush—like a Kinko’s copy of his face. It was prominently placed there so you had to look at him if you were giving them your money. They had written under his picture, “Who’s your daddy now?” It was so hostile. I just couldn’t help myself. I got into it with the woman behind the register. And she started screaming at me. I screamed right back. The screaming lasted all the way down the aisle of that pastry shop and out the door. It was never a great bakery. That’s what I really wanted to say to them.

AC: That could have almost been a scene out of Sex and the City. Did you read the recent New Yorker piece about the legacy of that show?

SJP: I did, yeah.

AC:  Basically, the piece said that Sex and the City didn’t get enough recognition. Everyone writes these million-word articles about The Sopranos, but the truth of the matter is Sex and the City was such a formative series and meant so much. I was wondering what you thought about it.  Emily Nussbaum wrote it.

SJP: A bunch of people emailed me about it, and I didn’t know what they were talking about at first. Then, I figured it out and read it. Emily is really so smart. I’ve spent a lot of time with her in the past. I really liked it. It was an academic exercise, in some ways, rather than just her own emotional connection to the show and the characters. And it cleared up some misconceptions.  We were actually the first show on HBO that made the network a Sunday-night destination as well as introducing a female audience to what had been up to that point a male dominated network. And in truth the show was a great success.  But typically, female-oriented shows don’t get that kind of credit. I have read almost nothing about the show over the years. So it was interesting to me that she wrote about having to defend it to all the people who didn’t like it. That kind of shocked me. I was like, “People didn’t like the show?  People had strong reactions? There was negativity? What?” So for a minute my head was swimming around. But I thought it was really well written, and I was glad somebody else was saying it so I never have to. If it comes up in conversation, I can just pull out the article and say, “You can read this and get back to me with any further questions.”

AC: Do you have a favorite outfit you wore as Carrie Bradshaw?

SJP: There was one in the second movie that was one of my favorites. It was a skirt that was actually meant to be a foundation from a Zac Posen dress. I wore a vintage “J’ADORE DIOR”  T-shirt with it. But I have a bunch that I loved. 

AC: Where are they all? Do you still have them?

SJP: I have everything that wasn’t on loan. I have it all archived in a space in lower Manhattan.  And photographed and documented. So it’s hats, shoes, bras, underwear, skirts, dresses…

AC: Is it hundreds or thousands?

SJP: Oh, it’s thousands.

AC: You should do an exhibit. Would you ever if the time were right?

SJP: I’ve been asked to. A couple of universities have asked. Some New York museums have asked to do it. I’ve just not wanted to do it yet. But let’s talk about Andy. I want to talk about your mother. She plays such a huge role in your life—almost daily. And you write a lot about her in your memoir, Most Talkative.

AC: Here’s something you don’t know. I’m trying to turn her into a YouTube star. We just launched a Watch What Happens Live YouTube channel, and she’s doing segments which we tape on Skype, and then we edit. I think we’re calling it “How’s It Goin’, Evelyn Cohen?”

SJP: Does Lou make an appearance?

AC: Oh, by God. Lou! My mom is  full-blast. Her whole face is in the Skype screen, and Lou’s in the background. They’re in their apartment “up there.” They live in a high-rise, and they call it “up there.” “It’s raining up here. You have no idea what the clouds are doing!” One of the pieces is her disdain for me asking everyone if they’re “down with the swirl.” It took four years for Lou to turn to her and say, “What does ‘the swirl’ mean?”

SJP: What does “down with the swirl” mean?

AC: It means, would you date or do you date a black person?

SJP: Ooooooh…swirl. And you ask guests on your show that? 

AC: I’ve asked many guests. Yes.

SJP: How have I missed that?

AC: It’s my favorite viewer question. Viewers like to know. But I mean, what person is going to say, “No, I don’t date black people.” Can you imagine someone actually saying “Nooooooo!”

SJP: Well, I mean, couldn’t someone just say, “I haven’t up to this point, but I would”?

AC: Evelyn also has a whole section about crotches, too, and how I talk too much about crotches on my show. And we play far too many games about crotches. You know, “Andy Loves Crotchy.”

SJP: I love that game, though.

