Mr. TV: Army of One

Since it isn’t every day I have the chance to interview a megastar (and impress my two teenage children in the process), this week’s column is devoted to the one—and only—Gene Simmons, with whom I spoke on camera during our Mediaweek All-Stars luncheon last week.  

Simmons, who emceed the event, is, of course, originally known as the larger-than-life co-founder of rock group KISS, which to-date has sold more than 80 million albums, and remains a merchandising bonanza. Gene also discovered the legendary Van Halen, managed the recording career of Liza Minnelli, is the designer of his trademark axe shaped bass guitar, has a postage stamp in his honor, and is one of the top fire-breathers in the world (thanks, in no small part, to a seven inch tongue).

But since you might know all that already, here are a few things you may not know about Simmons: he was an elementary school teacher prior to KISS, he once considered becoming a rabbi, and has never used drugs or alcohol. Never one to apparently sit still, Gene has morphed into a TV reality star, actor, producer, series creator, best-selling author and marketing mogul, including his own line of comic books, clothing and even a KISS Coffee House in Myrtle Beach, S.C.  So, without further ado, let’s let the Rock God rock.

Obviously you are very busy.  How do you manage all these projects? We are very fortunate to be living in America. Don’t believe the naysayers and the doom watchers about how the stock market is in the dumpster. These are not hard times.

My mother is a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. If my mother can have a positive, proactive point of view about life, she should be teaching everyone in the stock market and on the streets of America to just look up. There is no limit to what America can do.

How do you go from a sixth-grade school teacher to one of the world’s most famous rock stars? It all begins with a step. We all have aspirations about different things and I follow an old adage … don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Let me ask you, what do you do for a living? I bet you didn’t have the same kind of job before it.

I guess you can say I’m a TV critic. Before this, I advised TV stations about what programs to put on the air. But before that, I sold ad space for magazines like Guns & Ammo and Hunting. I had no interest in that. I rest my case. You are doing something completely different now.

But to go from a sixth-grade teacher to a huge rock star is a bit more extreme, don’t you think? I actually wanted to be a rabbi. But I found out that rabbis do not get chicks. [laughter]. So, I found a new career.  

Let’s talk about your acting for a moment.  Are you planning on returning to Ugly Betty? Well, they keep asking me to come back. It’s all about time permitting.  

What about Celebrity Apprentice? Donald Trump obviously wanted you to stay. What happened? I could have won that thing. But KISS was going back on tour; we were supposed to be in Australia and New Zealand. So, I had to figure out a way to leave and yet still play the game. And, in the first challenge, I managed to sell my first hot dog over the phone for $10,000 in about two minutes.

$10,000 for a hot dog? Could you do that today in this economy? That’s up to us. Everybody just has to wake up and smell the coffee that realize that you live in America … the most educated and advanced people on the planet where the work force is capable of anything.  There is nothing we can’t do. Anything is possible. As soon as people look at the glass as being half full instead of half empty, we’ll get back on track.