With his Ross the Intern gig on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, numerous appearances (both hosting and at the comedians’ roundtable) on Chelsea Lately and his new E! talk show Hello Ross!, Ross Mathews has been making America laugh for more than a decade now—and he’s been doing it all while being unapologetically out and proud.
And that’s exactly why the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada is honoring Mathews with its first-ever Qmmunity Advocate Award—for his devotion to, and being a great representative of, the LGBT community.
Before Mathews heads to the Center’s Honorarium gala Saturday to accept the award, we sat down with the funny man to talk about his thoughts on the honor, his new talk show and why he’s extremely excited for Brit-Brit’s anticipated Vegas residency.
Do you come to Vegas a lot? I don’t come nearly enough, because and especially because when I come it’s always for work. I never really come for the reason people go to Vegas, which is to get away and have fun—which is exactly what I’m going to be doing this weekend! My partner is coming with me, people on my staff are coming with me, and we’re just going to get to know the city. Usually I’m in and out; it’s for work. But this is a big splurge for us (laughs).
What are you excited to experience? We really want to go to a show, we really want to go to nice dinners; I know the shopping is amazing and the food is amazing. We have nothing planned yet but … I’m going to go to Vegas.com and pick what I’m going to do [and] plan it. If you have any suggestions let me know!
You’re in town to accept the Qmmunity Advocate Award from the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. What does it mean to you to receive an award like this? Well, it’s big time for me … I’ve been on TV now for 12 years and I’ve been out and unapologetically proud of who I am. And I think 12 years ago the landscape of television was very different, and I think … for LGBT people, we weren’t represented like we’re represented now. And I remember being a kid growing up not knowing what it meant to be a happy, grown-up, successful, openly gay person ’cause I never saw that … I never once apologized for who I am. In fact, I’ve been proud of it, on national television, for so long. It’s nice that people noticed.
It’s National Coming Out Day today. How did you come out? You hear horror stories, and unfortunately those horror stories are true about people whose families stop loving them. And I, too, was, like, worried at that moment. Like, could they? Could they react that way? And I remember saying, “Mom, I’m gay,” and thinking, “Oh gosh, what is she going to say back?” And she said, “I know, didn’t you already tell me?” She goes, “Oh sh*t, I’ve known since you were 3. I don’t give a sh*t, I love you” (laughs).
Were you affected by bullying? Did you turn to comedy as a coping mechanism? Well, I think everybody does experience mean kids, and I did, of course. I just used what I had, which was a couple things. I had friends in every sort of demographic in high school, and so if someone on the wrestling team was giving me sh*t, I had a friend on the wrestling team, and the football team … and then I also did have this weapon, which was this comedy. So if someone was horrible to me, I mean, I could just chop their dick off with a joke. You know what I mean? (laughs) To use an expression. But it’s like, “I’ve got this. Don’t worry, you can’t touch this.” And that really protected me.
You’re an inspiration to a lot of young LGBT people, being so out and proud of who you are. Do you think it’s important for LGBT celebrities to come out publicly? I think it’s important for people to be them. I don’t want to tell people how they should speak their truth … My thought is always just do you 100 percent. I think once you come out there is a responsibility to speak to the community, to be a representative of the community—I take it very seriously. But I would never tell someone who’s closeted they owed it to us to come out; I think they just owe it to them to be them 100 percent. … I’m not in the business of making people come out if they’re not comfortable. Everyone’s on their own journey.
Hello Ross! debuted last month. Are you having the time of your life or what? It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. And the good news is, there are two really great things: One, it’s the talk show I always dreamed about. It’s all about the fans loving pop culture; everyone’s welcome at the show. And the other great thing is it’s working, it’s resonating. The viewership is humongous; we just got picked up for more episodes, so it’s clicking with people, they’re getting it, everyone’s having a great time. … The guests just keep getting better and better and better. It’s just really phenomenal; we’re having the absolute times of our lives.
Throughout your career you’ve had a number of mentors. Who is giving you advice for Hello Ross!? Jay Leno and Chelsea Handler have been really instrumental in sort of guiding me. You know, now they’ve given me use of their platform to sort of form a relationship with the audience, but behind the scenes they’ve both been instrumental in helping me develop a point of view and giving me tips of how to host a show. And Chelsea’s an executive producer on my show, so she’s really hands on. I’m really lucky. It’s like I have two of the best who are there, a phone call away, and they’re really good to me.
