Today’s Guest: George Gray, host, “What’s With That House,” announcer, “The Price is Right” with Drew Carey
George Gray is having way too much fun on his HGTV show, “What’s With That House?”
The show, now in its second season, is kind of a goof on the proliferation of shelter TV shows, where viewers are taken into fabulous homes and mansions and led around by announcers in hushed, respectful tones. There’s no respect in Gray’s tone — and rightfully so.
If you haven’t seen the show, I absolutely insist you pause this interview and set your DVR, Tivo, or VCR to record the show. It’s on HGTV every Wednesday at 11:30 PM Eastern or Pacific. You won’t be sorry. (You could also sample it by watching a clip…)
Back now? Okay.
If Gray seems familiar, it means you probably saw him in ESPN’s sports fantasy reality series “I’d Do Anything” or the syndicated version of “The Weakest Link.”
BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: George, welcome to Mr. Media.
GEORGE GRAY: I am so excited to be here. Actually, you were talking fitness. I’ve been doing Kegels the whole time I’ve been listening to you.
ANDELMAN: Well, I hope whoever you’re with next appreciates that I gave you the opportunity to do that.
GRAY: And you used the word proliferation. You gotta slowly ramp up to a word like proliferation, which is nice.
ANDELMAN: Well, I thought this was kind of a nuclear moment.
GRAY: Makes me sound way heavier than I really am. So glad to be here.
ANDELMAN: Well, that is quite a head you’ve got on your shoulders, if you’re gonna make that reference.
GRAY: It’s just the ego.
ANDELMAN: What color is that hair?
GRAY: Actually, it’s funny because my hair…you achieve that kind of blond by sticking your head in a bucket of Clorox about every five days. And so it’s very natural. But, actually, now that the show is on hiatus right now, my hair sort of looks like I got whacked with a carrot. I seem to go to extremes.
ANDELMAN: What is the natural color of your hair?
GRAY: Oh, when I was doing “The Weakest Link,” that was pretty close, although the lights were so dark in the room, it looked darker than it was. Kind of a dark blond, I think. Dirty, dirty blond, something like that. I don’t even know. Who knows? I started growing the soul patch. I did a show called “Junkyard Wars” before “Weakest Link,” and I grew the soul patch that I have now worn for years as a joke. Not a lot of guys were wearing them at the time, not that I was the first to ever do it, but they really weren’t in vogue. And I really did it as a joke, and I thought it looked so silly and stupid that I just decided to wear it for a couple of weeks. Then I booked “Junkyard Wars” and just left it. And so that’s been on my face. So I sort of do things, I don’t know, just out of sheer stupidity.
ANDELMAN: This is way off topic, but as a guy who’s worn a beard for way too long, how do you trim that soul patch thing so it always looks the same? Do you ever slip with the razor or the electric?
GRAY: No, I’m a Braun man. I don’t really pay that much attention to it. My mother hates it. She wishes that I would slip with the razor by accident. A beard would drive me nuts. I couldn’t do that. I don’t know how you do it. You got a really long one, do ya?
ANDELMAN: No, no. It’s not too long, but my wife refuses to let me cut it. She says I look about 10 years old without it, which, as I’m pushing my way up to 50, I guess maybe that might be a good thing. I don’t know.
GRAY: Maybe she’s got a Santa Claus fetish. “C’mon, go gray baby, go gray.”
ANDELMAN: I’ll try that little red hat on tonight. So what’s this, you got a TV show? I don’t remember what we’re here for.
GRAY: TV, shmevee. Very nice words, by the way. Thank you for telling everybody that they should tune in to watch. “What’s With That House?” is a guilty pleasure show. It really is slamming on your brakes – a “What the hell is that?” kind of show.
ANDELMAN: It’s funny. It was brought to my attention and, for Mr. Media, I really focus on things that I like, and I want to share with other people. And this was something that was brought to my attention. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before, and I watched it, and it was just…it’s really funny. We watch so many reality-type shows or home shows or cooking shows, and this was just so left-of-center. It’s a fun show. People really should give it a try.
