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Throughout the second season of moderating the Daytime Emmy-nominated chattiest The Talk, Julie Chen has flung aside her formerly stolid broadcast persona (aka “the Chenbot”) in favor of a deliciously frisky and funny new persona. “We’ve hit our stride on The Talk and it’s a blast!” she rejoices. But does this mean she’ll be equally loose when she returns as host of Big Brother 14 this month? Read on and—yep—expect the unexpected.
Watch!: Though long renowned for the poker-faced delivery of your signature Big Brother catchphrase “But first ...,” you’ve become bawdiness incarnate on The Talk. I shrieked during a recent discussion about a 70-year-old virgin who felt it was time to devirginize herself when you quipped to your co-hosts, “Get out the dustbuster!” and mimed bats flying out of her vajayjay.
Julie Chen: I’ve been an irreverent jokester my whole life [hoots], but for all those years I was doing the news [on CBS Morning News and The Early Show] I was paid to not show my opinion. So on Season 1 of The Talk, I was still finding my way. Then in the second season, our executive producer said, “You’re so funny in our morning meetings. You need to be that person on The Talk.” I was, like, “Oh, I can do that?” So when I make jokes about, like, bats and vaginas, that’s who you’d really see if you were my friend.
Watch!: You’ve morphed from “Chenbot” to “zingbot.”
Julie: Don’t get me wrong—Chenbot is coming back for Big Brother. She’s been on the shelf, but I’m dusting her off, because I’m just the facilitator there. The real stars are the house guests, so I’ll still do the show with as little personality as possible and, then, in my robotic way, go, “But first ...”
Watch!: We’ll return to Big Brother, but first—I couldn’t resist!—tell us about the childhood jokester of a Julie from Queens, N.Y.
Julie: Because of my Chinese parents’ immigrant upbringing, I’m just as Eastern as I am Western, so I wasn’t the class clown—I was very respectful to my teachers. But outside class, I held court with funny stories where everyone would say, “I love Julie’s laugh, because it’s so deep and a little bit maniacal and sinister.” I love a good, hard belly laugh. Nothing relieves tension more.
Watch!: Did you also develop your famous love of hefty hairdos as a kid? I mean, you’ve almost become the Chinese Dolly Parton.
Julie: Being from Queens, I couldn’t hear a bigger compliment than that—I love it! I’m all about “bigger is bigger, more is more.” But it’s not all mine—it takes a village to build it.
Watch!: Well, the village is rocking it; I swear on one Letterman appearance of yours, I could barely see your face.
Julie: Oh, my God—I’ve become a Chia Pet. Ch-ch-ch-chia! [Laughs.] It’s funny, the other night when The Talk was visiting New York, I was getting ready to go out with my husband [CBS President and CEO Les Moonves] and I did my own hair. I just blew it out straight and my high school best friend who was visiting us said, “Man, I really like your hair straight!” I went, “Really?” But who’s gonna be more honest than a BFF who regularly tells you she hates outfits you wear on TV? So, hey, maybe I’ll try “less is more” now.
Watch!: Yo, we got an exclusive scoop about Ms. Chen’s hair, people! And, listen, it’s refreshing that you still keep friends who’ll tell you they hate a look you’re working.
Julie: Oh, yes. I have another old friend who always comments about my makeup. One day, she called and said, “Juju, today you had so much makeup you looked like you jumped out of The Lion King. The contour strips running down your nose looked like two chocolate bars!” The next time I saw her, I sang the opening song from Lion King. (Sings.) “Ay-e-yi-e-y-e-iii!”
Watch!: OK, Big Brother time. Since 2000, you’ve hosted this ultrawild reality show that revels in duplicitous behavior and clandestine hookups. What is its enduring appeal?
Julie: What originally attracted people is that everybody likes to be a voyeur. Like, if you’re in a situation where you’re walking past someone’s home and the lights are on, you instantly go, “Are they in sight? What are they doing? Are they gonna have sex?!” [Laughs.] We’re all nosy; it’s built into all of us.
Watch!: And are you, personally, hardcore enough that you watch the show at home?
Julie: Not only do I watch it, I also watch the Showtime live feed, Big Brother: After Dark. My husband will ask, “You’re not going to sleep yet?” And I’ll go, “No, you don’t understand—two of the house guests are on After Dark whispering about something and I’ve gotta watch!” I’m a crazy person. It’s so addictive! -Brantley Bardin