Clinton Kelly on His New Memoir and How to Be Your Best Self in 2017

Best-selling author and television personality Clinton Kelly signs copies of his new memoir, I Hate Everyone, Except You, at Changing Hands Bookstore's Phoenix location on Thursday, Jan. 12.EXPAND
Best-selling author and television personality Clinton Kelly signs copies of his new memoir, I Hate Everyone, Except You, at Changing Hands Bookstore's Phoenix location on Thursday, Jan. 12.
Heidi Gutman

On a late-in-the-series episode of What Not To Wear, the popular TLC makeover show that dominated the network pre-Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Sister Wives, co-hosts Stacy London and Clinton Kelly are making over a 20-something New York City illustrator whose chosen wardrobe, five-odd years later, would look right at home on an Urban Outfitters mannequin.

The show followed the same formula over the course of its 10 seasons: Friends and family of the sartorially challenged nominate their loved one for a $5,000 hair-to-heels redo and see the results during a (typically) tear-filled reveal.

As this particular episode opens, London and Kelly meet with the people behind this week’s lucky nominee, who call her a beautiful woman who “grew up a nerdy stickling” with self-esteem issues. London turns to Kelly, and whispers, “Nerdy stickling. You relate. Grew up, grew up! You blossomed into a swan!”

“Yes,” Kelly admits. “I was a nerdy stickling and I’m proud of it.”

Kelly spent 10 years making over more than 350 women, introducing them to bootcut jeans and dark denim, talking through how to add color to a wardrobe full of black or neutrals, and daring them to get out of their comfort zone and into an A-line skirt. Kelly's approachability and signature sass — snarky, but not mean — were a perfect foil for London. That same voice has continued to serve him well in his new-ish role as co-host of ABC’s The Chew . He now spends weekday afternoons dishing on dishes, sharing recipes, and talking lifestyle topics and entertainment alongside Carla Hall, Daphne Oz, Michael Symon, and chef Mario Batali.

Now, Kelly brings his on-camera attitude to readers in the pages of his new memoir, I Hate Everyone, Except You, which debuted on Tuesday, January 10, from Gallery Books. In it, he shares moments from his “nerdy stickling-esque” youth, chronicling everything from adolescence to life as a 47-year-old television star.

The 200-plus-page hardcover is an endearing peek into Kelly’s life. He weaves relatable stories of growing up in Long Island, like sneakily watching porn with a best friend or accidentally baring it all in a water park, with celebrity anecdotes, like an ongoing feud with Paula Deen and snippets from life on set. The result is a lovely balance that doesn’t try too hard: Some parts are chuckle-out-loud funny, while others will give readers pause and a chance at introspection. And then there are some chapters that are just plain revealing. (This is a man who spends an entire essay talking about his “perfect penis.”)

Kelly, a best-selling author whose other titles are of the distinctly lifestyle-and-fashion, self-help, or how-to variety (see the Freaking Fabulous series and Oh No She Didn’t: The Top 100 Style Mistakes Women Make and How to Avoid Them), will read from and sign copies of his memoir on Thursday, January 12, at Changing Hands Bookstore in central Phoenix. Tickets are $24.99 and include a hardcover copy of I Hate Everyone and admission for two.

Ahead of his Valley appearance, Kelly called New Times from the East Coast, where he splits his time between Manhattan and Connecticut where he lives with his husband, Damon, and dog, Mary. He chatted with us about writing his memoir, keeping New Year's resolutions, and what it really means to be beautiful.

And though he doesn’t always speak fondly of the show that made him a go-to fashion guru (there are plenty of pages in I Hate Everyone dedicated to his feelings about What Not To Wear some subtle, some less so), Kelly says he’s proud of his work on set.

“There are a couple of things that kept me going over the years,”  he says. “One, knowing that we were actually helping the people on the show, at least the majority of them. And two, that we were actually being watched by people who were absorbing us in a very positive way.”

New Times: I read once that you wrote Oh No She Didnt by watching tourists in New York and writing about what they were wearing and what they were doing wrong. Id imagine a memoir is much harder than that. What was this process like for you?
Clinton Kelly: When I wrote Oh No She Didn’t, that was hard for me in one way. It was easy for me to come up with what women in particular were doing wrong, but then when I had to write it I was like, “Oh my god, I’ve been giving this advice for the past 10 years. What do I say about this?” It was kind of boring to write.