GRAY: Leftist? Are you saying it’s a Democratic show?
ANDELMAN: I don’t know if it’s a blue state/red state show.
GRAY: I try to run a strict Libertarian ship there on the show.
ANDELMAN: One of the moments in watching the show that made me literally laugh out loud, and now I’m gonna repeat it, and maybe it won’t be that funny. Maybe if you put it in context, but you told a couple — and looked at the camera — you said, “Thank you for showing me your toilet.”
GRAY: That sounds like something classy that I’d say.
ANDELMAN: Do you remember that in particular?
GRAY: No, I don’t. If you could get to see me in the voice-over booth which, for anybody that doesn’t know, you shoot a show, the editors cut the show, the network approves of the show, then they write a script of the show — which is kind of a backwards way to do it — and then you go into a booth and you say words that they lay in on top of the show to kind of fill in all the thoughts. And when I go to do voice-over stuff, I don’t have a script for “What’s With That House?” so I just say whatever I want. I just say whatever comes to my mind. And they only use a portion of it, and a lot of the stuff I say isn’t for air. I just say it to amuse myself or the editors or the homeowners or whoever, so everything’s from risqué to whatever just pops out of my mouth. And sometimes I’ll say something, and I would swear it’s somebody else that said it, and it’ll make me laugh. I’m like, “Wow, that was funny.”
ANDELMAN: I wondered how much might be scripted before or after, and how much is not.
ANDELMAN: Do you spend any time with the homeowner before taping begins, or is that mostly a production issue?
GRAY: The only thing that I do is I show up and say, “Hello,” and introduce myself. I usually walk into the house and yell, “Hi honey, I’m home!” But I have time to relax, and it’s fun that I have no script, that there are no rules. A lot of people aren’t very savvy with TV. They get that whole deer-in-the-headlights-Richard-Nixon-during-the-Kennedy-debate look on their face, and it’s not pleasant. It’s really beads of sweat and the big eyes. And I just say, “Everything’s gonna be fine.” Everybody gets comfortable, and then we just roll, and that’s it. It’s very, very natural and just whatever comes out of it. I, personally, hate fake reality TV, and there’s so much of it these days. It’s just one of those things. You watch those shows where you just know that they’re reading from a script. It’s an MTV show: “Hi, my name’s Dan, and I’m here to rock it because I’m from Detroit.” It’s like, “Oh, wow, they just told you to say that.”
ANDELMAN: You see the writers listed at the end of some of the reality shows if you check the credits, and you think, “That explains a lot.”
GRAY: Exactly. I just think reality TV should be reality, which is just let it go, and we’ll see what happens. With “What’s With That House?” the premise behind it is it’s all those houses all across the country where you slam on the brakes and wonder what the homeowner was smoking. And we’ve all seen those houses. Every single person in every single state, city, and small town has one of those houses near them, and they know which one it is. And it’s probably nicknamed like “The Mushroom House” or “The Witch’s Hat House” because of what it looks like. And so many people just love to tour those houses, and we finally get to, so that’s why the show’s a lot of fun.
ANDELMAN: We have one that went up about a block from us that they refer to it as “The Italian Prison.” It’s a neighborhood of nice houses, and then this house goes up that eats up the entire piece of property, and it is two stories tall. It is one big rectangle, flat walls, every window is the exact same tiny size. So when I saw this show, I immediately thought of that, and I could equate to it completely. In one of the episodes I saw, you were in Oakland Park, Florida. And every neighborhood, it seems like, has one of these most bizarre, curious houses.
