Queer Eye designer Bobby Berk opens up about self-love, QE casting stories and how to open a retail store in Soho at age 25
On September 30, Bobby Berk visited Golden & Pine to talk to a sold-out crowd of 400. He charmed us all with his warmth and effortless affection, his heartfelt sharing onstage (he teared up a few times), and hugs — Bobby is a hugger!
Bobby is a self-made design star who grew up in small-town Missouri (about three hours away from our shop in Kansas City) and launched his own business in New York City at age 25, with no formal training. When he isn’t in Kansas City filming Queer Eye Season 3, he lives in Los Angeles with his husband and runs both Bobby Berk Home, an interiors line that has been at the forefront of modern decor sold online since 2006, and Bobby Berk Interiors + Design, where he offers interior design services.
At Golden & Pine he was interviewed onstage by our friend and local KSHB news anchor Lindsay Shively. From Queer Eye casting stories, to how he started his own business in NYC at 25, to using QE to teach self-love to the world — here is our conversation.
Golden & Pine: First off, we have to talk about the show. Bobby, how did you end up on Queer Eye?
Bobby Berk: I’d done some work on HGTV before and I had stores of my own and a design firm, and my publicist heard that they were casting. They had actually already closed casting, but she got me an audition and I did a Skype interview. It was supposed to be at my house, and I had everything set up in the background to be all pretty, and 10 minutes before the interview they shut the power off in my building, so I had no Internet, no computer. I was like, “Oh god.” So I jumped and my car and drove to my office as fast as I could and turned on Skype, and at that point I’m blonde, I’m all red and sweaty, and there’s a black wall in my office behind me, which of course made me look like Powder. And I was like, “Oh god, this just went horrible. There’s no way that I’m gonna get a call back for this.”
But then I did. They had narrowed it down from 3000 people to 40, and they wanted me to come to in-person auditions. I was actually supposed to go to Spain, where my husband is at the moment, and I was like, “There’s no way I’m gonna get this. I really want to go to Spain,” and I almost didn’t go to the auditions. It was this amazing tile company that was flying me over to Spain first class and I’d never been over there like that. I was like, “This is a really good trip I don’t want to pass up” — but something told me to go to the audition, and I did.
It was kind of like American Idol meets Hunger Games — 40 gays trying to get a spot.
Now there are five of us, but imagine 40 of us. Everyone that was there at that point was so nice and so amazing, and every time you’d come out of one of the audition rooms and somebody would be gone, it was actually heart wrenching. At the end when the five of us came out and we realized nobody was else was there anymore and it was just us, we just kinda looked at each other, we’re like “Oh my god, we got it!” And then casting was like, “Actually, no we’ll let you know in a couple weeks.” And we’re like, “No! … After three days of this?” Literally two or three weeks later they finally were like, “Yeah, all right, you guys got it.”
G&P: So with the five did you click instantly? What was it like first meeting?
BB: We did. Karamo and I first clicked, and then Tan. So it was Karamo and Tan and I. We actually found a photo of us the other day. Karamo was always cold — he would have a winter jacket on now right now (ed note: it was 75 degrees) and be completely comfortable, he doesn’t sweat, zero body fat, I hate him — so we found a picture of him covered up in Tan and my’s jacket, and Tan and I just both sitting next to him. And then Antoni kind of joined the fold, and then Johnathan. The casting directors and executives really saw that. They saw that we really did truly like each other and we really had fun with each other, and anytime one of us wasn’t in a casting room, we were usually over in a corner together.
There were other people at casting who were definitely out to get it, where we were like, “If we get it that’s great.”
Tan always says, “I never thought I’d get it. I just came to make gay friends.” He’s like, “In Utah I didn’t have a lot of gay friends, so I’m like well maybe I’ll make some good gay friends,” and that’s kind of the attitude the five of us had, none of us thought we were gonna get it. So we were just there having fun with people that we clicked with.
G&P: One of my favorite parts of the show is that you all get along so well. You can tell that you guys really love each other.
BB: Most of the time! We’re just like brothers. There are moments. But the great thing about us is that we communicate very well with each other. When there’s something that your little brother does that aggravates you — you know, Johnathan — you tell him, and he does the same.
