The “Man Up!” Interview with Kam Williams
Born in Mount Vernon, Washington on September 24, 1979, Ross Mathews has traveled the world and established himself as one of the most in-demand television correspondents in the pop-culture arena today. Endearing and witty, undeniably funny and one of the hardest working people in show business, Ross has won the hearts of millions of Americans since his television debut as Ross the Intern on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
He can be seen as a regular panelist and occasional guest host on E!’s late-night talk show “Chelsea Lately,” and is a ﬁxture on the E! Network’s live red carpet awards show coverage. While working on a variety of projects Mathews continues duties on “The Tonight Show.”
In 2009, he hosted and executive produced a daily web talk show for The Insider and CBS.com called “Inside Dish with Ross Mathews,” a show about covering Hollywood from the outside in. “Inside Dish” eventually became the official web show for the CBS hits “Big Brother” and “The Amazing Race.”
In 2011, he began a national college tour speaking about his experiences climbing the Hollywood ladder and discussing his humorous take on pop culture. Many of his tour dates were documented on E! News’ political series, “Pop & Politics.”
Leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election, Ross served as the official political reporter for E! News. He covered both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where he interviewed such leading political figures as First Lady Michelle Obama, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former Republican Presidential nominee John McCain.
Ross recently released his first book, “Man Up: Tales of My Self Delusional Self-Confidence.” Featuring an introduction written by Gwyneth Paltrow, and afterword from Chelsea Handler, the memoir takes readers inside Mathews’ personal journey as a super fan, revealing the most embarrassing and hilarious moments of his small town life and big city adventures, and explains how he managed to turn an obsession with pop culture into one-on-one interactions with A-list celebrities.
Ross lives in Los Angeles with his partner Salvador, and their two rescue dogs, Louise and Mijo. When not working, he’s is a strong supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, speaking at many of its events, and receiving its Visibility Award in 2011. Here, he talks about his career, his autobiography, and the TV talk show he’ll be hosting in the fall on E! called “Hello Ross.”
Kam Williams: Hi Ross, thanks for the interview.
Ross Mathews: It’s great to talk to you, Kam.
KW: First, I want to let you know I was both thoroughly entertained by “Man Up!” and very moved by its self-empowerment theme. It’s a book I really savored and read slowly because it had substance and was thoroughly enjoyable.
RM: That makes me so happy I can’t even tell you. I can’t tell you how much I like hearing that, because it was a calculated decision to write the book which I took it very seriously. It wouldn’t be worth my while to just publish a trashy, bitchy, red carpet celebrity tell-all. I wanted my kids to be able to read it someday, and have them go, “Hey, that was pretty cool.”
KW: It was hilarious where you talked about interviewing celebrities on the red carpet, but it was also truly touching when you revisit the challenges you overcame in childhood and the support you received from your mother when you decided to come out. It gave me goose bumps.
RM: I’m going to call my mom and tell her you said that. She’ll love it!
KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier asks: What message do you want people to take away from your new book?
RM: The book is really funny, but it does have a message. I wanted to make sure the readers did take something away from it. I define “Man Up!” as celebrating what you are. So many people waste time hating what makes them different. But if you are really willing to own what makes you unique, then good things can happen. That would be the message I want them to come away with.
KW: Patricia also says: You have tried several different aspects of the entertainment business. Is there another you would like to try in the future? How about directing?
RM: I just did this tour playing theaters all by myself, which was really scary, but I ended up loving it. I always thought I was only good at a couple things and felt it was best to play it safe by staying in my wheelhouse. However, this tour challenged me in a way I kinda’ enjoyed, so you never know. Every Oprah has her Color Purple.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles says: Ross, it’s possible that, at first, most of your fans were laughing at you. But your “stick-to-it”-iveness eventually had them laughing with you. Good show! What are your plans to transition from Leno?
RM: I knew what I was, kind of like a high-pitched, gay cartoon with a Middle American TV audience. So, I had to get them to laugh with me by the end. In the early days, that was a struggle every piece. It was stressful, because I never knew whether I was going to get another assignment. But they did, and I’ve been doing Leno for twelve years, and I’ve developed a great relationship with the E! Network where I’ll be doing my new talk show produced by Chelsea Handler. It’s going to hit the airwaves in the Fall.
KW: Congratulations! What’s the show’s format?
