Fresh off taping a live episode of The View, Michelle Collins is in her dressing room with ETonline to discuss her new gig as a permanent co-host. It’s Monday, Sept. 14, the start of her second official week, and the 34-year-old comedian turned talk show host has already navigated an interview with Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, rubbed up on surprise guest Jerry O’Connell, and paid tribute to 9/11 -- all without controversy.
For a show that most often makes headlines for being controversial, it was a successful, albeit low-key start to the 19th season. That is until Collins, along with co-hosts Joy Behar and newcomers Paula Faris and Raven-Symone, made fun of Miss Colorado’s talent portion of the Miss America pageant, which had aired on ABC the night before.
Unaware of the backlash already brewing online -- commenters quickly responded on Instagram and Twitter -- Collins tells us how she relishes in joining a show that she’s watched “from day one, back when [she] was unemployed,” through its ups and downs. “What would the hesitation be?” Collins says when asked if she was at all wary of the show’s dramatic tendencies.
The comedian is the first to admit being a part of the show is a surreal experience -- but one that feels destined.
Collins honed her pop culture I.Q. and comedic chops as managing editor of VH1’s now-defunct BestWeekEver.tv, building a snappy online brand of humor -- her recaps of Top Chef, awards shows, and even Beyonce’s surprise album are laugh out loud funny -- long before BuzzFeed. From there, she bounced between New York City and Los Angeles, expanding her resume as a talking head on shows like The Tyra Banks Show and Chelsea Lately before landing a hosting gig on VH1/Logo’s The Gossip Queens. Five years later, and after a number of TV and online writing gigs, including live-blogging awards for ETonline, she made her first appearance as a guest host on The View. It also coincided with her first (and only) season as a driver and host of VH1’s Walk of Shame Shuttle.
“It’s never been about being an actress or being on a sketch comedy show, it’s always been getting a talk show platform,” Collins says. “So how lucky am I that this is my break? You know that’s a blessing.” (Not one to get too sentimental, Collins jokes that this was all on her vision board, perhaps a nod to Oprah Winfrey and The Secret.)
Yet, her brand of comedy works for the aging talk show. Collins brings a millennial zeal to the table as a self-labeled “human IMDB” with Twitter-ready zingers. She also mimics British late-night host Graham Norton’s casual style of humor, balancing out Bure's and Faris’ conservative talking points and Symone’s self-defiant moments.
After all, she’s there to be one of the “funny ones.”
Even before the nurse story blew up, that’s a label Collins may be quick to shed as the season goes on -- and she credits the show’s producers for pushing her. “They’re like, ‘We know you’re funny,’” Collins says, admitting that it’s a part of her personality that she can’t just turn off. “On this show, what everyone is starting to do is be themselves as accurately as possible and hopefully that comes across on screen.”
But don’t expect her to take after predecessors such as Rosie O’Donnell, who drummed up headlines for fighting with guests and co-hosts, most famously bringing Elisabeth Hasselbeck to tears. “I’m not a bad person, so I would never say anything that would be offensive,” Collins tells us.
“Of course you have to be careful,” she admits. “Like, I was dying to hate on the Miss America contestants’ talents, but no. It’s like, they’re real people.”
It wasn’t until the next day that Collins' and Behar’s comments became national news, eventually prompting an on-air apology from both. “We love nurses. We adore you. We respect you. You guys are wonderful,” Collins said during Wednesday’s broadcast. “You’re the most compassionate people. I was not talking about nurses, we were talking about the talent competition, and it got misconstrued.”
Collins is the first to admit that she’s still finding her voice. “It’s still evolving, at least for me it is,” she says of the dynamic she’s still formulating with her co-hosts. “I felt like today was the best day we’ve actually done. It felt really nice, because all of our energies were really good today.”
But she even knows where to draw the line. “Coming from an Internet background, it’s very easy to want to be super snarky about things, but you have to dial that down a bit because it doesn’t play well on television,” Collins says. ”You can still be funny without resorting to those kinds of vibes.”
Those comments are perhaps the most telling of Collins’ personality. While she’s full of one-liners, most of them are lobbed at herself. She is the first to admit her own shortcomings or put herself down for a laugh. (In the same show as the nurse comments, she called herself a “born-again slut” and her height, 6’2”, was the center of several dating jokes.)
“My point of view is quite different from the others, even the comedians that are on the show,” Collins says. “I want to bring warmth and humor to the show.”
“That was a good answer,” she smirks, pleased with herself.