We’re with each other so much that when there is something that one of us is doing that aggravates (someone), we always want to be honest with each other, because we have years hopefully of being together all the time like we are — when we’re not filming, we’re on press tours. So we have to always be very careful that we do really communicate with each other because we don’t want to aggravate each other.
G&P: Any funny stories about when you guys very first met in casting?
BB: Johnathan, when I first met him I was like, “There’s no way this is real.” I was like, “This one is putting on a show for casting. It’s gotta be,” and then by day two the energy hadn’t changed. Three days of intense auditions and it was still there. I was like, “No, this is real. This boy has energy.”
His favorite line is, “It’s exhausting being me,” and I’m like, “It’s gotta be.” He has so much energy.
G&P: The world has changed a lot since the first Queer Eye. How is this version different?
BB: In many different ways — and I never want to knock on the original because it was so groundbreaking. I still remember the very moment I watched the very first episode and it changed my world, it changed our world and at the time it was really important just for gays to have exposure and for people to realize we’re just like anybody else. For Carson and Ted and Jai and Thom and Kyan — it was okay to have gays on television as long as we stayed in our lane. Like you’re a hair designer, you’re a fashion designer, you’re an interior designer, that’s what gays do. But they couldn’t be husbands, they couldn’t be fathers, they couldn’t be anything. They couldn’t talk about a boyfriend or a husband because the world was not ready for that.
We decided that that would not be us. You would know about us. You would know about our kids, our spouses. In the original Queer Eye, “gay” was the forefront of the show. It was gays interacting with straights because, “Oh god, who’d’ve thought that could happen,” and it was groundbreaking. Now, being gay is so far in our rear view mirror, that’s not what the show’s about. It’s not about gay guys helping other people. It’s about people who happen to be experts in their field that are using their crafts to create emotional and social change. It has nothing to do with our makeovers.
Our makeovers are really just tools that we use. Tools that we use to trick them into changing. “Let me give you a sofa, but you’re gonna get better confidence.” So to us that’s what the show’s really about, and it kind of happened unconsciously. We didn’t even really sit down and (say), “This is what we’re gonna do.” It wasn’t till (we filmed our first episode with ) Tom that we all kinda had … I’m gonna start crying … it wasn’t till Tom that we all had an epiphany that this isn’t the Queer Eye that we know. And there were still some powers-that-be that worked on the original show who really wanted the show to be exactly what it was before.
We realized when we went in there and we built this poor man up who had never really had anyone tell him how amazing he was and how great he was and that they loved him and that he could do it and that he was deserving of love — and to see this man in four days just completely change his way of thinking about himself, we were like, “Oh my god, we can’t go into somebody’s house and pick them apart and pick their house apart and pick their fashion apart and their hair. We have to go in and we have to find every single thing that we see that’s beautiful about them and show that to them.”
Tom is when we had that epiphany, “This is what we can do and this is how we can be different than the original show.” Again, the original show, the cattiness and the funniness of Carson going in and picking them apart, it had its time and it was exactly what the world needed at that time. Gays as caricatures was what the world could handle at that time. But what the world needs now, with all the hate and all the nonacceptance, was not that. They needed acceptance, and to really learn to love each other, and to love yourself. Because all hate really comes from hating yourself, and that’s what people need to realize. All this hate out there for minorities and immigrants, it’s just that you’re seeing something in yourself that you hate and you’re taking it out on other people. So really trying to teach self-care and self-love is our goal.
G&P: And depending on the person you’re giving the makeover to, you’re having really hard conversations in these episodes. Is that hard for you guys to gear up for, or are you just ready to go?
Seasons 1 and 2 were really hard for me. When I got cast on the show I told producers, “You know I’ll do anything you guys want. I’m totally game, just never ask me to go in a church, never ask me to talk about religion.” Coming from Assemblies of God, Bible Belt Missouri, (I) still (have) some deep scars. Then of course the Bobby Camp episode happened and I remember going home every night that week and just crying myself to sleep ’cause it really takes an emotional toll.
You guys see 47-and-a-half minutes of an entire week. So there are conversations that happen, you guys see the best of it, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes of us being with them all week and it can take a huge emotional toll, especially like the Tammye episode in Season 2. I really truly did not go in that church. I did not want to go in that church. There was actually a producer that got really upset, like, “What are you doing? You can’t do that.” I was like, “No, I know what I have to do for my own mental health,” and everyone should be able to know what they need for their own mental health and take a stand and that’s what I was doing. “I will break down, you will not have me the rest of the week,” so that’s the stand I had to take.