But the process of writing this book, [it] was nothing short of agonizing. I’m a trained writer. That’s what I do, that’s what I did before this whole television thing just kind of happened to me. I never asked for it; it just kept happening and happening and I went along for the ride. So, I hadn’t been writing all that much [and] it’s just hard to jump back into writing. It’s a bumpy transition for me. Words weren’t necessarily flowing. And it was also really hard for me to sit still for hours at a time and write, because on television it’s constant mania, and that’s a very different kind of energy.

I was also incredibly concerned about including things that might embarrass my family, particularly my husband, who’s a psychologist and has patients, or my parents who I adore, or my sisters. I really didn’t want to throw anybody — and I hate this expression — “under the bus” just so I could get a laugh. Finding my own voice again, re-finding it, and powering through the writing were pretty difficult for me, but I’m so glad I did it. It was one of those things where I was like, “Why’d I say yes?!” and now that it’s done, I’m glad I did it. It’s like running a marathon.

You have such a presence on TV, and I’m sure readers will feel like they know you already in some way when they pick up this book. Did that have an impact the essays and memories you decided to share?
Anytime you’re on television you become kind of two-dimensional or one-dimensional. People associate you with what you bring to them on television. So, for 10 years, what did I bring to them? Advice, a snarky mouth, snarky comments, and some advice on how to make your butt look smaller. So people assume that’s all you do. [laughs] “That’s his whole life!” And that’s not what I do.

And I do The Chew. The Chew is awesome. I love The Chew and I loved parts of What Not To Wear — but what is The Chew? It’s daytime TV. It’s a show about food. And that’s a part of my life too, but it’s not really who I am.

This book really was about finally allowing myself to open up to the people who watched me on television for the past 15 or so years. It’s basically a way of me saying, “I know that you probably have an idea of who I am, and to a certain extent you’re right, but that’s not all of who I am.” I’m actually just kind of a regular guy who got lucky enough to have a job on television. And I’ve had all the kinds of crazy experiences and embarrassments that you’ve had in your life as well. This is a way for me to share myself that I feel comfortable with, especially in today’s society of oversharing. There are people who photograph their entire day so they can post it on Instagram, video their entire day so they can post it on Snapchat, tweet constantly in 140 characters or less. None of those things really resonate with who I am as a person, but having a more in-depth discussion or telling a story that has a little bit more nuance to it? That’s more who I am as a person.

There was an episode of The Chew where you talked about a January decision you made to cut out sugar from your diet — completely. We’re a week into the new year, and a lot of people are trying similar cold turkey or diet resolutions. What’s your advice for them?
Last January, I gave up alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and red meat. The only way I could do that in my life was to take a month off of The Chew and go down and live in Miami. I had a real routine: Get up, have raw oatmeal, go to the gym, come back, have egg whites, sit down, write for four hours, [laughs] have chicken breast, write for four more hours, play tennis if the weather was nice, and then go to bed by like 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

That was completely unrealistic. If you can arrange your life to do those kinds of things, then I would recommend doing it, because it’s a great way to press the reset button. But I also realized it was completely unrealistic. I couldn’t do it in my life the way it stands right now, and I know most people couldn’t either.

I would say, the biggest piece of advice I would give is like, just consider a step down. Don’t go from not going to the gym at all to going seven days a week. You can’t sustain that; that’s not going to work. It’s going to be too jarring to your system [and] you’re going to get an injury. Don’t go from eating fast food three meals a day to just eating scrambled egg whites and steamed spinach. That’s not going to work. Have a real plan. Take out your calendar for the next three months and set a single goal for every single day. Write it down and put these goals up in your house somewhere.

And never go to the grocery store hungry! Eat two bananas half an hour before going to the supermarket.

So, are you saying this book is kind of a result of that January and that diet?
You know, it’s funny, it kind of is. I was going through withdrawals for the first week of January; I could not stay awake for more than two hours at a time. It was ri-dic-u-lous. [laughs] I was like, am I dying? [But] I snapped out of it and had more energy than I ever thought I could have.

Well, ultimately it sounds like it was a good decision! Speaking of The Chew, I have to say that I’m personally very impressed that you hold your tongue when it comes to Mario Batali’s sweater vests.
[Kelly laughs]

There’s so many! I don’t really understand that. Do you ever talk to him about that?
We have talked about it. So, here’s my thing. This is my philosophy — and I’m not sure I had this philosophy when I was doing What Not To Wear. If your style is working for you on some level, in a way that’s making you happy, then you really shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks. I really do believe that. I would never wear what Mario wears, literally in a million years. However, Mario has been able to trademark a signature look, okay? And what Mario likes is having a signature look. It makes him happy. And Mario likes having a brand, the Mario Batali Brand. And many of the things he does go toward supporting that brand. His style is actually working for him; whether I want to wear it or not is really beside the point. He’s a happy guy; he’s got the exact life that he wants to be living. So, if you have the exact life that you want to be living, then keep on rocking the style that you’ve got.