AC: Or “The Deadliest Crotch.”

SJP: I haven’t seen that one.

AC: I played that one with Sarah Silverman. It was very funny. We smashed things into her crotch. You know, you were on my first show. You called in. Talk about a good friend.

SJP: You just celebrated how many shows?

AC: It’s been four years. Four-hundred-and-something episodes.

SJP: I remember so well when you first started. You told me that Bravo wanted you to write this blog. And you would read your blog to me.

AC: I would? How embarrassing. But even before my blogging we had our little club. That was amazing.

SJP and AC (together): The Nitwits!

AC: We will never be able to go back to that time again.

SJP: No. We never can.

AC: It was when you were doing Sex and the City. It was me, you, John Benjamin Hickey, Joe Mantello …

SJP: Matthew Broderick, Amy Sedaris…

AC: Was K-Jo [Kristen Johnston] in it? Had she moved back to New York yet?

SJP: She was in it.

AC: I had a newsletter that was kind of like having a blog before there were really blogs.

SJP: You were the secretary. No, you were the president!

AC: I was the president, and Matthew was my deputy—or, as we called him, my “dep-booty.” I used to write our newsletter. I still have them all somewhere. I would write my news about everybody and send it to the group. It was full of gossip about us.

SJP: It was a circular.

AC: It was celebratory, too, about what each person had going in his or her life.

SJP: Little achievements and big ones.

AC: I called you “The Charles Street Chatty Lady.”

SJP: We would meet at different people’s houses.

AC: And we would eat and drink lots of red wine and smoke a lot of cigarettes—which kind of brings me to Housewives. Do you want to talk about Housewives? Because I know that you do think about it. You watch almost all of them. I want to know—philosophically—what the show gives you.

SJP: I feel conflicted even talking about it publicly. 

AC: I know. But we’ve talked about it before, so it’s fine. We’ve broken that hymen, though I’ve never really actually broken one.

SJP: Never? What do you mean, exactly?

AC: I’ve never had penetration with a woman.

SJP: Didn’t you once tell me that in college you dated one and kind of kissed her or something?

AC: Yeah, I dated a few girls. I did oral on a girl once. But that’s not penetration. I’m a virgin with women. I’m a pureblood.

SJP: A pureblood?

AC: Yes. That’s called a pureblood. You will find that there are many gay men who are purebloods. And you know what that says to me? We always knew, sweetie. We always knew.  We didn’t want to be up in that business.

SJP: You didn’t choose. You knew. There’s a difference. It’s worth distinguishing that for people who think you can make a choice.

AC: Yes. But back to Housewives. I think you’re alternately completely horrified by it and disgusted by it, which I think is a lot of people’s reactions to it. The Real Housewives of Orange County is something that has always specifically attracted you, even though I know that maybe everybody on it aren’t people that you would want to be friends with or ever want to meet.

SJP: Right.

AC: So why do you watch it?

SJP: The simple answer is that it’s not unlike why I love watching House Hunters International.  At the end of a long day—with work and kids—it is an escape to something so different and so foreign to me. I am very curious by nature, and I’m always attracted to people who are as curious as I am, if not more so. Now the people on these shows are not curious. They are not introspective. There’s a level of surface that is stunning to me. It’s the way they live. It’s the way they look. It’s the way they choose to spend their time. It’s the way they choose to present themselves. It’s the conversations they are having. But it is also how ill equipped they seem to be for conflict and how nobody can simply say in a room, “You know, everything you’re saying really offends me. It’s not at all how it happened. I didn’t say that to mean this. You know that.  If you can’t see the nuance in that, I’m sorry.” But there is never a conversation that has anything to do with critical thinking. It’s like dialed-up Chihuahuas—the conversations, that is. I’m not suggesting the women are, but the level of hysteria is like watching dialed-up Chihuahuas. It’s just interesting to me. I can’t really explain it. I’m sometimes amused. I’m often shocked. I send you lots of emails about what happened and various people on the show and how awful the women are to each other and how unkind they are. Also, the language! I cannot believe the language the women use. I can’t believe the names they call each other.

