A trailblazer in the LGBT community who "Straight Talks" his way into the left-of-center mainstream.
I have always been a fan of Ross Mathews.
Believe it or not he is one of those LGBT trailblazers whose changed television for all of us; in a small way at first, then went on to become one of the most recognized faces in entertainment.
That’s no small feat, considering he began his career on a network television talk-show at a time when the late-night demographic was older, heterosexual males.
Back in the days when Jay Leno was host of The Tonight Show, Ross unabashedly projected himself inside television sets and Nielsen ratings the world over.
He was the gay intern people watched when they turned-in.
There was no mention of his sexuality (maybe that was a part of the bit) on the Tonight Show, but a lot of us viewers could recognize a part of him that we all knew. He was subtly flamboyant, cut with clever, and served as a pseudo-straight man to snuggling couples the world over.
But Ross tells me most of the time he didn’t feel awkward about it, in fact the energy and pace that drove him to continue in the business originated from the warm spot he left in front of his own childhood TV set.
“I grew up in a small town in Washington State,” he tells me over the phone, “and I couldn’t point at TV and say ‘look that’s what I can grow up to be, openly gay, proud, successful, happy, one-hundred percent myself. There was no one to point at and do that. And so that has always kind of driven me to be that for gay kids all over.”
Ross acknowledges that the landscape of television was far different for the gay community when he started The Tonight Show back in 2001. With “Will and Grace” trying to pitch a niche-u-ation comedy, being an out-television host was grouped with the things you don’t want to do in Hollywood. And Logo Channel was someone else's dream at that time.
“It was quite a shock to see someone like me so unapologetically open on TV and I knew that at the beginning that people would probably be laughing at me, and my goal was to get them to laugh with me by the end,” Ross says. “And to the credit of Jay Leno and the producers, they always empowered me to do that. And it worked. It was a risk for them, but my segments always rated which is why I was on that show until Jay Leno retired. I was a correspondent for the Tonight Show for fourteen years.”
When you talk to Ross you get the sense that he is motivated by trying to foresee what the audience wants. This can be somewhat restrictive while hosting a morning talk show everyday on the Hollywood Today Live couch. But then again, his path to stardom is no surprise to him.
“I’m the only one who thought it -- but yes, I always knew,” he said semi-seriously.
His mind is an open-ended storage unit of ideas, a thought bubble of light bulbs that could illuminate Broadway during a blackout.
Creating his own podcast seemed to be the natural order of things; it gives him the freedom to ignite his cognitions, undimmed by the wattage of the FCC.
Called Straight Talk -- Ross named his podcast after the underrated 1992 movie of the same name starring Dolly Parton—he gets to be completely Ross. It incorporates his genuine, mischievous self into a show filled with the brighter bulbs flashing in his head at any given time.
“The podcast for me – of course we talk about pop culture, we get to interview the biggest stars in the world, but what I love about it too is…podcasts are so personal so I wanted to be able to interact with the audience,” he explains. “Something you should know about me is that I have opinions on everything. So I thought let’s make the podcast. Let’s give me the opportunity to be the gay best friend that people wish they had and knew they needed. So people can call in, or write in for advice and I give it to them straight. Sometimes you need a best friend to slap you in the face. And that’s what we do on the show.”
Not only is “Straight Talk” a product of Ross’ gAy-D-D, he also takes that energy with him into a business ethic; he is an architect of pillared ideas that stack upon one another like a solid game of Jenga, and when it doesn't topple, “That’s my contribution today. I made that,” he laughs.
He's the urban planner of fun, always ready to populate his little parcel with things people want.
“Even if I was on a desert Island I would just be building little huts in case people moved into the neighborhood,” he laughs. “But that is what we gays do, we make gayborhoods nicer.”
Yet, the community he has built over the airwaves has become overly populated and appreciative of his efforts. People like Ross can maneuver their ideas like the bus in Speed through any obstacles that get in their way and still save almost everyone with time to spare.
His relationship hasn’t suffered either, even though they both have busy careers.
“I get a lot done by four in the afternoon so Salvador and I we have a lot of time just to hang out,” he says. “Like today, we’re going to do Happy Hour. We’re gonna go away to Puerto Vallarta before Christmas. So we make sure we have some time together.”
Ross is bringing his podcast “Straight Talk” to San Diego on December 10, with many activities scheduled through the 11th.
He says his “Straight Talkers” will descend upon San Diego from all over the country, the world.
“When we did this Palm Springs, we had people from Colorado, Montana, Minneapolis, Canada, people come from all over the place,” he says. “Someone’s even coming from Australia. This is an opportunity for ‘Straight Talkers’ and people who may not be familiar with the show. Maybe people who know who I am to come together and have a great time.”
He might be the most excited about one guest in particular; a foreseer of destiny.
“I love psychics, really good psychics and James Von Praagh is one of the best psychics in the whole entire world. He’s a San Diego native. He’s going to be there. I’ll be interviewing him; he’ll be doing a live reading for people who want to come to Urban Mo’s and it’s all free by the way.”
All of the activities, including a Gossip Grill "Bitchy Bingo" session, and brunch at the Hotel Coronado are at low cost or even free. Any proceeds coming from his appearances will go to Lucky Pup Dog Rescue and The Make a Wish Foundation.
“I’m not making any money, this is all about just getting together and raising money for charity this time of the year.”
From the hallowed halls of the NBC studios as an intern, to a talk show host who chats with the world's biggest celebrities, I discovered a few things about Ross Mathews during our conversation:
He is modest about how much he changed the landscape for future LGBT talk show hosts. He incorporates his thoughts into working ideas to great success and he's never at a loss for words.
I expressed to him at the close of our interview that it was hard for me to believe he comes up with all of these bright ideas himself.
“Yes! I do," he laughs. "I just can’t turn it off."
Details about Ross' San Diego appearances:
Saturday, December 10th, 2016 – 1 pm Straight Talk with Ross Mathews live podcast taping at Urban Mo’s Bar & Grill. Doors open at noon, admission is free and there will be $2 Mimosa specials.
Urban Mo’s Bar & Grill is located at 308 University Ave. San Diego, CA 92103.
Sunday brunch at Crown Room at the Hotel Del is on Sunday, December 11, from 11 am to 2 pm. Pricing for adults is $93.00++. Reserve your space via phone at (619) 522 - 8490.
The Crown Room at the Hotel Del is located at 1500 Orange Ave. Coronado, CA 92118. 2 pm:
Celebrate Sunday Funday with Ross Mathews at Gossip Grill for Bitchy Bingo. Bingo boards will be $3 per board or 2 for $5. The bingo will be benefiting Lucky Pup Dog Rescue.
Gossip Grill is located at 1220 University Avenue San Diego, CA 92103.
This weekend has been made possible by Dangilo Bonilla of Bollotta Entertainment, The Hotel Del Coronado, Urban Mo’s Bar & Grill and Gossip Grill.
Bollotta Entertainment is an award-winning event entertainment booking and production company specializing in corporate, private and association events. As a licensed, bonded and insured talent agency, San Diego