G&P: That was such an incredibly powerful episode for people that had experiences like you, and I think for people of faith too. Have you heard a lot about that episode since it aired?
BB: Are you trying to make me cry more? We get thousands of DMs a week. I remember the day the show came out, February 7th of last year — no, February 7th of this year! I remember waking up at like 6 in the morning and going through my DMs and not really looking at the clock until like 8 PM, and I hadn’t moved from the sofa, responding to the DMs. My thumbs were shaking, from people saying, “I woke up today going to kill myself and somehow I started watching your show at work and it stopped me. It changed my life,” to a pastor who messaged me saying, “I was always taught that being gay was a choice, that gays were going to hell, they were an abomination. I learned this in my church. I preached this in my church. Any gays we’ve sent them to conversion camps and it’s been horrible, and seeing you sit there and tell Mamma Tammye that you used to pray at that alter every freaking week begging for God not to make you gay made me realize for the first time in my life that being gay was not a choice and that you were born that way and that even God couldn’t change you from being that way,” and he’s like, “I will never preach that hate in my church again and I will preach love and acceptance to gays,” and that made all of it worth it.
G&P: It’s really something what you guys are going through right now, with the explosion the show has had. What was it like before the show started to now?
BB: Night and day. It’s very, very different. When we were filming in Atlanta nobody knew who we were, nobody even knew that we were on the show. They knew the show was coming out, but honestly most people thought it was gonna be a flop, they didn’t care. So we were able to go out and film and do whatever we wanted and nobody bothered us and knew who we were — not that we’re bothered, but it’s very different now.
My mother and my sister just came up from Mount Vernon (Missouri) this weekend, they just left a few minutes ago, and just walking around the Plaza, just every five seconds somebody wanting to take a photo and my sister’s just like, “Why?”
G&P: What a sister thing to say!
BB: Right? She’s like, “What?!” So it’s definitely different. It’s overwhelming sometimes. But the great thing about our show is that it attracts amazing people. If you’re an asshole, you probably don’t like our show. So all our fans are loving and wonderful, and they’ve really just been attracted to the hope that we’re trying to bring, and the positivity and the love and the acceptance. So it really attracts amazing people.
G&P: Mount Vernon (Missouri, where you grew up,) is just a couple hours south of here. What was it like growing up?
BB: Not like it is here now. I definitely left Missouri at 17 running as fast as I could, and I came back to a very different place. I really like it here. I say to my husband all the time, “I could live here. I kinda like it.” It’s such a great city now. I’ve been unexpectedly very impressed with how amazing this city is and how loving and how accepting.
In Atlanta there’s thousands of shows and movies that are filmed there all the time, so they honestly couldn’t care less that we were there. One of the things that really stood out to us about Kansas City is how much you guys really wanted us here. Mayor Sly made this cute little video, wearing a little rainbow bow tie, and just talked about barbecue and gave us a rundown of the bars to go to and we’re just like, “Oh my god, this mayor’s so cute.”
We filmed a scene a few weeks ago where we needed a city bus and the city was like, “Here, take a bus, here’s a driver, whatever you need,” and we’re like, “god, Atlanta would have charged us a million dollars for that and Kansas City is just like, whatever you need let us know and we’ll make it happen,” and it’s just really nice to be in a city that really truly does want us here.
G&P: You know what it’s like to be a small business owner. You went to New York at 21, and within just a couple of years you had your own (retail) company. What was the process like and what was the moment where you decided, “I can do this?”
BB: That’s a long story. I worked for a few different design retailers, and long-story-short, I worked for a lot of companies that taught me what I absolutely, 100% did not want to do in a company, the way I did not want to treat my employees and my customers. I worked for a cool boutique company that unfortunately financially just didn’t make it, and on the day they went bankrupt I registered bobbyberkhome.com and I was like, “Oh, maybe I’ll sell a sofa or two while I look for another job.”
It’s funny. I got a letter from Gus Modern (another line also carried by Golden & Pine), a cease and desist letter that said, “You don’t have permission to sell our product.” I was like, “Trust me, I was the last man standing at Portico. You were literally only dealing with me. Please just give me a month.”