RM: Yeah, it’s really cool. There are so many shows that look at Pop Culture and tear it down, saying, “Isn’t that lame?”“He’s stupid! or “She’s stupid!” But I love pop culture. I want to create a place that’s interactive where we can talk it out. It’s about the fans. When I have Gwyneth Paltrow on my show, I’ll interview her first, then go into the audience and let them ask her questions. I envision it as a place where Pop Culture and fans can come together.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
RM: Omigosh! What are you wearing.
KW: Okay, what are you wearing?
RM: [LOL] Pajamas. I’m in a hotel room in Chicago.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
RM: I’ve never thought about it, but no. In my experience, I always just leapt, and felt, “What happens, happens. I’ll be fine.” I do see fear in a lot of friends and in people who email me or tweet me. I don’t think fear ever really factors in with successful people. They just take the leap. I might feel fear over things I couldn’t control, like health, or in the middle of a disaster.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
RM: Yes, very happy.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
RM: I’m traveling with my partner of five years, Salvador, and we laugh constantly. We shared a good laugh in the elevator last night after I did an impression of someone.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
RM: Happy hour and an early bedtime.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
RM: “Then Again” by Diane Keaton . It was really good.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
RM: “Whistle” by Flo Rida. It’s the ringtone on my cell phone.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
RM: Nana’s Potatoes.
KW: Oh, yeah, the dish you cook every Thanksgiving with Corn Flakes on top. You share the recipe for it in the book.
RM: It sounds so trashy, but it’s my “go to” dish. It’s soooooo good!
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
RM: I’m obsessed with her show “Scandal.” I would be one of my dogs. They eat better than I eat... they have more clothes than I have… and go to the doctor more than I do.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
RM: Achievement… Success... Crossing something off my life wish list.
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
RM: Here’s the thing. People think I’m a super-fashionista because I do E! and tell it like it is when I’m on the red carpet. But in real life, I’m content wearing slip-on shoes and a zip-up hoodie or a windbreaker. And I love a bargain.
KW: The Mike Pittman question: What was your best career decision?
RM: To just be myself the first time Jay Leno asked me to go out and cover an event. To take that risk and do it my way, a way no one had ever done it before.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
RM: A double chin.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
RM: Selfishly, to have my dad back. But, if it weren’t just for me, I’d like to eliminate poverty.
KW: The Jamie Foxx question: If you only had 24 hours to live, what would you do? Would you do the bad stuff, you never got a chance to do, or would you do good stuff to make sure you make it into heaven?
RM: I would go wherever mom was with my dogs and Salvador. And I would eat as much pizza as I could while watching Steel Magnolias. Pizza’s my favorite thing. But I rarely eat it, because I always feel horribly guilty afterwards.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
RM: Playing in the fields behind my house with my brother at about 4 or 5. I also remember being tricked by my brother one New Year’s Eve, when my dad brought home a stuffed animal for us to share. My brother offered to let me play with it “until next year.” Then he took it back the very next day, saying, “Okay, it’s a new year, so now it’s mine.”
KW: The Anthony Mackie question: Isthere something that you promised to do if you became famous, that you still haven’t done yet?
RM: I promised myself that I’d host an award show. I haven’t done that yet.
KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question:How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
RM: My first big heartbreak was right after college. It really hurt and toughened me up so that everything after that seemed more doable. So, it sort of gave me some calluses on my heart.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person you pretend to be on the red carpet?
RM: Funny! For me it’s all the same. It’s different for actors and actresses, because they have to have a certain air of glamour about them. My whole thing is that I’m a liaison for the fans, and if I pretended to be someone different, it would never work.
KW: The Anthony Anderson question: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
RM: A reverse-calorie superpower that would enable me to make fattening foods healthy.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
RM: If you’re going to be successful, you’re going to be successful. Successful people don’t let anything get in their way. A square peg fits perfectly into a round hole for them.
KW: The Gabby Douglas question: If you had to choose another profession, what would that be?
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
RM: Anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps should consider looking somewhere else, because my story was so unique. Most people who come to Hollywood get headshots, find an agent and go to auditions. Being an intern and getting plucked like I was is so rare. It doesn’t really happen.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
RM: As someone who put something good out. That’s the whole reason I worked so hard on this book, and fought so hard to do it the way I did it. I wanted to plant a seed of positivity. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what it meant to be a successful, grown-up gay person, because I didn’t see it. The role models weren’t on TV for me back then. So, I would hope that I am sort of setting an example, and not just for gays. My message is a universal one of self-acceptance. Whatever you are, you need to love it
KW: Thanks again for the time, Ross, and best of luck with the book, the talk show and everything else.
RM: Thank you so much, Kam, for the fun interview.
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