The last time we spoke to Ross Mathews as an Instinct Leading Man, we coined him as "TV personality and newly minted talk show host." But he's not new anymore and to many's surprise—right on the precipice of his season 2 premiere hit E! TV show, Hello Ross—he's taking a bold step outside of his comedic comfort zone and backing a new product to help fight the war on HIV/AIDS. We sat down with Ross to get the scoop, not only on his surprise new endorsement, but also on season 2 of Hello Ross and what the jack of all trades is up to.
I was really surprised to hear you're now endorsing OraQuick, an HIV testing service that people can take at home—how did this come into play?
ROSS: You get this platform and people obviously want you to use it to talk about and endorse a lot of things, and quite frankly, some of them were cheesy, just didn’t fit, or would offer me a lot of money where I didn’t feel right about it or didn't want to water myself down. But then OraQuick came. And the reason that I did it is because I didn’t know this technology existed!
I’ve been in a relationship for a long time, and at a certain point, we got tested, we were both negative and felt good about it, so we decided to move forward. I had all of these friends—gay and straight friends—who came to me and they didn’t know about this technology either. I just think that more and more people are living with HIV than ever before and it’s so important to know your status and feel comfortable getting your results. This is an amazing option for people to be able to take the test at home without any additional discomfort or pressure.
But we all get scared when we get tested and most are aware of the stigma attached with proclaiming positive status. Have you talked to people who've taken or want to take the test at home?
ROSS: Absolutely! In talking to people since backing this it’s so clear that not only do people not know about this technology, but the stigma and the fear is there. They need accessibility and support, and OraQuick is full service. The way it works, you swab your mouth, follow the instructions and within 20 minutes you have your results. Sooo simple. You can call a 1-800 number where you can talk to someone, 24/7, and get instructions on how to take the test, access your results, etc. It’s just the way to know your status in 2014! It’s only $40, which can be a chunk-a-change at times—don’t get me wrong—but it’s a lot cheaper than you think it would be and it’s affordable.
Because I have to report on things, I know that earlier versions of at home HIV tests have been available for some time. The old ones would involve you taking an at home blood sample and sending it off for processing…
ROSS: There’s no blood! You swab your mouth and in 20 minutes you have your results. But here’s what I think people should do… when you meet someone and you want to have a little fun, buy two of these, swab your mouth, have a cocktail and within 20 minutes you have your results. You’ll know if you’re good to go! [Laughs] I mean, if you’re going to have sex you just have to responsible to know your status. It’s the way of the future and you just have to do it.
Now, we all are familiar with you from your days at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Chelsea Lately and your own show, Hello Ross. And you're the funny guy. This seems like a departure from how people may view you. How has it been and felt for you working with OraQuick?
ROSS: At first I thought it was going to be weird, ya know? Because I’m all about being fun, spontaneous and lighthearted, but it hasn’t been weird at all, Chris! I’m not doing this in a heavy, preachy way. The stigma shouldn’t be there anymore. It’s all about, ‘Hey! Get tested, know your status, and get treatment if necessary and be empowered.'
Fair enough, but being diagnosed as HIV positive is no laughing matter and has a huge impact on someone's life. How did you feel initially about backing this and how did you feel about how it relates to your brand?
ROSS: Here’s the deal. My brand, of course, has to do with being funny and spontaneous. But let’s get real, my brand is very much about—and at its core—being real and authentic. And you’re not being real and authentic if you’re parading yourself around not knowing your status… especially in 2014 when you can live a long, happy, healthy life being HIV positive. Of course it’s still serious and of course people still pass away from it, but it’s a different world now. You’re not being real if you’re participating in risky behavior, potentially exposing people to this virus. So that’s why it fits in with my brand because at the end of the day, it’s all about being real.
I’m proud of you Ross!
ROSS: Thank you, honey!
I’ve seen you grow for so long and it’s great to see you back this and take this on.
ROSS: I feel a responsibility to do this! Listen, I’ve got broad shoulders and broad hips [Giggles] I can take it on! [Laughs]
I’m going to transition a bit because we have season 2 of 'Hello Ross' coming up… how are you feeling?