Then fast forward a few years later, we were their number-one U.S. retailer, and I’ve had a relationship with them now for 15 years and they’re amazing. That happened from, “Oh hey, let me try to make some money while I go to work for somebody else” — and luckily online did really well. Granted that was almost 15 years ago. There weren’t the huge Wayfairs and all those. Amazon didn’t really exist, they just sold books back then. So it was a very different place online and it was fun to really carve out that niche of modern furniture online that nobody offered.
Online business was very different back then. I remember going to the big furniture fairs trying to get manufacturers to sell to me and they’re like, “Online? No, we don’t want to see online. If you don’t have a store we won’t sell to you.” That’s actually what motivated me to open my first store, because no one would sell to me. They’re like, “No, nobody wants to sell their stuff online,” and now I look back at some of these companies and I’m like, “Ah, told ya.” So that’s how I got started. Online did really well and so I had the opportunity to buyout a former employer of mine who had fired me. That was a nice moment.
That’s how I got my first store in New York. I bought out (my former employer’s) company. I actually took on a massive amount of his debt, but I looked at it as, “it takes companies and brands decades to get a store in Soho. When you get a store in Soho that’s when you know you’ve made it.” I was like, if I can take on this debt to bypass those decades of work, I’d rather do it that way. Work smart not hard.
I initially turned it into a big sample sale location for Italian linens, and I imported Italian linens, closeouts and stuff from Italy, and paid off over half-a-million dollars of debt in like nine months, selling amazing bedding. So I almost should have just kept it as a sample sale. It was a cash cow. I had a guy with a sign, he stood on the corner in Soho, handed out flyers for people to come to this sample sale. My sample sale location did well so I turned it into a Bobby Berk Home store. Then I opened Miami and Atlanta and LA.
Then I started licensing my designs out. Retail, as you know, is hard, and leases were up — my New York store was going up to like $75,000 a month (in rent) and I already felt like I worked for the landlord even before that. So I started focusing on licensing out my brand and my products. We have wallpaper in Target and Home Depot and Lowe’s and Nordstrom’s and Pier 1.
So that started doing well, and then — how I got into interior design. I had always worked with my customers at my retail store and would help them put stuff together, but technically I wasn’t a designer. I didn’t go to school for it, I still to this day have no idea how to use CAD. I’m really lucky to have an amazing team. So I got called by Builder Magazine to be asked to design the show homes for the International Builders’ Show because they were doing homes that were very geared towards Millennials, and they wanted a Millennial point of view and I had been in a lot of articles talking about Millennial trends and what Millennials want, being a Millennial myself, barely. Karamo and I always fight over what year it was because he was born in ’80 and I’m ’81. I’m like, “You’re not a millennial.”
So I said yes even though I had no idea what I was doing. That was also the same time I had decided to close my New York store when that lease was going up. So I was like, “All right, I’ll do this for a little bit,” and I got on YouTube and Google and learned electrical plans and would use Photoshop to change floor plans instead of CAD because again I had no idea how to use CAD, and the homes did really well. They turned out great and the builder that we worked with ended up contracting us to do tons of their projects and that turned into Bobby Berk Interiors + Design. So I’ve only honestly been an interior designer for maybe three or four years.
G&P: It sounds like you’ve made some big decisions that a lot of people might not, like leaps you have taken. So online was big. Are there moments you remember that changed the course of your business, things that you didn’t do maybe?
BB: I was a dropout. I left Mount Vernon (Missouri) at 15, so I did not finish high school. That used to be something that I actually really wore as shame, I didn’t like talking about it. But it’s something I kinda wear as a badge of honor now because — no knock on education, education is amazing, but — for me it just didn’t work. Not that I didn’t want to, but leaving home at 15 I quickly realized I couldn’t go to school and feed myself and keep a roof over my (head). So I left school and started selling long distance service at MCI in Springfield, Missouri.
So I always have made sure that I’ve hired the people that know things that I don’t know. (Everyone on) my team, they’re really savvy with CAD and things I don’t know that so I can do the design, and they can do the things I don’t know how to do.
