Ross Mathews, the bubbly former intern from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and current regular panelist on Chelsea Lately, arrives in Minneapolis September 10th to receive a Visibility Award at the Human Rights Campaign’s 2011 Annual Twin Cities Gala Dinner. I chatted with Ross recently about his upcoming trip to Minneapolis and his ground-breaking television career.
You’re coming to Minneapolis!
I can’t wait. I was there for Pride last summer and I just fell in love with the place. I’m thrilled because I’ve traveled all over the country for years with HRC hosting dinners for them. I love what they do and I’m friends with Joe Solmonese and his partner. I’ve been on Leno now for ten years and on Chelsea for I don’t know how many years and this is an award they give people who are in the national public eye; celebrating LGBT issues and being a positive role model. I’ve seen so many other people get this award and I can’t believe they’re giving it to me! I’m so thrilled.
Why do you think visibility is so important for our community?
Oh my gosh, it’s like crazy, super, big time important! I grew up in a teeny farm town in Mount Vernon, Washington, and I was a little gay kid and I didn’t know what it meant to grow up to be a big gay grown-up. I didn’t know any gay people and back then I didn’t see any gay people on TV. I didn’t learn until I went to college that I could be a totally happy grown up, loud, proud, out gay person. It’s a different world now, in part, not to toot my tooter, partly because people like me are on TV, out, loud and proud for a decade now.
Has the way people react to you on TV changed over the last ten years?
I think it absolutely has changed. When I first started on Leno it was like a big W-T-F kinda thing, but now on Chelsea it’s so celebrated. It’s not only accepted, it’s celebrated. And that’s changed. It’s different.
Have you been able to share more of your genuine self as opposed to the character of Ross the Intern?
I don’t think I was ever really a character as Ross the Intern. That was a kid who was still in college getting a shot to be on national television and interview the biggest stars in the world. That kind of excitement level was authentic, it wasn’t anything that I was putting on. And still, when I do that today, I don’t put anything on. It really is my genuine self. I have been able to evolve over the past decade and I think I’ve really broken some ground too doing it. What I love doing on Chelsea’s show is, you know, Chelsea doesn’t edit anything. She doesn’t want to know what I have to say until we’re on stage. There are no rehearsals. It’s just sort of like, Ross, bring your “A” game and bring your point of view and let’s go. I love that. It’s such a challenge.
What allows you to bring your “A” game?
I have an incredible support system in my life. I have the best friends and all my friends are people who, the majority I made in middle school and high school and I’m still totally B-F-Fs with. I have a partner. We’ve been together almost three years and have a really solid home life with two dogs. I garden. I think it’s so important to have that stable family life and that comes from growing up with real people in a real town and not being like a Hollywood kid. To me, it’s so important to have a stable home. If you don’t have that, I don’t think you can go and and fly as high you want to.
Do you have a message other than your own experiences that you’re going to share with Minneapolis?
I’m writing a book right now, sort of about my experiences, thus far, in life. Growing up in a small town and then navigating Hollywood. The theme that’s been running through that is something I talk about on Chelsea a lot; what I’ve coined as “man-up.” I think I always try to man-up. What I mean by that is, understanding you are what you are and you’re going to have your flaws, but rather than heaping a lot of negativity on whatever makes you different or whatever makes you unique, really shine the light on that and use it to make you stand out, I think that’s just something innately that I’ve done my entire life, totally on accident. I probably owe it to my mother, because she was effusive with her compliments, even when they were undeserved. I would love to spread that message. Like, come on, life is short you gotta love yourself. Get over it and let’s keep movin’ on to make a difference in the world.