However, if you want to have a better job, meet a different quality partner, have a better social life, et cetera, then maybe you should consider changing your style. Style is a tool to help you get what you want. Mario has what he wants, therefore I don’t care what he wears.

When people come to see me, they’re like, “What do you think of my outfit?” and I feel like saying — I don’t say it, but I feel like saying, “It doesn’t matter what I think of your outfit. What do you think of your own outfit?” If you’re happy, I’m literally, I swear to God, happy for you.

That being said, do you think there are some overarching fashion mistakes women make? I feel like we always hear, “Dress for the size you are, not for the size you want to be” — that kind of thing. Are there faux pas people need to be aware of when they’re choosing their style and their outfits?
The three biggest mistakes people make are in the fit category, the proportion category, and the appropriateness category. Those are the three, I think, pillars of style.

Fit is important, because as you said, dress for the size you are, not the size that you want. And that’s important because — you’ve heard me say this before I’m sure, if you ever watched What Not To Wear — when you wear clothes that are too tight on you, you actually look bigger, because you look like you’re bursting out of your own clothes. When you wear clothes that are too loose on you, you look shlumpy and dumpy. You have to wear clothes that fit you best. You could be wearing a $5,000 suit from Chanel, but if it’s hanging off of your body, the woman who’s wearing a $100 suit that she had tailored to fit her body is going to look better standing next to you.

When it comes to proportion, that’s a little bit trickier, but the idea of proportion is [that] the ideal proportion for women should be that hourglass shape. That’s what’s been drilled into our heads. Making a leg line look a little bit longer, the torso a little bit smaller, that can help you reach the idealized silhouette that we currently have in America.

Appropriateness is a big one. I feel like people are not dressing appropriately for the events in their lives! Business casual does not mean you can show up in ripped jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie. That’s not what business casual is. I’ve seen people wear inappropriate things to funerals. You don’t show up at a wedding wearing a white dress or a super low-cut red dress. [laughs] Appropriateness is just as important. I think that that’s where America has sort of lost it a little bit. Like, nobody knows what’s appropriate to wear, and when to wear it.

Are you familiar with Phoenix fashion at all?
I think it’s been a solid 10 years since I’ve been to Phoenix. I mean, I know it’s hot as heck in the summer and it is really difficult to look put together sometimes when it is a 110 degrees.

Well, it probably hasn’t changed much in 10 years.
[Kelly laughs]

What are some lifestyle and fashion trends that you are completely over? Is there anything that you’d like to see more of or done differently?
I’m so glad that skinnier pants have come in for men. I never want them to go away. I’ve taken to wearing a much skinnier pant leg, and I put on a pair of pants I bought just a couple of years ago and I felt like I was wearing two deflated balloons on my legs. They were so big and baggy. So, I kinda like the streamlined look.

The thing I’m most excited about, is that men are finally — at least in New York — dressing up again. It took such a long time. I used to walk around the streets of New York and be like, “Wow, man. These guys are dumpy looking.” So I hope that doesn’t ever change.

That’s a good point. I think that more polished, European look, I hope that’s coming back for everybody.
Yeah, it’s definitely back in New York. But I don’t know about Phoenix.

Give it another 10 years, probably, we’ll see.
[Kelly laughs]

There’s a part of your book where you talk about what What Not To Wear taught you about women, and you said you learned that they want to feel beautiful. That answer is as simple as it is complicated. Do you still believe that is what women want, or is it part of something bigger? Is wanting to feel beautiful also part of wanting to feel seen, be heard, appreciated, and respected?
Oh, it’s certainly not simple. The idea of self-esteem is an incredibly complicated one. My point there was, when I started doing What Not To Wear, I just thought it would be, “Oh, your blouse is so low-cut I can see your boobs! Heeheehee!” And then I realized it was much deeper than that.