In the beginning I made sure I hired people with MBAs, that they know business better than I do — and in the end sometimes they didn’t because they would go based on what they learned in school and “this is how you do it and this is how you get to A and B and this is the business way to do it.” I would sometimes just be like, “Well, no, that doesn’t make sense to me. I think we should do it this way,” and they’d be like, “No, no, no. You’re making a mistake,” and then it would work and they’re like, “Oh.” I think one of the reasons why is because you don’t have that voice of your professor in the back of your head always going, “Well, this is how you do it and you should not do this.” I would just try things and sometimes they would work and honestly sometimes they didn’t, but I wasn’t afraid to take those risks. I think in business sometimes you just can’t be afraid to take those risks.
You will fall, believe me I failed — but hopefully you fail less than you don’t.
G&P: (To the audience.) Another show of hands, who stalks them on Instagram like I do? I love seeing all the fun places you’re enjoying in Kansas City. Do you have some favorite restaurants for us?
BB: Novel is really good. It’s right over by our place so we eat there a lot. Honestly, I eat a lot of Chipotle ’cause it’s right across from where we live and it’s just easy and they send us gift cards.
Honestly, I cook a lot at home. When we were filming in Atlanta I ate out all the time and I put on weight, so now I kinda force myself to constantly eat at home.
G&P: I see Antoni cooking for you guys too sometimes, right?
BB: The amazing thing is he’s been testing all of the recipes for his cookbook, so every night him and his cooking assistants are cooking stuff, so I get to go downstairs and grab some stuff.
G&P: Talk a little bit about what inspired you to be a designer. Did you know when you were little you wanted to do some of this?
BB: Growing up in Mount Vernon, Missouri, I didn’t know what design was. My mom had a pretty little home, but I never really thought of it as a career. But I remember the first time I was exposed to design. It was actually in Target. The Michael Graves Collection back in the day, those tea kettles and the toasters and the spatulas. I remember thinking to myself for the first time: A spoon isn’t just a spoon. It’s not just a functional piece, it can be piece that aesthetically makes you happy. A toaster doesn’t just toast toast, it can also look cool and excite you. That was the first time I was really exposed to anything that made me really think about design. I think that’s kinda what put the spark in there.
G&P: Speaking of design, what you do now in one episode for these people is incredible. How do you get that all done in a week? Is that the first time you’re seeing it? Do you see pictures months beforehand?
BB: I do see the homes before. Everything that happens that week really does truly happen that week, all the construction, all the install, all the paint, the random termites that we find in homes.
Literally the Mayor Ted episode when I ripped that closet out, the whole house was infested with termites and towards the end Johnathan was excited about something, he kept jumping up and down and I was like, “Stop it. Termites. If you keep jumping we will end up in the basement.”
So everything you see happen really does, but in advance we get pictures and measurements. We have to know measurements of windows because I like to do windows. So things like that I have to know, but I really don’t dig into the design part of it until I meet them because I want to make it personal, I want to really make it work for them.
G&P: That’s incredible that you can get all the things you need.
BB: Yep. (For each season) I come out a couple weeks before the other boys and I rent a big warehouse and I pre-order tons of stuff like pillows. So I kind of make my own little store in a warehouse, so for each week we go through it. We also have a big box truck with shelves on the side of, and each week I go in with what I’ve learned about a space on Tuesday, and we fill that box truck full of stuff and as the week goes on and I learn more, some things come out, some things go in and we have a little kind of “store on wheels” that we pull up to the guy’s house with, and as the week goes on we decorate from that truck.
G&P: How big is your crew to get all that done?
BB: My design crew is six or seven, but then we also have construction people depending on the week. Some weeks we just need to paint, other weeks we tear out walls and put in new kitchens.
G&P: I love how you always make it beautiful, of course, but also something that people can use, right?
BB: Yes, everything we do stays in the home. We actually give them way more than you guys even see. We have tons of companies who give us amazing blenders and kitchen stuff. We deck the kitchen out with dishes and appliances, and also linens and mattresses, things that you don’t even really see on camera. We really try to leave their lives changed as much as possible.
I want to make sure that when I leave they can keep it up, it’s not something that’s unattainable or un-accomplishable for them. I always say just 10 minutes in the morning can keep your house in order all day.
G&P: A lot of them get a lot more confidence when they walk into a place that you designed. What is something you would tell everybody, what’s an easy thing to do design-wise to make you love your space?