AC: That’s funny. Sex and the City was the opposite of Housewives, yet when I think of some of the shit that Samantha would say on that show. But people who don’t know you don’t realize that you never curse. Although you have gotten a little salty in the last year. You’ll throw something out. But you’re really not a curser.

SJP: It’s not even that. I can’t understand their lives. I don’t understand how groomed they are and the similarity of them all. I would think that one of them would want to stand out in some way. Of course, there are a few exceptions. I keep looking at their clothing, and I keep wondering, where do they buy it? Let’s focus on Orange County, for instance. Is there a store they go to in Orange County? Because I’ve spent some time in Los Angeles, and I haven’t seen those clothes there.

AC: What’s something gay I can ask you about? Shouldn’t we talk about something gay?

SJP: I don’t even separate it anymore. I dated a gay person. But I didn’t know it at first. I thought, maybe. But yeah, he was gay. I really loved him. It was when I was doing Square Pegs. I was only seventeen or eighteen. 

AC: Is he still around?

SJP: No, he died of AIDS. He was one of the first people diagnosed. It was brutal. And it was awful. But I got to be with him to the very end. We dated about six months before I said to him, “Why aren’t you telling me something? Why aren’t you telling me that you’re gay?”

AC: Wow.

SJP: Yeah. It was a real showdown. 

AC: Were you having sex?

SJP: No. We didn’t have sex. Nor was I prepared to at that point in my life. But we were, you know, dating and kissing. After I confronted him, he said, “It’s really horribly scary in this town to be gay. And I really care about you. And I do want to spend time with you. But I didn’t know how to be who I am. There are a lot of people in this town who don’t let you be gay.” He was an actor. He was beautiful and very sweet. He was introduced to me by another actor on the show who was gay. He actually passed away in the same hospital in the same room in Sherman Oaks that another friend of mine did when he got AIDS and died early on. He wouldn’t talk about his sexual orientation either.

AC: God.

SJP: It seems like such a long time ago. So what’s it feeling like for you now with all your success, Andy? Is it everything you thought it would be? Is it better? Is it worse? Are you tired in different ways?

AC: I am tired in different ways. It’s never what you think it’s going to be. I think what’s been interesting about this is that, as we said, I was writing that Nitwits newsletter, and I have known a lot of famous people over the years in New York City, working at CBS and knowing all of you.  We were hanging out when you were the most famous person in New York City during your Sex and the City days. Your picture was in the paper almost every day. Seeing that and seeing how normal you were and how you were just you. You were in the middle of such an incredible cultural moment back then. But you were just completely present and in-your-person. I think all this stuff that has happened for me has been great because it happened so gradually and organically. I don’t feel crazily different. I just feel this is what is now. This is this phase of this moment. … You know, the funny thing about you is that you are such a prude, given that you were on a show about sex in New York City for six seasons. Yet sometimes we’ll be talking, and I’ll say, “I just have to tell you what just happened.”

SJP: I’m always delighted.

AC: Yes. You’ll always be open to it and delighted.

SJP: I’m always happy for you. But sometimes you and John Hickey and I will be having what we call one of our “Design for Living” nights, at which we are imagining ourselves to be Gilda and Otto and Leo, and you guys will be whispering, and I’ll ask, “What are you talking about?”  It will be something that clearly you didn’t want me to know.

AC: Right. Because it’s dirty talk.

SJP: Okay. So now I want to talk a little bit about money. Those of us who have known you for a long time and have loved you have watched that the financial part of your life, like you, has changed. You have money now. I mean, you’ve always made a living, and I’ve never been at a dinner with you before you were a big star that you couldn’t pay for your share. You’ve always had a home that suited you. You’ve never lived beyond your means. But having money now—does it make you feel different?

AC: My greatest luxury is travel and staying in great hotels. And clothes. Everybody knows I’m a clotheshorse. I love a nice suit. But our friend Barry Diller is always saying to me, “You’re cheap! You’re cheap!” My response is, “I’m not cheap. I’m thrifty.” I’ve always been thrifty.  I’ve always been conscious of the value of a dollar. Even though I didn’t want for anything growing up, my family raised me with those values. “Don’t eat too many lox. Save some for tomorrow.”

  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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