GRAY: And it’s great that you’ve nicknamed it “The Italian Prison.” I guarantee there’ll be like five or six names out there that people have for it, each one funnier than the last one. And it really polarizes everybody in these neighborhoods. I guarantee, if I went through the neighborhood, which we do, and we say “Hey, excuse me, Bob, you live on this street, what do you think of that place and what do you call it?” You’d say, “I call it ‘The Italian Prison. I think it’s ugly.” We’ll talk to another neighbor who will say, “I think it is a beautiful, post-modernism statement about architecture.” And they’ll love it. And it’s hysterical that you get some people that just absolutely think that whatever this house is is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and some people think it’s just moldy.
ANDELMAN: Do you have any great moments with neighbors that you really loved what they said, but you couldn’t possible use?
GRAY: Well, HGTV is definitely a more family values, conservative type of network, and so it’s a little on the squeakier, cleaner side, but I’m very impressed with them. They did air something one time that was very, very, very, very funny. We went to this house and saw all the neighbors. The problem is, when neighbors live close by, they’re probably friends with the people so we don’t want to say anything bad about the house. And so I was asking neighbors, “What do you think of this house?” “Oh, it’s fine. It’s fine.” “It’s fine” is the only thing. “It’s fine. It’s fine.” Well, c’mon, is it good, is it bad, what do you think? “Oh, it’s fine. It’s fine.” And, finally, I asked some guy who happened to live about six blocks away, and he didn’t know the people. I said, “Can I ask you on camera what you think about the house?” And he said sure. So I said so tell me, what do you think of the house? I didn’t even finish the sentence, and he said, “It looks like crap.” And I started laughing because it was so funny the way he said it. And he wasn’t being angry. He was just being very honest. And I said “No, really, just what do…” And he just again cut me off and repeated it, and it just made me laugh so hard. It was so funny to just see that kind of honesty. And they actually aired it. So it was great.
ANDELMAN: You say that HGTV is kind of conservative. Of course, they do air the show 11:30 at night. And the humor on the show would fit in primetime on any network, but yeah, I can see that it might be a little offbeat for them.
GRAY: Let’s just say, yeah, we caused a bit of a scare when we first joined ranks with them, but they knew who I was, and they were happy to have me aboard. They said they wanted to try something a little crazier, a little more fun, not so much khaki. HGTV has been really, really great to me. There’s a woman named Beth Burke… At every network, there’s always kind of some network suit goon that oversees the show, and she’s the network goon. And she’s just been our biggest savior. She likes for us to get away with all sorts of stuff. We’ll try to slip in these jokes in editing, and she will roll her eyes and then go try to talk to the powers-that-be. But, yes, they like to run me a little more late-night cause I think they see me as like the Dave Chappelle of HGTV. And Senator, I know Dave Chappelle, and you’re no Dave Chappelle.
ANDELMAN: You’re just gonna head that one off right now right by yourself, huh?
GRAY: Exactly. It’s very flattering that they think that but not even close.
ANDELMAN: Have you gotten any feedback from any of the other HGTV hosts? Do any of them have a problem with this being there?
GRAY: With HGTV? No. As a matter of fact, when I get to see the other hosts, they always say, “Man, you get away with murder. They don’t even let me…” It’s always a fun complaint. I guess I’m the naughty child that they just sort of let be bad.
ANDELMAN: How does a house get on the show?
GRAY: I think mostly bribery or threats. But barring that, there’s a crack production team out in Los Angeles, and they scour the country. It’s everything from looking in news stories and clippings for crazy houses that’ve been covered in the local newspaper to people — once we got on the air and got popular — sending in emails to HGTV saying, “Hey, I got a weird house in my neighborhood!”
I don’t get to go to every house that we show. I go to most of them. I go to about 80 percent of the homes. But sometimes, we’re shooting two at the same time. I just can’t be at two places at one time. And a really super-nice guy…it was a modern type of home in a very kind of traditional home area. And he sent in his stuff, huge fan of the show, huge fan of HGTV. They said. “Great, we’re gonna do your house.” They set it up, and they said, “Look, we’re not sure if George could come to your house,” and that was a deal-breaker. I was very, very flattered. He said, “I won’t do the show unless George can make it to my house.”
