When it comes to celebrity gossip personas, we are living in an era of vitriolic online celeb bashings and dragging stars on Twitter just for fun. Some gossip columnists almost seem to compete with one another to see who can treat celebrities the worst or say the meanest things about them, and mostly with the vapid objective of just having a post with the most “likes” or having it go viral. Ethics be damned; for those columnists, celebrities are there only for one purpose –to be exploited.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Enter veteran celebrity publicist and columnist Rob Shuter. For years Shuter has mastered the art of curating the hottest celebrity gossip with a perfect balance of naughty and nice – without all the nastiness. His “Naughty But Nice Rob” column was one of the most highly-anticipated for celebrity news at the Huffington Post (HuffPo) in recent years. At the time of its run at HuffPo, Shuter was the only celebrity columnist on its roster, and today the column remains an iconic syndicated staple column of the legendary National Inquirer.
More than just a title, “Naughty But Nice Rob,” is a moniker that also defines Shuter as a person. We met up recently to discuss his lively new iHeartradio show, “Naughty But Nice with Rob Shuter.” If you haven’t already subscribed, do so immediately to stay in-the-know as Shuter, along with his fabulous cohost Delaina Dixon, dish up the latest celebrity news. The banter between the two is perfectly aligned, much like the classic duo of Howard Stern and Robin Quivers – but without all the vulgarity.
“Naughty But Nice with Rob Shuter” has become one of my newest guilty pleasures. I listen while I’m driving or at the gym, and a few times I’ve caught myself even singing the show’s theme song – a bouncy little jingle co-written by the legendary Barry Manilow! I guess that’s one of the exclusive perks that come with being married to the acclaimed lyricist and Manilow’s songwriting partner, Bruce Sussman. Shuter and Sussman tied the knot in 2011.
Upon meeting Shuter, he was just as I expected; energetic, funny, and eager to discuss his new iHeartradio show. His British accent rang as proper yet with a hint of Ab-Fab deliciousness that for a moment made me feel like Patsy to his Eddie, each time he referred to me as “Corey, daaarling.” Such a comfortable introduction gave me the green light to delve in and learn more. So I posed the question, “Rob, what makes you different from the other gossip columnists?”
Confidently, Shuter replied, “I understand that celebrities are people too.”
That reply – one of empathy, should not be misunderstood, though. It doesn’t mean Shuter holds back on dishing the latest hot Hollywood gossip or that he won’t spill ALL the celebrity tea. However, his style of delivery is the differentiator. He possesses a likeability that makes you want to laugh all night in cozy pajamas having a ‘Golden Girls’ cheesecake moment. When he dishes, it feels like you’re getting in the giggles with a good friend. That’s the crux of his appeal.
The more Shuter and I conversed, it became apparent why he approaches “celebrity” and “pop culture” more thoughtfully as opposed to being reckless. Consider, for example, his coverage of the royals. As a highly sought-after commentator on the Royal Family, Shuter often appears on major networks across the world discussing the latest mayhem in the Monarchy, but he does so tactfully, sensitive to the intense media pressure Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have endured. For the average gossip columnist, the reluctant royals would be prime for exploitation to sell magazines and clicks. For Shuter, however, they invoke compassion, as he reflects upon having overcome his own adversities and public scrutiny – not at that level, but every bit as impactful.
In a candid interview with Yahoo News in 2014, Shuter shared something deeply personal, a trauma he endured as a newborn – a result of a botched metal forceps birth. He revealed the procedure left him partially deaf and with limited function in one arm that is shorter than the other. These obstacles were a lot for a child to endure, but Shuter credits his mother for raising him to embrace his uniqueness, not play the victim, welcome the differences in others, and to overall, be a kind.
At the time of our meeting, I was unaware of that back story or his arm’s asymmetry. I was surprised when Shuter so openly showed me his asymmetry. I mean, he doesn’t try to hide it, nor does he ever make it an issue, but I shared with him how, after years of seeing him on TV, I had never noticed.
“Nobody notices it really,” Shuter replied, “because I don’t make it a big deal. It’s just me. If someone does notice or someone stares curiously, I share my story with them, and then we can move on. I entirely understand human curiosity. In many ways, that drives much of what I do. People want to know things (laughing) and darling I’m happy to tell them!”
This entire moment revealed a lot about Shuter. It showed that he lives in his truth and is free of caring about what others publicly think of him. It further drove home another poignant reflection he shared in that Yahoo News article,
“When I look through magazines and see these models with these six-pack abs, I wouldn’t want that; it would look ridiculous on me! To grow up not being part of that world was fantastic. You can’t try to have two good arms if you don’t have them, so I threw away all those wasted hours of trying to be someone I wasn’t from an early age.”