BB: Budget-wise, a fresh coat of paint can make a huge difference in a space. If you’re in a dark, dreary space, even though you know I love dark walls, sometimes brightening it up can really brighten up your life. I used to live in some really rough apartments and the walls would be dirty, and just putting a fresh coat of paint can really change your perspective on a place.
G&P: You’re really passionate about eco friendly and ethical materials. Talk a little bit about why.
BB: I just think we all need to do our part no matter what we’re doing, whether we’re building someone’s confidence to help them be a better person, or thinking of the way the world works. We all need to be less selfish and more thinking about the environment and the people that are having to make these products and the way they’re being treated.
G&P: Is that difficult, or are you finding that it’s getting easier, with more options?
BB: It’s definitely getting better. Steph carries a line of rugs here (at Golden & Pine) called Armadillo & Co., and I was actually their first distributor in the US years ago. With their rugs, a lot of the profits go to build schools in India where they let the kids of the factory workers go to for free. So they’re constantly giving back. One of rug collections years ago was a bunch of these little swirls and it was scribbles that the kids in the school had made, and they turned them into rugs. So lines like that are great because you’re not only getting a beautifully designed product, but you’re also helping the community that is making it instead of helping a big massive company who’s literally just raping the communities that they go in. So making sure that you’re finding products that are helping, really, truly helping families and not corporations is something I always try to do.
G&P: We had some audience questions people sent in, so let me share some of those. Sarah Hartman from Overland Park, Kansas, asks, “Are there any design trends that you are so excited about coming down the pike, and is there anything that you are majorly over?”
There’s not really any trends right now that I’m hating. A couple years ago it was chevron. I was sick of seeing chevron, everywhere with chevron and birds, everyone wanted to put a bird on it. I love everything right now. It’s very neutral, it’s very calming. I’m not a huge bright color fan. Even though I do like to use colors in design, I’m not a personally a big color fan, so I’m really loving the neutral color palettes that are out there right now. You can see a lot of great neutral color palettes at Golden & Pine. Yeah, there’s not really any trend right now that I hate. I’m very happy with the home industry at the moment.
G&P: Our next question is from Rachel Tingle, Columbia, Missouri, “What advice do you have to a college interior design student and what are some things that helped you grow earlier in your career?”
BB: Definitely learn as much computer skill as you possibly can. That has been the thing that’s held me back, is not being able to get in there and do the things that I need to with CAD and SketchUp and all those, especially if you’re looking to get into the design field with a very established firm. (You’ll) be able to come in and run circles around (older designers) and get design projects done quickly because of your computer skills. Pay attention in those classes. Really utilize your teachers to learn as much computer skill as possible because you will be a huge asset to a big firm when you go there. They really need that and you’ll be able to move up quickly.
G&P: From Amy Ferry in Prairie Village, Kansas, “As a proponent of minimalism, what are your best practices for decluttering, managing excess and living simply while still bringing beauty comfort into your home?”
BB: Edit, edit, edit. I think with home stuff it’s kind of just like your closet — “if you haven’t worn it in a year get rid of it.” Not to say you should just get rid of everything all the time, but I’m talking about clutter. Like if that piece is not making you happy, get rid of it.
G&P: On the show, some people really freak out when they see your designs and some people are probably in shock from everything that’s just happened to them. What are your favorite responses, or how do you handle that after you put so much into it?
BB: Our very first one, Tom, went, “Day-um.” (In every room) it was, “Day-um.” That will be ingrained in my mind forever, and the funny thing is we shot 16 episodes together and they were all intermingled between Season 1 and 2, but Tom really was our very first episode we ever filmed. We picked him up in the diner and he’s like, “How long you guys been doing this?” and I’m like, “Five minutes.” He’s like, “Day-um.” So I think that reaction was my favorite. I think also ’cause he was our first little baby.
G&P: Yes, and the margaritas he made!
BB: Oh god.
G&P: He was great. Okay, Greta Chase from Kansas City, Missouri, asks, “How often do you change the style in your house and redecorate?”
