PSS

Happy? Sad? Confused?

by Jonathan Everitt

When you’re climbing the pop-culture ladder as a guy with a mic, a sense of humor can take you far. From a college radio station to corny YouTube clips to the unhallowed halls of MTV. With a love of all things media and the guts to tease celebrities into highly listenable conversations, Josh Horowitz ’98 has been laughing all the way to the red carpet.

It wasn’t long after he arrived on campus that Horowitz, now known for his weekly podcast, “Happy, Sad, Confused,” and as host of After Hours on MTV, was bitten by the media bug.

“The first turning point for me was getting into the Herald,” Horowitz says. “I was into it in a super-heavy way by the end of my first year. I dove in head first and spent many a late night at the Herald. It was a blast. I remember being up till three or four in the morning before we went to press.”

Horowitz soon made a jump from the newsroom to the broadcast studio, starting a talk show on WEOS in his sophomore year.

“WEOS let us do anything in the form of talk,” Horowitz says. “I don’t know what came over me, maybe a moment of insanity that I could host my own show. I was a huge media and pop culture junky. If they’re letting you do your own show, I was like, ‘I’ll try that.’”

“WEOS became the biggest thing in my universe,” Horowitz says, whose talk show was styled after NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Horowitz took full advantage of the station’s status as a National Public Radio affiliate, using its prominence to attract and book his own guests.

An internship leads to a breakthrough gig

Those early days of exposure led to some much bigger gigs—and some elbow-rubbing with some of the biggest names in entertainment. Each summer, he’d head home for break and land internships in the vast broadcasting universe of New York City, including one on PBS’ legendary Charlie Rose, where he also secured a job as a producer after graduation.

“By the time I got out of school I had been hosting my own show for three years,” Horowitz says. “I definitely found my voice in college.”

After four years at Charlie Rose, Horowitz tapped into the printer’s ink in his veins and worked for a string of pop-culture magazines. But the pull of broadcasting proved irresistible. He eventually returned to television, working as a producer at CNBC, where the misfortune of a low-rated program was his own little stroke of luck.

“I was a producer for John McEnroe’s talk show on CNBC, notorious for being the lowest-rated show in television,” he says. “But it was a great experience. By the end of the show’s brief run, they allowed me to do some stuff on camera and do a silly character interviewing celebrities on the red carpet.”

It was a spark of humor and on-camera charm that found its way to YouTube—where old video clips never die. That would be important later.

Josh Horowitz ’98 jokes around with Jennifer Morrison, star of ABC’s hit show Once Upon a Time, on his weekly podcast, “Happy, Sad, Confused.” Horowitz, who got his comedic start hosting his own talk show on WEOS, hasn’t lost his touch as he puts out “shockingly candid” conversations each week with celebrities ranging from Woody Allen to Jack Black and Daniel Radcliffe. PHOTOS COURTESY OF MTV IMAGES

Changing channels to MTV

After the show was cancelled, Horowitz wrote a book, The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker, a collection of interviews with filmmakers, published in 2006 by Plume. That same year, he landed a job at MTV covering movies. Today, he’s a correspondent for MTV News, traveling the world for the network, racking up exclusive interviews with A-list actors along the way. He also hosts After Hours on MTV.com, a sketchbased show where he has some laughs with celebrity guests.

In the years leading up to MTV, Horowitz had been mostly behind the scenes working as a producer. But the humorous celebrity interviews he’d done toward the end of his time at CNBC were just waiting to be watched by the right person—and they were.

“My boss at MTV at the time discovered these red carpet things I had done on YouTube, and he called me in,” Horowitz says. “He said ‘These are really funny, why don’t you do these for us?’ They put me on camera and it snowballed. Within the first couple years, I started doing a whole lot of comedic and serious interviews on camera.”

Then, another big break happened. MTV’s flagship host at the time, Kurt Loder, was scheduled to interview John Travolta, and couldn’t make it.

“My boss asked me if I could do it, and I said ‘sure,’” Horowitz says.

Since then, Horowitz has spent plenty of time hobnobbing with stars on camera, covering red-carpet shows live at events like the Sundance Festival, San Diego Comicon, SXSW, and the MTV Movie Awards. So, does the constant brush with fame rub off? He doesn’t feel like he himself has celebrity status, though people recognize him occasionally.

“I was covering the premiere for the film Insurgent recently, and I definitely felt like I was recognized and appreciated, so it’s not a daily thing, but in certain contexts,” he says.

Which is no doubt a subject that came up when Horowitz recently served as a major stop on the HWS student career trip, “Behind the Scenes,” in NYC. Students each spring head to New York City to meet with HWS alums working in news and entertainment. It’s a chance to see their work life firsthand. Horowitz enjoys supporting the efforts of the Colleges to open doors—and eyes—to the professional world.

“The students were asking the right questions,” he says. “And they had it more together than I did.”

A quirky, hilarious podcast takes off

Outside of his work at MTV, Horowitz does a podcast series of his own. The shtick: interview celebrities, close out the conversation with an oddball questionnaire, and shoot a series of spontaneous photos in which his guests pose successively as happy, sad and confused. If it sounds weird, it is—and also hilarious and wildly popular with the public.

“It began as a photo thing and now it’s a photo thing and a podcast,” Horowitz says. “In early 2013, I was talking to Jessica Chastain about Zero Dark Thirty, and I remember thinking that journalists often have photos taken with talent and it’s super cheesy. I have a big BS meter. So I was trying to come up with a self-aware, silly version of that. I asked Jessica to do three photos: happy, sad and confused.”

He kept the theme going at the Toronto Film Festival that year, and the formula evolved into a podcast.

“It’s a really direct descendent of the radio show I was doing at WEOS,” Horowitz says. “At MTV, I have the opportunity to do that sometimes, but I don’t often get the chance to sit down with someone for a long time. By now I have good relationships with talent and publicists, and about a year ago, I started doing it at my office at MTV.”

A startup digital publisher, Wolfpop, recently approached Horowitz about adding his podcast to their lineup, and he agreed.

With a dream job, a fun side gig, and a book under his belt, there’s one question that needs no answer. Happy.


HAPPY, SAD, CONFUSED:

A Q&A
Horowitz often puts his guests on the spot with left-field questions, but they’re good sports. So is he. Here are some responses to some curveballs of our own.

Were you ever grounded and for what?
I basically skipped an entire year of high school. I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, but my freshman year of high school, I decided not to go to school. Virtually the entire year, I skipped school. For months at a time, I convinced my parents that I was going, then I’d get caught and I’d get grounded. I would impersonate a guidance counselor on the phone and tell them the note in the mail was wrong.

People tell me I look like ______.
My mother-in-law says I look like Jake Gyllenhaal. I’ve also had a fair number of tweets about my resemblance to Edward Snowden. I’ll take Gyllenhaal over Snowden.

What was your favorite TV show as a kid?
My favorite sitcom of all time is Cheers. I also loved the Greatest American Hero.

What is the least favorite part of your week?
The anticipation before an interview. I tend to over-prepare and stress and overthink and assume it’s going to go badly. Nine times out of 10, it goes very well.

 

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.