ANDELMAN: Yes, I want to be insulted in person. I don’t want to be insulted long-range.
GRAY: He was just the nicest guy. And it really made me feel good ‘cause you get out there, and you work. You don’t get in touch with a lot of people that are watching your show, and it was neat to have him say, “No, no, I really love the show and wanted you to be here.” And we had a great time. As the show’s become a lot more known and been on for a while, people, when I show up to the house, it’s like seeing an old friend. So that’s really nice.
ANDELMAN: Have you had any problems with any homeowners who didn’t quite get you, and maybe you couldn’t even use the tape?
GRAY: There’ve been a couple of times when I’m probably more liquored-up than I should be, a little touchy-feely, but…No, no. Actually, I think before we’d ever aired, which would’ve been maybe a year and a half ago, we were shooting the beginning of the series, but people didn’t have anything to relate to it. And I really took the time, I think, to tell people what it is. Kind of what I would always say to homeowners, and now people watch it. They know I’m coming to their house. They always TiVo it even if they’ve never seen the series and watch it for five minutes to get the general vibe of it.
I would always say that the show is fun and funny, but it’s not insulting. It’s never about making fun of you or your house. That’s not the point of the show, and it never will be. So it’s about having fun, not making fun. And I really want to always stress that. I think, once you say that to somebody, then you’re okay cause even when I did “Weakest Link, I always thought that when Anne Robinson did “Weakest Link” that she would just go for people’s jugular and like shoot out their kneecaps for no reason. Whereas I sort of saw it as these are all my children, and I love my children, but when your children get out of line, you thunk them on the head. You don’t really ultimately want to hurt your children, but sometimes you gotta smack them on the ass pretty hard. I think you look at it that way. When your friend slips on a banana peel, you’re gonna laugh and point, but you don’t want your friend to be hurt. And you will dust them off and help them up. And so that’s the way I approached “Weakest Link,” and I think with “What’s With That House?” I decided I want to have fun but not make fun. And, c’mon, if you live in a house that’s covered with shag carpeting, including the exterior of it, you can’t be taking yourself too seriously.
ANDELMAN: Now, I wanted you to finish that, but there was an episode, if we can call it an episode, where you’re talking to a guy who has signs all over his house, and he’s showing you a stop sign that he stole from a busy intersection. And then he was bragging about the quality of his compost. And while he’s doing that, you turn to the camera, rolled your index finger by the side of your head, which, of course, is the international symbol for “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” So let’s not be too benign about this.
GRAY: Well, you know what, though? In that kind of instance, if I thought the person was really crazy, I would’ve never done that. So if I know he’s just kind of a goofy guy that I’m having a good time with… You know the deal. If you’re next to one of your friends who’s being a goofball, you would absolutely do that.
GRAY: If you’re next to somebody who you think has a mental disorder, I think you would find that pretty insulting.
ANDELMAN: That would be true.
GRAY: So you always gauge your audience. And, definitely, some homeowners are a little more serious than the others, but everybody really enjoys living in their homes and has fun with them. And they understand what the show is about. It’s about enjoying the diversity of weird homes.
ANDELMAN: There was another one I liked. I think the family had a castle, and the parents were just so proud. And then you asked the teenage boy about it, if he was really proud about it, and he was like, “No, no. I’m not happy to be living here at all.”
GRAY: It’s so funny that you would think that a 13 or 14-year-old kid would hate to live in a normal house but be thrilled to live in a castle. But the true axiom of the world is 14-year-olds hate everything.
GRAY: That’s just the way it works. So you get to see that if you’re talking to a 14-year-old, they’re not happy. Best thing is put out some food, some water, and a video game and leave them alone until they’re about 19.