ROSS: Yess! I’m feeling so proud! Sooo proud!! I’ve wanted this show since I was 8-years-old and not only did I get the show that I wanted but I got the show for super fans. I just think there’s so many shows out there that tear down pop culture and talk about how stupid it is. But I love this stuff and I’ve always loved this stuff. I have to believe that other people do to. On Hello Ross We talk about everything. It’s interactive and when I interview celebs I go out into the crowd and talk it out with the audience. I walk the walk and I talk the talk. But best of all, I get to do it all with my family. My best friend from high school is a writer on the show and my college roommate is a producer on the show. People from Leno, where I used to work, have come over and are now working on my show; we’re just having the most amazing time.
I've known you personally for a hot minute and I know what you’ve always wanted this show. It sounds like this is really everything you wanted and is authentic and organic to you.
ROSS: Oh sweetie! [Giggles] I’m the executive producer, the writer, the host; I’m going out and picking out throw pillows and the paint samples; the gold geometric shapes you’ll see are based upon something I saw in a hotel and took a picture of. Everything is run through the filer of my POV (point of view) because it has to be. With talk shows you don’t reinvent the wheel. You sit down, you tell a joke and then it’s goodbye next time. The trick to get people to tune in when something happens in pop culture is to think, ‘Oh God! I can’t wait to see what Ross has to say about this!'
Speaking of pop culture, you've interviewed nearly everyone: Gloria Estefan, your bestie Gwenyth Paltrow, Joe Manganiello… can you share what you have in store for season 2 and what we can expect? I need spoilers, Ross! SPOILERS!
ROSS: Listen, [Giggles] it’s bolder, bigger, better and new! We have a brand new set this season. We threw away the old one because it was made with a roll of quarters and band-aids [Laughs]. There’s some similarities to the old one because I wanted to be respectful to the past, but the new one is just beauuutiful and amazing! And episode 1 of season 2 tonight is all about Scandal. I just love the show. We play a game where we go on Hollywood Boulevard and we play a game called Springer or Scandal. We might say, 'My Grandma’s a pimp!' And the person has to decide whether that’s an episode of Jerry Springer or a story line from Scandal. We also have Brandi Glanville [from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills] who’s on the cover of every magazine everywhere. We totally go into the eye of the storm with her. That’s what our show’s about—we can talk to Oscar winners and reality stars and at the end of the day, we all love these people and are interested in what they have to say or share.
Alright. I'm sold. I’m tuning in tonight! And I’m going to work very hard to come to your show the next time I’m in Los Angeles, but before we go, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask—knowing you’ve been with your partner Sal for 6 years or so now—is marriage on the horizon?
ROSS: I honestly would not be a good groom now! Sal says I have 'show head' because all I’m doing is taking calls for the show and doing press. I just feel so strongly that this show needs to be out there and I’m doing everything to make it work. And truthfully, Chris, I have a staff that relies on me, that if I don’t make this work, they don’t have jobs. It’s not about me anymore and I’m just so grateful and I’m determined to do my best.
Well, something’s working because you’re heading into season 2 tonight!
ROSS: Yesss!!! And ya know, the goal one day is to have that big day time talk show! I’m too perky to be held in late night. [Giggles]
Well, goodluck tonight and we'll be watching, my dear. Is there anything else you want to share with our Instinct readers?
ROSS: Yes! I have swank.la which is the largest distributor of home services in the world: tiles, backsplashes, countertops… everyone can download the app for free!
What are you not doing? This is insane… and amazing!
ROSS: I know! When I bought a house in Palm Springs and wanted to redo things and all there was were 5 tiles at Home Depot, all different shades of oatmeal. [Laughs] I didn't understand why there wasn't a resource to get these items. It just needed to exist and it didn't, so we made it. And now we have over 175,000 products. We have ways to get things on a budget, how to get it for less and how to be fabulous wherever you are.
And last, Chris, I want everyone to know that I have things to say and do. I want to be on every day and start to produce television within my brand. I want to do a line of pocket squares and so much more… I have so much stuff to do it’s insane. And I’m so incredibly thankful and grateful I get to to do this. If you do the work and plant the seeds, things grow.
Check out an exclusive clip from the season 2 premiere of Hello Ross featuring guest, Brandi Glanville, below:
Hello Ross season 2 premieres tonight at 10 p.m. 9/c on E!