If you ask a woman, “Would you like to be beautiful?” she’ll say yes. I’ve never met a woman who said that she did not want to be beautiful — and I’ve asked a lot of them. My point there is: If you want to be beautiful, if you want to feel beautiful, that’s okay. It’s a very human emotion to want to feel attractive. If you ask most men, “Would you like to be handsome?” They’ll probably say yes, but I think that men have a different kind of mindset than women have about this. They grew up in a different culture. The average American woman has grown up in a culture that has put a lot of focus on physical appearance and so, most women, will say that they want to be beautiful. So, if you want to be beautiful and feel beautiful, you should be actively working toward that — if that’s something that you think will make you happy. Like, if I said to you, “Would you like to be a writer?” and you said “yes,” and then you never wrote anything, I would say, you’re probably missing out on something that you’re meant to do.

You know, there’s a lot of political correctness in the world today. Steve Martin had to delete a tweet about Carrie Fisher’s beauty. He thought that Carrie Fisher was beautiful when he was a teenager, and he had to delete that because there was a backlash against him. That made me sick to my stomach, because she was a beautiful woman. His experience was that he saw her as a beautiful woman and then people attacked him for that. He even said, it turns out that she was more than just beautiful — she’s beautiful inside and out, that was sort of the gist of the tweet.

Why are we not allowed to admit that we want to be attractive in this country, and that being attractive might bring us things that would be beneficial to our lives? If you want to be beautiful, just admit it and accept it and try to be beautiful. That’s all I’m saying about that. Yes, it’s very complicated. There might be a lot of people in your life who have told you you’re not beautiful, and I don’t know what their motives for doing that were, but it’s important that you sort of get in touch with that [and] examine your own feelings about your own beauty. Ask yourself where those feelings came from and what the intentions of the person or people who implanted ideas into your head were.

I think that’s important, and I think the other part of what you said [in the book], “Don’t compare yourself to these unrealistic ideals” is something that, especially with social media and celebrities, is something that women, in particular, need to consider now. It’s not just the magazines anymore, it’s in your pocket on every app.
Exactly. It’s everywhere.

I’ll just use Kim Kardashian as an example: You have to ask yourself, are you feeling worse about your own butt because your butt does not look like Kim Kardashian’s butt? Ask yourself that, okay? And then, if there is a part of you that’s saying, “Yeah, I think maybe I am feeling worse about my butt because it’s not as round as Kim’s.” Okay, well, let’s talk about this. What do you think Kim Kardashian’s motives are for showing her butt all the time? Do you think she just does it because it’s fun? No, she does it because she’s making a lot of money off it. Now you’re comparing your butt to Kim Kardashian’s bank account. That’s screwed up.

It’s like Madison Avenue. You’re comparing yourself to shampoo commercials. They want to sell shampoo. You feel like shit about your own hair because some corporation wants to sell shampoo and make millions of dollars? Love your own hair because it’s your own hair! That’s it, that’s all I’m saying. [laughs]

That’s true — and I wish someone had told me that like, 10 years ago.
Yeah. We all have to learn these things at our own pace, unfortunately. And then the damage is done. And it’s deep.

You are an out, gay, married man. We are about to, in two weeks, watch an administration that is homophobic and misogynistic and racist and xenophobic take office. Does that worry you at all as a gay man, or as a gay man who is married? How are you reacting to this?
I think it’s really unfortunate that we, as a gay couple, as a gay community, as a country, have been thrown into a period of uncertainty. That’s scary, on some level. I know one thing about the gay community, and that is that we will fight for our rights. It feels a little unfortunate that we just had this fight for our rights [the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015] and now there’s talk of Supreme Court nominees who would like to yank those rights away from us. It’s frustrating and infuriating, quite frankly. But my husband and I will do whatever we have to do to ensure that our marriage is seen as a legal and valid one. We’re just going to have to play a little game of wait-and-see, I guess. There’s lots of talk. There has been lots and lots of talk, but as of this point there has been very little action. And so, we’re going to have to wait and see what the actions are when he becomes our president and then we will strategize from there.

This is not a good situation, we don’t see this as a good situation for the gay community or our marriage either, but this is life. Nobody ever said that life is going to be easy. There’s literally no promise of that. [laughs] In fact, human life, over the course of human history, has been incredibly difficult. If we’ve got to put up a fight to ensure our rights then we will.

Best-selling author Clinton Kelly will read from and sign copies of I Hate Everyone, Except You, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, January 12, at Changing Hands, 300 West Camelback Road. Seating is determined by letter group; doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $24.99 include a hardcover copy and admission for two. Get tickets online at www.changinghands.com or call 602-274-0067 for details.

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Changing Hands Bookstore

300 W. Camelback Rd.
Phoenix, AZ 85013


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