Anderson Cooper is no stranger to South Florida. As one of the best-known TV news reporters in the 21st Century, he traveled here many times to cover the region's abundance of headline-making stories, from hurricanes to mass shootings. But when he arrives with TV host Andy Cohen this weekend, it will be for an uncommon reason: to let loose and have fun.
The pair will host AC2: An Intimate Evening With Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, a speaking tour that's billed as uncensored, unscripted, and unforgettable. They’ll share drinks and conversation with guests Saturday night at the Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
For Cooper, it's a welcome change of pace and tone.
If an enormous tragedy strikes somewhere around the country or the world, Anderson Cooper will probably be there to report it — to witness the most painful moments of people’s lives and share it with the rest of us. Then he moves on to the next tragedy. And the next. It's perhaps why he considers himself not a pessimist but a "catastrophist."
“It’s funny. My mom, who passed away in June, she was the most optimistic person I’ve ever met," Cooper says. "She always believed the next great love was right around the corner — the phone can ring and your whole life can change."
His mom, the fashion icon and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, died of stomach cancer June 17. She was 95.
Cooper says he did not inherit her sunny disposition.
"I want to prepare myself for the next catastrophe that I believe is looming somewhere in the future," he says.
Still, he says, it isn't difficult to find inspiration in tragedy — when, say, neighbors and strangers unite to help one another.
Although his mother, his beacon of optimism, is gone, Cooper says he is not without wellsprings of positivity and personal inspiration.
"Andy is incredibly optimistic and happy," he says, "and I’m sort of trying to adopt more of his way of seeing things."
It's easy to see Cohen, who hosts Watch What Happens Live on Bravo, as playing the romantic to Cooper's stern realist. And in some ways, the stereotype plays true. Cooper handles travel arrangements, for example, while Cohen decides their social schedule. But Cooper says people are often surprised to learn that minus the heavy-hitting news and the constraints of his role as an anchor, he can be quite relaxed.
“Andy always says that the biggest surprise of the show is people come away surprised at how kind of funny and loose I am when they see us together,” Cooper says.
The two have been friends for 25 years, long before they began cohosting CNN’s New Year’s Eve Live. And they’ve toured together for several years. The more Cooper revealed, the more it seemed this tour, this friendship, and connecting with people on a more human level is how he preserves and fuels the liveliest parts of himself.
Cooper worries about his risk of becoming desensitized. On the New York Times' podcast The Daily ahead of this month's Democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio, Cooper told host Michael Barbaro: "I don’t actually get nervous because I’m sort of dead inside."
The remark struck some listeners as sad though unsurprising: "Dead inside" is how he's been described in many a tweet dating back nearly a decade.
"Anderson Cooper looks more and more dead inside every time I see him on tv and I honestly feel for him," one fan, @priyaaaaa_k, tweeted.
On the podcast, Cooper sort of laughed it off, blaming his WASP birthright, but he sounded only half-joking.
“It’s something that I think about all the time," Cooper says.
He recalls an image a photographer in Rwanda took of him as he snapped a shot of a dead body while covering the genocide in 1994. The back was inscribed: “This is for when you become famous.”
“I realized in that moment, I wasn’t thinking about those people who had died and who had been laying out in the sun, hacked to death, for probably two weeks," Cooper says. "I wasn’t thinking about them as a mother and a child. I didn’t know their names. I didn’t know anything about them, just viewing them as bodies."
He keeps the photo on his wall at work.
“If you are viewing [people's stories] with a jaundiced eye because you’ve seen so much, you have no business really being there,” Cooper says. “You can’t come to a place where you’re no longer outraged or horrified or angry. When you get to a place where you’re not feeling anything, it’s time to figure out another line of work.”
Travel has been a mainstay in Cooper's reporting.
Growing up, he recalls, he was a smug teenager in a private school that wasn’t terribly diverse, and it wasn’t until he traveled and saw parts of the world unlike his own that he began to check his privileges and awoke to the reality of life outside of his bubble. That awakening, he says, led him to the work he does — work that has earned him five Emmy Awards for Anderson Cooper 360 as well as critical praise for his reporting for CNN and as a correspondent on 60 Minutes.
“I believe in focusing attention on marginalized communities all over the world," Cooper says. "And whether it’s conflicts that haven’t been looked at closely or people’s whose voices have been silenced or whose voices have been ignored, for me as a reporter, that is the thing I feel most drawn to do.”
Recently, the Trump presidency and the Democratic primary race have spurred Cooper to turn his focus to issues closer to home.
Just this month, he hosted CNN's Equality Town Hall for the Democratic presidential candidates. The event was interrupted by protesters who were critical of the news network and the media in general for not covering trans issues, particularly the killings and suicides in the community. Onstage with Pete Buttigieg, as the South Bend mayor waited to respond to a question, Cooper opted to stay in the moment. Rather than waving away those who were shouting and marching signs toward the stage, he halted the town hall to applaud their efforts to raise awareness, noting the gay community's storied history of protest. Both Cooper and Buttigieg are openly gay.
"They are absolutely right to be angry and upset at the lack of attention, particularly in the media," he said to the audience attending the event in Los Angeles.
Cooper argues he's not an advocate for any political position but an advocate for letting people’s stories be told and heard. “It’s not giving them a voice," he tells New Times. "It’s giving them a chance to have their voice heard.”
As a journalist, he continues to try to find ways to remain sensitive and responsible to the public he serves. As a human, he’s navigating the complexities and contradictions that exist within all of us. That is to say, Anderson Cooper is still a work in progress.
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His tour with Cohen helps him with the balancing act. People who usually see him only on TV and phone screens — tight-lipped and cold behind his stern black-framed eyeglasses — get to see a side of him altogether unfamiliar, one that is not cloaked in studied neutrality, but one that is lighthearted, carefree, and uninhibited.
“It’s the version of ourselves that our friends see,” Cooper says.
“I’m with someone I really love and care for, one of my best friends," he says. "And making people laugh, what could be more joyful than that?”
AC2: An Intimate Evening with Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen. 8 p.m. Saturday, November 2, at Au-Rene Theater at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets start at $68.22 via ticketmaster.com.