ANDELMAN: Now, Mr. Gray, I understand that there’s a call for you. Department of Children and Families is calling in a little concerned about some of your child-rearing techniques.
GRAY: Well, you notice anytime I’m called Mr. Gray, I’m generally in court.
ANDELMAN: Now, I’ve told you a couple of the episodes that I’ve really liked. Do you have some favorites of your own from either the homes or the homeowners?
GRAY: Oh, gosh, there’re so many. I’ve probably been to almost a couple hundred houses, and each one, there’s something great about it. There really has never been a house where I haven’t found some little gem.
One of my favorites is a woman in Austin who — her first name escapes me right now — just the sweetest, sweetest woman, a fairly well-known and very respected local artist. And Austin is a very funky place to live. If anybody’s from Austin right now or ever been there, it’s definitely eclectic. And she had a normal house. It was probably a home built in the late ‘20s maybe early ‘30s. She put art on every single square inch of her house, every single square inch. And she was very good at it. She did a lot of Day of the Dead kind of stuff, a lot of heavy, heavy thick oils and paints. But she would paint something and then drape something on top of that and drape something on top of that. And when you went through her whole house, she actually…you opened her oven, and her oven was like a diorama. It had art in the oven. Every single square inch of her home was art, including her toilet seat. Everything. And she was just the neatest, craziest person I’ve ever met, and I had such a great time with her.
And then there’s a house that I went to that was made by a guy in the sixties as a UFO. And it actually had a dropping drawbridge that you walked up into. The home itself was pretty much, if a UFO’s gonna land, this is what it would look like. The home was, I guess what, 12 feet off the ground on three stilts that stuck out like the 1950’s kind of saucer. And you walked up into it, and it was a freakin’ flying saucer — except it was a flying saucer built in like 1969, 1970. It had shag carpeting. They were pimpin’ space aliens. It was great. So those are just fun. There was one in Arizona near Bisbee — I have a house in Bisbee. I love Bisbee. Great, great town. They had actually blasted with mining caps a 3,000-square-foot home completely into the mountainside. Like when you looked at the face of the home, it looked like a tiny little shack. Well, that was actually the front porch. It was about a 10-foot front porch, and you think, oh, wow, it’s a tiny little shack sitting here. Three-thousand square feet, which is huge, straight into the mountain. I mean really gorgeous, absolutely a gorgeous, gorgeous home. So neat, so weird.
ANDELMAN: Wow. You really are exposed to so many things. You think maybe you’ve seen it all, especially I’m in Florida. I was pretty sure I’d seen it all until I’ve seen some of the houses that you’ve been to on the show.
ANDELMAN: You mentioned when we started talking about doing the voice-overs, going to the studio after the episode’s been taped and doing the voice-overs. The other thing that’s really interesting about the show is the use of the pop-ups, very similar to…I was trying to remember what it’s called. VH1 used to have this show that started doing this “Pop-up Video, I think it was.
GRAY: Yeah, “Pop-up Video.” Sure.
ANDELMAN: And when you read them, I can actually hear George Gray in my head, although I was wondering, do you contribute to those, or are those done by the production staff?
GRAY: Those actually are not me. And a lot of times I think they’re generated through the editors. There’s a woman named Karen, a guy named Aaron, basically anybody that has a rhyming name gets a job there automatically. And they’ll come up with funny little bits. They’re great. I think some of it might stem from something I’ve said that they can’t use. Some of it’s just something that they think is really goofy. Everybody that works on the show and around the show has a great, great sense of humor. I love some of those. They’re not really pop-ups so much as like an arrow will come flying in or something.
ANDELMAN: Right. Right.
GRAY: Yeah, they make me laugh because I’ve never seen them. And I think it’s really funny what they’re able to do with them. It just adds an extra little tidbit of information or something.