Shuter obviously put the unwasted hours to good use elsewhere, studying hard, graduating college, and then landing at one of Los Angeles’ biggest media relations firms, Bragman Nyman Cafarelli (BNC). From there, he advanced to a role at Dan Klores Communications, where he represented serious A-lister, Jennifer Lopez, and helped her to navigate through the media during her high-profile breakup with Ben Affleck. He also ushered Jessica Simpson safely through the gossip mill when she split with her hottie then-husband, Nick Lachey.
In the early 2000s Shuter left public relations to take on the role of executive editor of the American edition of OK! Magazine. Already a significant publication in the UK, the American version struggled to catch on – until Shuter became its editor. Under his watch, OK! USA snowballed and rapidly sold over 1,000,000 issues. In a business where exclusivity is everything, Rob led the American publication to secure exclusive images of major stars, among them Sherly Crow, Matthew McConaughey, Anna Nicole Smith, as well as snag the exclusive first interview with Britney Spears, post-shaved-head breakdown.
Rob Shuter’s vibrant new show aligns him perfectly with the audience he has cultivated for years. That audience wants to escape to a wonderland of fantasy with a peek at how the “other half” lives. With a career that includes nearly every area of media, including cohosting VH1’s hit entertainment show, ‘The Gossip Table,’ Shuter continues his trajectory as the King of celebrity gossip:
CA: So tell me all about your new podcast show on iheartradio. I really love it! You and Delaina are great together.
RS: It would be easy to think our show was just a 20 minutes daily celebrity news and gossip program. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Yes, we break all the celebrity news like ET, Access, Extra and the live shows on E! However, I am not a host. I am a working celebrity columnist. I spend all day, and many nights finding celebrity scoop. I have the best sources from around the world and I’m thrilled to share them with my audience every single day. My 20-minute daily show has literally taken me 20 years of hard work. I’m a big believer that if you do the work everything will turn out just right. The idea of reading a script off a teleprompter feels so over me. I want real news. Real conversations. I want to invite my audience into drinks with other top columnists in the business and join us like we are calling chatting over a vodka/soda at Bottino’s!
The show is called Naughty But Nice because that is what we do each day – which is surprisingly hard to achieve. When I have drinks with my naughtiest sources, they make me gasp with their stories and gossip, but I always leave feeling like I need a shower. Where my nicest colleges are charming but a little bit dull. It is where those two works meet that everyone has the most fun. It’s very easy to be mean and interesting. And easy being kind and boring. Our show, like all my genuine relationships, is a pinch, never a punch – and it is this tone that has made us a huge success. I enjoy the work and I know that comes across to everyone listening.
CA: Rob, your former client JLo just slayed the Super Bowl half time show. Some are saying it was too sexy for prime time. First, what was it like working for JLo, and what did YOU think of her performance?
RS: When you hire JLO you can’t expect to get a Julie Andrews show. I thought she was fantastic. I worked with Jen during her breakup with Ben and marriage to Marc. Jennifer is smart and bright and all-business. A little secret about all the people I represented, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Bon Jovi, Diddy, Naomi Campbell, Kate Spade – they all had one thing in common and it wasn’t talent – they all had drive!
Jennifer will get up at 5 am every morning to do the work. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it. I admire her for that. Plus, I have to say after seeing her without makeup and even once making the mistake of going to the gym with Jen, she’s the most naturally beautiful people I have ever met. The 5 minutes we saw at the Super Bowl is the result of years and years of hard work. People thought Alicia Keys was an overnight success when she hit the top of the charts – not true – she had been playing little bars and learning her craft for years when no one was watching. You got to do the work! Before I Heart offered me my own show, I had done everything. I had my own late-night show on a channel that was so obscure, I couldn’t tell you what it was called. I had a morning show on a cable network that no one cared about. However, I’m grateful to all of those gigs because it leads me to what I’m doing today.
CA: You were Jessica Simpon’s publicist when she and Nick Lachey divorced, and you represented JLo’s during the time she and Ben Affleck broke up. So for people who don’t know what a publicist does, what did that entail? Like, is it issuing statements or constantly debunking rumors publicly on the client’s behalf?
RS: Being a publicist for over a decade is the reason I’m such a great columnist. I understand celebrities. I know how they think and what makes them tick. I know how they are going to react. Plus, I’m the only gossip columnist in the business that has had access to the most private celebrity moments that I have seen. Which also means I have access to the best sources!