BB: It’s funny ’cause when you do this all day, kind of like the last thing you want to do when you come home is what you do all day. So up until recently our loft (in downtown LA) was cute, but it wasn’t like an interior designer lives here. But People Magazine wanted to shoot it recently, so I was like, “Oh crap. I’ve actually gotta do something to it.” I had one week between coming back from a press tour and heading here that we Queer Eye’d my place and ripped out kitchen tile and put in new lighting and new wallpaper — and it’s a rental — and literally in three days completely redid our whole place for the People Magazine shoot. So I don’t redo it often. Especially when I had retail stores, the stuff in my house would always be like returns and damages and that’s what would end up in my house.
G&P: You guys don’t get a lot of off time, right? It’s been very, very busy.
BB: It’s funny. I was talking to somebody the other day, I was like, “Yeah, you know a couple years ago when we first started filming,” and I was like “Wait, no the show hasn’t even been out a year.” Yeah.
G&P: You were talking about how you guys really can’t go out now without being spotted?
BB: Yeah, it’s interesting. During the day it’s fine. When some of you are drinking…it’s not as fun. I’ve had a lot of just like really crying moments with girls in bars, and a couple guys actually.
G&P: Everybody loves you guys and they all want to say “hi.”
BB: You can tell bartenders get annoyed because sometimes we’ll be out at bars and it’ll literally turn into nobody’s dancing, just there’s a line where we’re sitting. We’re like, “We’re sorry we ruined your night.”
G&P: Not just here. When you guys go back to LA or New York, the same story?
BB: Same, yeah. It’s a circus if we all go out together. Karamo and I usually can get away with getting out, like putting hats on — even though he’s known for being in hats and a bomber. This (bomber I’m wearing) is his by the way. I did steal it.
G&P: Do you keep in contact with people from the episodes?
BB: Yes. Neil I talk to all the time. Cory we still talk to. Tom texts a LOT.
G&P: That makes me so happy. Does he still make margaritas the old way or the new way?
BB: I’m sure he does, I’m sure he does. I mean it’s so easy, it’s tequila and Mountain Dew.
Skyler I still talk to a lot. I think that’s it. Jason now and then. The funny thing is Jason — the handyman, the burner guy — funny enough, he actually installed the neon sign in my store in Atlanta in 2011, so that day when I walked into his house I was like, “Where do I know you from? You look so familiar,” and he couldn’t remember either and then we both finally realized and I’m like, “What a small world.” I have pictures of him from 2011 hanging a sign in my store.
G&P: But you did not know he’d been picked?
BB: No, we have zero to do with casting — so all the people that message us all the time nominating (people), we really have zero to do with casting. We know nothing about them until the week of. We meet them on Tuesday. On Monday we usually have a little video that production has made about their nominator, just so we know why they’re being nominated, but we don’t really know much about them. So what you see on TV of us learning about them, meeting them, it’s real. We don’t want to have anything to do with casting because we don’t want any of our opinions to be tarnished, we don’t want to have any misconceptions about them. We want to really be learning about them as you guys do.
G&P: Do you get nervous when you’re driving up to their house for the first time all together?
BB: Not anymore. In the beginning, yeah, but no, not anymore. The five of us, we have a well oiled machine now. It was funny, the first episode with Tom, we talked over each other so much. Like there was so much amazing footage that you guys never saw because we were always talking at the same time. It’s funny, if you see some of our earlier interviews it was just a mess. It’s hard to do an interview with five people, let alone us. But now we all know each other’s faces — I can look across the room and the other guys know, “Okay, Bobby has something that needs to be said.” We know the sound in each other’s voices.
Last year, Tuesdays would be 12 hour shoots, they’re like four or five hour shoots now. We know what we need. We know exactly how to get in there and help somebody, where before we just like, “Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga,” ’cause we didn’t know. We didn’t know how the show was gonna turn out, we didn’t know how we were really gonna help people, but now we know. We cut out a lot of the fat because we know exactly how to get in there and get it done.
G&P: Do you get excited to see what the other guys have done, like haircut wise and dress wise?
BB: Yeah, during the week we don’t really see each other. So we’re together all day Tuesday and Friday, ’cause Tuesday is the day we meet the guy or the girl and Friday is the day they get to see their home and the reveal, but during the week we’re all on different trips, different field trips. So I don’t know what Antoni or Karamo or Johnathan or Tan is doing. We don’t go on each other’s field trips. Every once in a while we do have trips together, but it’s fun for us to watch the show because we don’t know what happens. Like I know what happens Tuesday and Friday and everything in between I get to watch it with you guys just like you do.