ANDELMAN: I guess a family had made, I don’t know if it was the wall or if it was a piece of art that had the bottoms of wine bottles. And the wife was saying that her husband actually had to drink all the wine, poor guy, to get to the point where they could cut off the bottoms. And then the pop-up was pointing out what each brand of bottle was. It’s that extra little detail. It’s like the old Spy magazine, the stuff in the margins.
GRAY: I love that stuff. It’s fun!
ANDELMAN: It shows somebody’s putting a little extra effort in.
GRAY: I’ve been having a great time with the show. It’s really a hoot. It really is. And we’ve got a Christmas special that’s gonna be just tons and tons of fun to get to see all the homes, including some in Florida, where people just, if you put up one strand of lights, that must be great so then ten-thousand strands of lights must be better.
ANDELMAN: I think I know the house you’re talking about, actually. There’s one in my mother-in-law’s old neighborhood that drew thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of people. I think that they moved some of their lights to Disney, but then they started all over again.
ANDELMAN: George, if we were invited into your home, what would we see, and what would embarrass you?
GRAY: I have the Matthew McConaughey “Clothes are for suckers” kind of rule. So that is a little awkward to begin with. You know what? My house, actually, was featured on “What’s With That House?” We did a really funny tongue-in-cheek bit where I’m up in the Hollywood Hills: “Look at all these funky cars around this house,” and somebody’s working on the car. Nobody works on their cars in the Hollywood Hills. And I walk up, and the guy from under the hood pops up, and it’s me. And we did an old, like they did in “Bewitched,” the old split-screen.
GRAY: We had somebody double me. A friend of mine doubled me from the back. And then, when we were face-to-face, it’s all split-screen. And it actually came out really, really, really, really good and funny. And so I interview myself, and the host on HGTV, he’s a little too dorky, a little too eager puppy, and a little too obnoxious. And then the celebrity George Gray from “Junkyard Wars,” “Weakest Link,” et al. is a B-lister sliding to the F-scale who thinks he’s way more important than he really is and just kind of an egotistical idiot. I played those two different characters and walked through the house. I have a bar called “Stinky’s Bar and Cigar Lounge” so we actually got to do some funny bits in Stinky’s, which is kind of everything’s 1930s, 1940s, 50s, vintage pinball machines and slot machines and Coke machines and old Rat Pack pictures and just tons of fun. We had a blast doing that one. So if you walk into my house, you get an eyeful.
ANDELMAN: And what did your neighbors say?
GRAY: Actually, it’s great because I interviewed my neighbors as if I was asking about, “What’s it like to live next to that George Gray.” And it was great. They played along fabulously. My one neighbor, Joy, I said, “What’s it like living next to a big television star like George Gray?” She said, “He has a job? I just thought he sat around all day. I didn’t know he did anything.” So she was very funny and making fun of me. And then my next-door neighbor, John, also made fun of me so it was great. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
ANDELMAN: Now, people can go to the HGTV website and look up “What’s With That House?” and it lists the episodes by the nicknames of the house. So how would we find your house on the list?
GRAY: Ooh, that’s a good question. Does it list every episode?
ANDELMAN: Yeah, it does.
ANDELMAN: Gotta go to your website, George, c’mon.
GRAY: That’s amazing. Well, you can go to georgegray.com, and you can see what Stinky’s looks like, but we don’t have the episode in it.
GRAY: That’s just my personal website. So you can catch a view of Stinky’s, but yeah, to see that bit, it might say Stinky’s Bar and Cigar Lounge. It might say George Gray’s house. It’s probably one or the other.
ANDELMAN: Okay. So you didn’t have…it wasn’t a particular nickname? Okay.
GRAY: I would say Stinky’s. I would go with that because the bar is named after my 17-pound cat.
ANDELMAN: I got in a plug for the website there, too, so there we go.
GRAY: That’s bad.
ANDELMAN: George, thank you so much for joining us today on Mr. Media. It’s been a lot of fun.
GRAY: I’ve had a blast, Bob. I really have, and you got yourself a great show. And keep spreading the word.