I was in the room when Jessica decided to announce she was leaving Nick. I was in every meeting when Diddy strategized about changing his name – again. I was with Ashlee Simpson backstage at ‘SNL’ – don’t ask. I was with a naked Naomi backstage at Victoria Secrets. And I even waiting in an SVU outside Miramax offices in New York when a client told me they had to go and ‘suck Harvey’s d**k!”
Being a publicist isn’t just about getting press and shaping a client’s image. It is about being a friend and therapist. It’s about being a human being. It’s the most, tricky job I have ever had – but it is the job that gave me the best training for what I do now. And yes, I still talk with several of my former clients!
CA: Some columnists will report anything just for the hits or likes, but for you, do you have boundaries of celebrity stories that are off-limits?
RS: With every job take the long-term approach. Never pick the fast, easy road. Getting a great hit today and millions of listeners, while burning an amazing source makes no sense to me. The reason I have a long career is I never betray my people. I respect off the record conversations. I never report on gossip I see in greenrooms when I’m a guest on different TV shows. I never betray someone’s trust. If it means I lose the gossip battle of the day, I’m fine with that because my eye is on winning the war. Working with so many big stars I also understand you cannot judge someone’s entire life of their worst few moments. We all snap and make mistakes. We all do things we are not proud of. The secret is putting them into a larger context. Every gossip columnist in New York knows who the good and bad people are – I dare you to find me one person who doesn’t love Rosanna Scotto from ‘Good Day New York’ – (she’s the best of the best)
CA: You’ve been covering celebrities for a long time. Other than technology, what are some of the differences in the industry of celebrity journalism, then and now?
RS: Social media has changed everything. EVERYTHING. Now you have celebrities telling you where they are and what they are doing. It makes reporting new exclusives more difficult, but it makes fact-checking so much easier. Some days I feel more like a detective than a gossip reporter. Although I have always enjoyed a jigsaw puzzle!
CA: You have been so candid in past interviews regarding your birth injury, yet that incident has never stopped your rise to success. What would you say to people regarding overcoming obstacles?
RS: I have worked with the most successful people in the world and they all have things they would love to change about themselves. If it wasn’t my arm, it would be something else that annoyed me. I think the biggest lesson is kindness starts with accepting yourself. Accepting yourself is the corner-stone of kindness because before you can be kind to others you must to be kind to yourself. It takes a lot of practice to fully embrace who you are. A day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute struggle that will never end as long as you live. But just like everything else in life, it becomes easier the more you do it.
Most people think acceptance is being totally honest and comfortable with themselves about everything they are, but this is only half the story. Acceptance is just as importantly about accepting everything you are not. And then, being fine with that. It took me a long time to learn to accept myself, and it was only possible once I stopped beating myself up. It is essential to embrace where you are in your life right now! Stop being critical about where you are not! Stop thinking about life as a race and start enjoying the journey.
Living in New York City with a busy schedule, I got into the horrible habit of running around. Racing from appointment to appointment and missing all the wonderful small moments in between that made life so special. All I was focusing on was the finish line, wanting more and more before I got to the end of the game. Then, a former client and friend of mine committed suicide – I will never forget what I was doing the moment I found out that Kate Spade had died. I was running around, rushing through life. That’s when I realized that no matter how famous, rich or successful people are, we all going to reach the same real finish line – death.
What a fool I had been for years to beat myself up over stuff that didn’t matter. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t think about my big nose or my soft jawline that made it difficult to know where my neck began, and where were those 6-pack abs hiding? Also, my arm which had been so damaged at birth that it was almost amputated, didn’t help me feel like an action hero! For years, I longed to be super handsome with two perfect arms. I dreamed about how different my life would be if I had skin like Brad Pitt! I was constantly comparing myself to richer or more popular people at every opportunity. Which all resulted in feeling even worse about myself. I had become a full-time bully of the one person who couldn’t escape from me – ME.
Then I decided to make a choice. Instead of being brutal, I chose to be tender. Instead of being inhuman, I chose compassion. I switched from being barbaric to being benevolent and instead of choosing to be cruel, I embraced being kind. That’s when the miracle occurred. When I showed myself, love, I also showed it to others. Because kindness is the key to accepting yourself and accepting others!
After a night of laughs and cocktails with Shuter and Delaina, I concluded that referring to Rob Shuter as merely a “Gossip Columnist” is a great disservice. As I pulled back the many layers of his career as an Executive Editor, TV personality, producer, columnist, and guest speaker, I realized that Shuter is more so a purveyor of pop culture, one who has seamlessly helped America navigate through a heightened and often messy celebrity-obsessed landscape
Listen & Subscribe To “Naughty But Nice With Rob Shuter” on iHeartRadio