Heeere's a very different Johnny

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2014 - 2:00 PM

A French entrepreneur brings a zesty twist to the traditional talk show format.

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“My Friends Call Me Johnny” host Jean “Johnny” Pigozzi with Lorne Michaels.

Photo: Provided by JEAN PIGOZZI/Esquire Network,

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Mike Wallace is considered the most tenacious interrogator in TV history, but even he never asked one of the country’s most prominent businessmen if he ever contemplated taking a young boyfriend.

That’s exactly what Jean Pigozzi calmly posed to a flabbergasted Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel, and it’s why his new Esquire Network series, “My Friends Call Me Johnny,” may be the most gasp-inducing talk show in years.

Pigozzi doesn’t stop there. Brett Ratner is asked how he thinks he’ll die. He challenges French writers Virginie Mouzat and Capucine Motte to name the nationalities of men who make the best lovers. Michael Douglas has to choose between buttocks and breasts. And chef Mario Batali, would you ever consider opening a restaurant that’s, well, healthy?

What’s remarkable is that Pigozzi manages to get answers instead of a bop on the nose.

“I’m quite big,” said Pigozzi, 62, from his home in the south of France. “Nobody wants to punch me.”

Pigozzi is not a household name (yet), but he’s a long-standing regular on the rich-and-famous circuit thanks to some savvy investments in art, real estate and hedge funds. Since the mid-’70s, he has carried a camera around his neck, snapping photos of himself and celebrity friends such as Lorne Michaels and Bono. Some suggest he invented the selfie, a notion he does little to discourage.

With his generous paunch and wrinkled attire, he could be a member of Tony Soprano’s entourage. But once he starts a conversation, you instantly want to find out when he’s free for dinner. His bluntness and love of life are contagious and may be the main reason Elton John considers him one of the most interesting characters in the world.

“Some people have a flame under their butt,” Pigozzi said. “I hope mine isn’t too warm, because I’m going to burn.”

His exuberance for life helps explain how the lifelong bachelor has been catnip to a steady string of elegant women, including Princess Olga of Greece.

But some of his comments may trip an alarm for the political correctness police. In the series, he tells Charney that he admires men who go out with young girls because it’s so much work. He asks Batali if you can get a lot of “chicks” through cooking. He also shares how his life has three simple rules: 1) Never go to the office before noon; 2) remember that business can be fun; 3) women like to have sex.

“I’m not going to choose every word that I say. I don’t feel political or disgusting or threatening,” he said. “I’m not uptight. I’m free. When some people hit a certain age or position, they become pompous. Then you’re screwed. You can’t talk to the shoeshine boy, or take the subway or walk around in sneakers if you’re pompous. Not a chance. I live my life very simply. I don’t want to be surrounded by silly rules.”

That being said, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing a guest appearance from Gloria Steinem.

Who is on Pigozzi’s wish list? He laments that his good friend Steve Jobs didn’t live long enough to appear on the show. If there’s a second season, he’d like to spotlight scientists. And then there’s the ultimate get: Pope Francis.

“Speaking of pompous, I thought the last pope was super pompous. But the current one is out walking in the streets,” he said. “I think he will be well remembered.”

Would Pigozzi grill the pope about his sexual longings?

Don’t bet against it.

njustin@startribune.com • 612-673-7431 • Twitter: @NealJustin

  • My Friends Call Me Johnny

    When: 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

    Where: Esquire Network.

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