G&P: Any big surprises from what the other guys had done, you’re like, “Whoa,” or maybe your favorite physical makeover?
BB: William Makin from Season 2, the proposal.
Audience: Did you go to the wedding?
BB: No, we didn’t, we were filming.
I remember walking into that bowling alley and seeing him and he kinda looked like Grizzly Adams and didn’t really say anything and I remember thinking, “Oh god, this is gonna be a rough week.” And it was a transformation emotionally and personality and physically. He turned out to be so handsome under that awful beard and Tan is dressing him up to where he doesn’t look like Fraiser Crane as his fashion icon. I’m like, “Who’s fashion icon is Fraiser Crane?”
So yeah, I think that was one of my favorite transformations just because it wasn’t just a physical transformation. Just his personality, just when you took that beard off, his personality just came out and he was a lot of fun.
G&P: Are you always surprised about how game they really are? I really feel like most of them totally go for it.
BB: It was definitely different Season 1 and Season 2 because nobody knew who we were, none of our heroes knew who we were and now it’s a little harder sometimes because a lot of the people that we’re doing have seen the show. They know the show, they’re fans, so they have a lot of preconceptions in their mind, and they’re kind of (thinking about) where they want to be in the show. You know, “Oh, I’m gonna talk about this.” They’re really thinking about it, when before they weren’t.
So that’s kind of one of our biggest hurdles now, is kind of getting them out of the mindset that they’re on a show. One of the things we work so hard at is for our heroes to not realize they’re on a show, to really forget that those cameras are there and have real genuine moments with us because when they’re thinking about the cameras, the moments aren’t always genuine. So we don’t ever talk about any production, like technical things in front of them. We always try to make sure if we’re having a conversation there’s a camera there. If there isn’t a camera there, we’re not having a conversation ’cause we want to make sure that everything is really caught on there.
So it’s been a little bit harder this year to get them in that mindset. Again, sometimes they’ll start talking and I’m like, “Oh, they’re trying to hit a beat,” I’m like, “Don’t try to hit a beat. We’re not here for that. We’re here to really get to know you.” So that’s I think our biggest hurdle this year, is making sure that they don’t do that.
G&P: That kinda makes the show more fun to watch for you guys too, I’m sure. It’s a real moment.
BB: We really want it to be real. It really is reality. Where most reality isn’t really reality anymore, ours truly is.
G&P: You were talking about how you guys are not actors. When you go out in public you are Bobby, just like you are Bobby on the show.
BB: Yep, and our moods affect things. You will see episodes where maybe you don’t see me say much … there was the Sean VanMeter episode, Tan and I got in a little tiff right before we got in the car and I was annoyed and I just sat in the car and I don’t think I said one word that whole car ride, and the producers were like, “We don’t think Bobby’s camera was on.” I was like, “Nope, I didn’t say anything.” I was like, “Hmm, I’m annoyed at him.” So it really is real. Our moods, our interactions with each other can affect the day as well. By the end of the day we were fine.
G&P: And lifelong friends I can imagine.
BB: Yeah. We know that Johnathan eventually is going to end up living in Tan’s guest house. It’s just the way it is.
G&P: Do your families hang out?
BB: My parents have met Karamo’s parents. We’ve hung out with Jonathan’s mom. Tan has hung out with Antoni’s parents. We haven’t met Tan’s family ’cause (his mom) won’t come across an ocean. She’s still in England, his mom is terrified of flying that far so we have not met her yet.
G&P: You guys kinda formed your own family too while you’re working together so much too.
BB: Yeah, definitely.
G&P: Anything else you want to say to the people before you leave?
BB: No, thank you guys so much for coming and welcoming me here and welcoming us in your city — and we can’t wait to show the world Kansas City.
Mayor Sly threw a little party for us when we first got here and he’s like, “You know we’re really excited for America to see Kansas City,” and I’m like, “No, the world. We’re in 190 out of 195 countries. The world is going to see Kansas City like never before.”
G&P: Thank you so much.
BB: Thank you!
Event photos by Jessica Cain and Becca Spears for Golden & Pine.