The TV Personality is Just Getting Started
Written By: Charlotte Farrell
Photographed By: Andrea Domjan
Styled By: Neil Cohen
Grooming By: Brian Keller Hello Ross Mathews
In Hollywood, it’s rare to find a personality unfazed by the constant barrage of cameras and scrutiny. It’s even harder to keep your sense of humor when your job in the world of glitz and glam is to make people laugh. But once in a while, someone finds the magic equation that allows them to succeed in “showbiz” without losing their sparkle—or their humility. Ross Mathews is that someone, and with enough energy that could power the state of California on his smile alone, it’s hard to imagine that the dazzlingly confident man you see on your TV came from humble beginnings.
In Mount Vernon, WA, a young Ross could not be contained within the confines of the sleepy suburbs. “I grew up in a little farm town. I’m like a gay cartoon version of a human being, so it was a little different,” he said. Come 1998, he made the move south to Los Angeles, attending the University of La Verne before finding his break as Ross the Intern on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Since then, Ross’ star power has made him a trusted and beloved TV personality based on his positive disposition and genuine love for what he does. But even Ross can’t pigeonhole his official title. “My career is a little unorthodox. What am I? Am I a TV host? Am I a comedian? Am I an author?” he asked. “I want to be a little bit of all of it. I don’t think that you have to be in a box. I’d love to do something unexpected next. Is it a cooking show? A game show? Why is there a box for me? I’m not going to put myself in one, so we’ll see what happens!”
One project after another, the man is relentless in his ability to keep up with demand. He attributes his stamina to his involvement in theater, debate and journalism back in the day.
“There were certain things growing up that really taught me work ethic more than confidence. I mean, I was stupidly confident,” he said with a laugh. “I never worried about getting on stage in front of people, but what theater and debate and journalism taught me was a strong work ethic. I remember realizing that if you rehearse and you practice and you put in the work, you get the reward. I [thought] ‘Oh that’s how it works.’ I have called upon those skills in my life far more than I’ve called upon geometry or algebra.” In other words, Ross was destined to be in front of an audience rather than behind a desk, nine to five.
In discussing Ross’ impressive resume, he feels he shines brightest under the pressure of being in real-time. “My favorite thing is doing live television,” he explained. “I’m not good at ‘take two.’ I’m not good at faking it and that’s why I don’t do tours or stand up because I don’t like saying the same joke over and over again. I like the energy of live. I like embracing the mistakes.” He has an innate capacity for cleverness and quick-wittedness that brings out the best in people, be it with celebrities or the average Joe. It is difficult not to open up to Ross as though you have been friends for years. There are no false pretenses, no angles and no shrewdness. He described his sense of humor as harmless. “There’s never a victim at the end of my joke, and that’s by design because I’ve been the butt of people’s jokes before and it’s just mean. What if I made a joke about somebody and their grandma saw it? I wanna make sure grandma is gonna be okay,” he joked with sincerity.
Having seen that dark side of the industry, Ross never lets it burden his spirit. “I just struggle,” he sighed. “I just try, you know? It’s tough. It’s long hours. It’s a lot, and you try to balance it all and you are only as good as your last project. You’ve just gotta be in the fight. I don’t know how people get a big head in Hollywood because all you are is made humble every day. You’re told ‘no’ every day. You’re told you’re too fat, you’re too thin, you’re not ‘this’ or ‘that’ enough. I don’t know how people get big egos, but they do!”
Dealing with those egos has become second nature to him. “I understand celebrities because I’ve been interviewing them now for almost 20 years,” he said, describing his time on “Celebrity Big Brother” as an example of how to tiptoe around difficult personalities. “That’s why I did so well [on the show] because I knew how to deal with these people. You have to compliment them, you have to listen, you have to think they have great ideas.”
And no matter what might be going on in Ross’ brain, you would never know if he has any jitters or fears being in front of the camera or in the face of big names in Tinseltown. “I don’t get nervous; I get excited. If I’m nervous, it’s for something that’s important for others, like when I hosted the GLAAD awards,” an awards show that honors multiple media branches and their representation of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, of which he has hosted six times. “That makes me nervous because I want to do right for them. I don’t get nervous for myself because if I bomb I’m like ‘Okay, great,’ I go home, who cares. But I want it to be good for the people.”
