As a kid, Andy Cohen went on a car trip to Florida with his cousins — a trip that became legendary in family lore.
As he recalls it, "I talked for two days straight." Using his sister's hairbrush as a microphone, "I did a constant play-by-play of the trip with no commercial breaks."
He sang out the mile markers, did the weather, "monitored goings-on in other cars … and interviewed the other passengers."
Perhaps his aunt overreacted at a restaurant just off the interstate in Georgia when she dumped a pitcher of iced tea over his head. Or perhaps not.
"OK, maybe she had asked me to shut up for the love of God once or twice before that," he admits. "But maybe she should've said it more like she meant it."
Cohen, 43, gleefully pokes fun at himself with that story and many more in his entertaining new memoir, "Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture." At the same time, he explores his incredible — but somehow seemingly inevitable — path from Biltmore Drive in Clayton to TV executive and talk show host.
Long before he graduated from Clayton High School in 1986, Cohen "had the gift of knowing I wanted to be in TV," he said recently from his office in New York at the Bravo cable network, where he supervises current development and talent and hosts his live show five nights a week.
As a kid, though, he didn't know exactly what he wanted to do in TV. Obsessed with everything from "I Love Lucy" and "All My Children" to "The CBS Evening News," he writes, "I just knew I wanted to Be There."
"Most Talkative," announced in August with a reported seven-figure advance, isn't a straight-line account of Cohen's life.
"My intention was to look back at my life thematically," he said. "It was sort of therapy, and my editor was my therapist."
So he begins with the day in 1987 when, as a 19-year-old student at Boston University, he showed up at the "All My Children" set to interview his idol, Susan Lucci. He had boldly exaggerated his credentials to get the interview, and his youthful persistence is a theme that recurs, along with Lucci, throughout the book.
"Some of the stuff I did …," Cohen said. "There were times when self-confidence — I'd call it blind self-confidence — somehow carried me through."
That was certainly true when he landed an internship at CBS News before his senior year at BU. He had worked on the assignment desk at KMOV (Channel 4) while still in high school and also interned at KMOX radio and United Press International Radio in London.
"I viewed the job at CBS as graduate school," Cohen said.
Irritated not to be assigned to the "Evening News," he landed at little-watched "CBS This Morning" but took to his duties, including running the "green room" where interview guests waited.
After graduation, Cohen returned to CBS, traveling extensively and setting up coverage of breaking news around the world. He then worked on "48 Hours," producing entertainment segments, before returning to morning TV as a senior producer on "The Early Show."
Burned out on news, he took a job at start-up cable network Trio, then segued to Bravo in 2005 after Trio folded. There, he rose behind the scenes, helping to put the "Real Housewives" franchise, "Top Chef" and other hits on the air before beginning a popular blog and being tapped to host on-air reunion specials.
His nightly show, "Watch What Happens Live" (10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday on Bravo), debuted in 2009 and went to five nights a week in January. It has developed a devoted cult following for its mix of guests, silliness, social interaction and cocktails.
Cohen had kept journals for much of his life, and the idea of writing a memoir was appealing though frightening.
"I submitted the proposal in June, 25 pages, single-spaced," he said. "These are stories I knew I had in my brain."
He wrote the book in just four months.
"It was a really intense four months," he said, noting that "I have two other jobs. Luckily, I had a good editor. I love to write, and I'm very deadline oriented. I locked myself up and did it."
Little Andy, readers learn, was a kid whose third-grade teacher made him write 'screaming causes cancer" 50 times and tape the paper to his desk. He was a kid who followed the cleaning lady around the house, talking her ear off. At Clayton High School (where he was kicked off the water polo team for talking during the coach's pep talk), he was named — of course — most talkative.
Knowing what to put in was easy. Knowing what to leave out was harder.
"In my blog, I learned where to draw the line," Cohen said. "I wanted it to be dishy but not mean. I'm a positive person, and a mean book isn't a book I wanted to write. I have a happy life, very fun, and that's the tone I wanted."
The book also allowed Cohen to deal with some low points in his life.
"There's funny stuff, but there's serious stuff, too," he said.
Chapters deal with his realizing he was gay, coming to terms with that, and then coming out and breaking the news to his parents.
"It's very personal, but it was such a big deal to me," he said. "I surprised myself with the level of detail I went into."
Cohen's parents, Lou and Evelyn Cohen, still live in Clayton, although no longer in their son's childhood home. They are among his biggest boosters, and Evelyn Cohen has even appeared on "Watch What Happens Live," once impersonating the network's "Real Housewives."
As he wrote, "I'd tell my parents nibbles," Cohen said. His sister Emily also was an early reader.
"I sent them the manuscript in early January, before it was totally locked, and asked if there were things that would embarrass them," he said. "My mom gave me a couple of notes. The only real moment we had was when I told her, 'You're the best character in the book,' and she said, 'I'm not a character.' But she is, a great character."
More challenging even than writing about his family was writing about Bravo.
"I put it off until last," he said. "I know some people will be buying it just to find out about the 'Housewives' and 'Top Chef,' but I didn't want to turn over the apple cart," Cohen said. "These are people I work with now."
The book features lots of embarrassing pictures of Cohen, many from the years in which he sported a ponytail. Digressions include a two-page spread of little Andy's letters home from Camp Nebagamon (1978-83) and a long chapter about an elaborate prank he and his best friend once played on his mother. He also shares the script of a "Saturday Night Live" spoof of a "Real Housewives" reunion, in which he played himself.
Not included are details, or even mentions, of many of Cohen's celebrity friends, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, and Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos.
Many of those friendships date to "CBS This Morning" days, and they are precious to Cohen, as are his connections to St. Louis. He still roots enthusiastically for the Cardinals and goes to games whenever he can, including one last weekend when he was home to host a National Council of Jewish Women fundraiser.
"When I tell people I grew up in St. Louis, their first reaction (is sometimes) 'Oh, I'm so sorry,'" Cohen writes. "Here's what: Apology not accepted — or needed. I loved growing up there."
The most fun Cohen had in writing the book was "making fun of myself," he said. "Some of this stuff is just crazy," including 'so many embarrassing moments."
An obvious question for someone who's clearly still "most talkative" is whether he'll ever get tired of talking about himself. After all, promoting a book requires a lot of that.
"Yes," Cohen said. "I already have. Even while I was writing, at one point, it became a huge challenge. I had a contract, but I was weighing this against who gives a darn."
With the book due out Tuesday, he's about to find out.
What • Cohen will read from his memoir, "Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture," and answer questions. Books will be available for purchase from Left Bank Books.
When • 7 p.m. today
Where • St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 South Lindbergh Boulevard
How much • Free
More info • slcl.org
'Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture'
A memoir by Andy Cohen
Published by Henry Holt, 273 pages, $25