Until your show we’ve really only seen celebrity and pop culture-driven talk shows that disparage celebs, but yours goes against the grain and celebrates the celebrities. People like to smack talk a lot—do you think more people can identify with what you’re doing though? Well, here’s the deal: There are a lot of shows out there that tear down pop culture, and they’re funny. But what didn’t exist was a show that was driven by my authentic point of view, which is superfan. And I think even the people who talk sh*t about pop culture love it! We care. And Hello Ross! is a place I could say I love this stuff, you love this stuff, we care, let’s talk it out … If you look at TV it didn’t exist before. And now it does.
So Hello Ross! just got picked up for more episodes, but is there anything else you’re working on right now? Oh yes! Well, the show takes No. 1, but we’re just doing so much stuff … My book [Man Up!: Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence] was a bestseller, so we’re discussing doing a second book. I’m also creating some other shows. I want to start producing television that I would want to watch, too. I can’t host that many shows … But I have this vision of the kind of television I want to create and put out there, so now we’re starting a production company and we’re going to create TV.
You describe yourself as a “superfan” of many of the celebrities you’ve interviewed, but a lot of those celebrities have turned out to be huge fans of yours. What is that like? It’s never not weird. I kind of just compartmentalize it as Fantasy Land and then move on, because (laughs) it feels like it cannot be real. You know what I mean? Even with Gwyneth this week on the show, when she walked around the corner and came onto the set when I introduced her, it was like someone punched me in the gut. It was like this really can’t be happening. It was the dream. Since I was eight years old this was a dream. And then to see it really happen, all of it is so magnificently bizarre … It’s like Mister Rogers. Sometimes he went to the Land of Make Believe and then he came back to the real world. That’s what I feel like. I go to Make Believe at work and then I come back to the real world, and it’s like we’re here with the dogs and I pick up the poop and you know what I mean? That’s what it feels like.
For being a superfan, you’re such a pro when interviewing these celebrities – it feels like you’ve been friends for years. Where does that confidence come from? Well, I’m just naturally curious, and I’m good at like two and a half things—and hosting a talk show is one of them. … I love thinking about how to ask the questions to get the right answer. I love thinking about what answer have superfans never heard before. I love thinking about if we pluck somebody from the audience and got them to sit down here, what would they ask them? Because I want to get that answer for them. I feel like an elected delegate of the superfans, sitting here talking to these stars. And that’s how I interview.
Who is your dream celebrity interview? Have you already experienced it? Yes, I mean, I have. I’ve interviewed just about everybody—Gwyneth, Rosie, Oprah, Michelle Obama. But still, in terms of people I haven’t met and people I’d love to have on Hello Ross!, I’d love to have Lady Gaga on, just because her fans are so obsessed and I’d love to provide that sort of access to them. The same goes with Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift. I would love to have and I do love having people on the show whose fans are crazy, because there’s no other place where they’re going to get that kind of access to these stars.
I thought I’d get your opinion on a few pop culture-y items. What do you think about all this Miley drama? Listen, I actually really love Miley Cyrus, and my advice to her, and I said it, was … it’s like, okay, after the VMAs you’ve got people talking. Now just come out and sing to kind of like shut people up. And I think the video she made with Jimmy Fallon recently did that. I was really happy to hear she did this really kind of quirky but cool thing and also we got to hear her vocals. And it’s kind of like, all these people who are talking about this superficial stuff, it kind of shuts their mouths a little bit. I really do love Miley. I don’t love everything she did … But I really do love her.
Bruce and Kris Jenner just announced their separation. How do you feel about that? You know, we had Kris on the show last week, and we didn’t talk about that. Because our show isn’t where you want to go for the sad stuff. … Kris is a really great friend of mine, I know Bruce well, too, and I love them and I’m just glad they’re happy. And I think they said that in their press release, that they’re happy. I’m happy they’re happy. … These things happen.
Britney just announced a residency here in Vegas. Are you excited? Are you going to come see the show? Oh my God, let me tell you something – I’ve been there since day one. I mean, I remember buying the CD, …Baby One More Time. I was there and so I feel like we’re on this journey together and I will be there for her. I am invested.
The Center's Honorarium: A 20th Anniversary Celebration October 19, 5 p.m., $275-$375. The Cosmopolitan, thecenterlv.com.