Speaking to his involvement in the LGBTQIA+ community, Ross has been an integral part of the shift in attitudes and acceptance in his many years on America’s small-screens. “From the first day on Leno I knew that that was happening,” he said, referring to his initial start on the show in 2001. “Think about how different TV was then. I knew the audience was going to laugh at me, so I had to make them laugh with me by the end. I had to never apologize about who I was and I remember thinking on that first day, ‘Oh my God, some kid somewhere is watching this and seeing this.’ Now we’re at a point where I was just on CBS—one of the most mainstream networks—for ‘Celebrity Big Brother,’ and America voted me as their favorite. So, think how far we’ve come. It’s amazing,” he said with a smile and that lovable twinkle in his eye.
He is no stranger to the plight of those feeling trapped in the expectations of traditional sexual orientations. “I see my role as being what I didn’t have growing up as a kid, which is someone who is on national TV with a national platform being unapologetically themselves and telling me at home that I was fine just the way I was,” he said. “I remember growing up and looking at TV, looking out my window in my little farm town and not knowing what a grown up gay person looked like. Imagine being that kid and thinking ‘Can I be a grown up? What could my life be like? Will I be alone? Will I have to keep a secret my whole life?”
Regardless of how far we have come, kids are still burdened with stigmas and fear. Ross wants them to listen up: “I understand if you look around and you look out the window and you feel like there’s nobody like you, but I want you to know that you just have to go a couple neighborhoods away and there are communities of people who won’t just tolerate you, but instead they’ll celebrate you.”
The celebration continues as Ross’ future shows no signs of losing its current speed. Fan favorite “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is in its 10th season, and viewers can’t get enough of all the sass and shenanigans. “Drag Race is a phenomenon. I’m so proud to be on that show. I think it’s the best show on TV,” Ross said as he straightened up in his seat, looking tall, tanned and fabulous.
Oh, and that tan? You can thank the Palm Springs sunshine for that. Ross’ love for the desert runs deep, as he gushes about the first time he came to Palm Springs: “I thought, ‘This is home,’ so I did everything I could to get a house here, and now it’s been seven years and I am here every single second I’m not working [in LA].” The people made a big impression on him, too: “Everyone here is happy because they’re either on vacation or they’re old and gay and fabulous, or they’re people who like all of that stuff. It’s rare that you bump into someone in a crappy mood in Palm Springs.”
As the man about town, Ross loves maintaining the 50-pound weight loss he achieved two years ago by going on three-mile walks every day around the city: “I’m like Belle in Beauty and the Beast; I say, ‘good morning, good day, bonjour’ to all the neighbors.” He is also a huge fan of trivia at Toucans every Friday, going to QUADZ for show tunes on Friday and Saturday nights and heading over to Shanghai Reds for the fish tacos. “Grilled, not fried, because look at my body,” he boasted as he pointed to his abs.
When asked if he plans on eventually being a full-time desert dweller, he answered with an emphatic “Yes. Yes!” Until then, don’t hesitate to say “hello” if you spot him strolling down Palm Canyon Drive or lounging on a floatie by the pool with a cocktail in hand. In the meantime, we will watch as he continues to steal our hearts with his sincerity and social prowess.
For the Fans: Ross may have been runner-up, but he was also voted America’s Favorite Houseguest on CBS’ “Celebrity Big Brother.”
A Few of Ross’ Favorite Spots in the Desert Hello Ross Mathews
-Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge
Music Man: Most people don’t know that Ross can play the violin, and he learned to do so in the fourth grade.
*Mic Drop* Check out Ross’ podcast, “Straight Talk With Ross.”
Native Knowledge: “I’m a huge football fan. I love the Seattle Seahawks,” he said. “I go to Hunters here in Palm Springs every Sunday and I wear my Seahawks jersey and watch all the games.” Hello Ross Mathews
Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs
100 W Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760.904.5015 Hello Ross Mathews