New York Family Interview With Cat Greenleaf

Photography By Christopher Logan
Styling By Monica Cotto
Hair & Makeup by Kim Baker For Glamazon Beauty Cosmetics

When I meet Cat Greenleaf at her iconic brownstone on a recent Tuesday morning, she has a sleeping baby strapped to her chest. She puts her finger to her lips, “shhhhh,” and tiptoes quietly up to the nursery to lay him down in his crib. Moments later, a cry wafts down the stairs, and Cat reemerges with her son in her arms: baby victorious, nap defeated. An absolutely ordinary moment in this woman’s anything but ordinary life.

Married to “60 Minutes” investigative producer Michael Rey, with whom she has two adopted sons, Cat has transformed her quiet, tree-lined street in Cobble Hill into one of the hippest stages in New York City. Her interview show “Talk Stoop” on WNBC is an eclectic mish-mash of extraordinary personalities, not the least of which is her own. The show can perhaps be best described as pop culture meets politics meets human interest in a format that recalls an older, fading world of gossiping on front porches with next-door neighbors—in this case, very famous ones. It’s a kind of “Sesame Street” for big people, with her English bulldog, Gracie, as a stand-in for Big Bird. On her stoop, Cat interviews celebrities, politicians, and musicians as varied as Brooke Shields, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kim Kardashian, and Spike Lee. And we, the viewers—often watching on those screens in the back of taxis—get to eavesdrop on the surprising conversations that transpire.

I have to first ask about the co-star of your show (along with your dog, Gracie, of course): your stoop. Has it become somewhat of a neighborhood landmark?
You’d have to ask the neighbors about that, but it’s true that at least once a day, somebody stops to take a picture. There have been rumors that the double-decker Gray Line tour bus has come through, and I’m often stopped by strangers asking me [breaking into a deep Brooklyn accent]: “Is this where they do that show about the stoop? I like that show.”

What do you think it is about Brooklyn that makes it the perfect backdrop for a show like yours?
I think good conversation can happen anywhere. And my show, most importantly, is about good conversation. That said, it can’t be denied Brooklyn is having a moment. Even before the Barclays Center went up, it was becoming the coolest place on earth little by little. We just happened to jump on the surfboard as that wave was swelling, and now we’re riding it and hopefully partaking in it as well.

Were there decisive moments with things or people that made you say, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do with my life,” or has it been a kind of gradual unfolding?
There was a decisive moment. I was in San Francisco, out of a job, fat, drunk, single, poor—the whole deal. I was 27 and I didn’t know what to do with my life. I thought to myself, What do I like? I started there. I knew I liked the feature segment on the Fox affiliate morning show. So, I called them and asked if I could come in and be their intern. They asked me: “Are you in school?” I said, “No.” “Do you have a journalism background?” “No.” “All right, come on in!” That was it. It turned out there was an advantage to being a 27-year-old intern as opposed to a 17-year-old intern in that I had a little bit of life experience under my belt.

The first major celebrity to grace your stoop was Rosie Perez. Were you nervous? Do you ever get nervous now?
I don’t get nervous around celebrities; I never have. Maybe it’s because I went to high school in L.A. and they are everywhere? I don’t know, but here’s the thing: They are coming to my home, and they present so normally. They walk in and point to the ExerSaucer and say, “I had that with my kids!” or “Hey, let’s talk about your kitchen design!” So instantly, they are just people. I see that they forgot to get their roots done or that they bite their cuticles—all the humanizing things.

What makes you nervous? Anything? Ever?
Driving! I’m not a very good driver. Driving makes me insanely nervous, like cat-on-a-roof kind of nervous. In the city, on the freeway, on little mountain winding roads where, by the way, there is plenty of reason to be nervous!

So what do you think about texting while driving? Tell us about your Look Up Stop Texting (LUST) campaign.
I started LUST on a whim. It began as a comment on etiquette. I thought we were losing our connection… People were clearly distracted while they were supposed to be engaging with one another. That was the beginning. And then it moved into questions of safety. I was in L.A., and I saw some people with a Harvard sticker on the back of their car driving down the freeway at 65 miles an hour—texting. I thought, “You’re not smart! I don’t care that you went to Harvard! That’s ridiculous!” And frankly, as soon as I had children and saw people texting and driving, I was full-board crazy.

Speaking of crazy—what are some specific things that you do to help maintain calm and peace in your own life?
Last July, I made a big life change. No more chronic dinner party-giving, no more putting my love out in all these different places, because I have two boys who could use me all the time. I have a career that I’m really trying to grow, and the institution of “Talk Stoop” that I’m trying to make bigger and better for everybody involved. And that’s the order: my family, my career, and being there for good friends when they need me. That’s it.

I made another huge leap this weekend and hired a mother’s helper on Sundays. On Sundays, I had become pure evil, and I did not like myself. I had to give it up and tell myself that it’s okay to have someone come and play with the kids for a couple of hours. This last Sunday was our first try, and it was hard for me. The kids were great, but I needed to check in.

Let’s talk a little bit about your boys. Tell us about each of them.
Truman is eight months old and Primo is three and a half, though I always round down on their ages, up to the very last second of their birthdays. They are as sweet as marzipan and as spicy as jalapeño peppers. The little one idolizes the big one. The big one vacillates between “When is the little one going back to the pound?” and “I’m proud to be a big brother.”

What do you love to do with your kids?
I like to eat them. A lot. Chomp on them. We roll around. We like to go down to Pier 6 on Atlantic Avenue and eat ice cream at Blue Marble. But, generally, if it’s not happening on this block, it’s not happening. And we go upstate. We have this double life upstate and downstate. But there’s no in-between. We don’t go into the city on a Saturday. We love being home.

What are your thoughts on raising your kids in the city?
We are a multicultural family, so the fact that my kids can look around and see other multicultural families readily is nice. Increasingly, we live in a more mixed up world, so to be able to see that diversity reflected in our neighborhood is cool.

What are your biggest joys and challenges as a mother?
My biggest challenge for both kids is distraction. I made a mistake this weekend and brought some work upstate. That was dumb. It doesn’t work when I’m trying to do both: to parent and do my job. It makes me not good at anything.

My biggest joys—well, just look at him! [Truman has been cruising around in a baby walker, running into walls and chasing the dogs.] Little Truman is just pure joy. That’s all he is. And Primo—he’s funny, funny, funny. We crack up. He tells jokes, and we play music. He’s really into music. I speak to him a lot about music, as if I’m talking to a peer. Right now, he’s obsessed with backup singers.

You were a singer in a band once, right? Has that impulse been passed down to the boys?
Yes! We just started a family band! It’s called “Love Toll.” Like, “Pay Me the Love Toll.” That’s our self-titled debut album. We have three songs right now: Love Toll, P.U., and Going to the Subway. We do some covers—there’s a lot of Bob Marley, “The Head and the Heart” (their whole record). And Truman keeps time with his rattle.

So what are your strategies for raising amazing men? (I ask this in all earnestness, having boys of my own!)
I’ve been wanting to do a study on just this thing, with all the same earnestness! Here’s the thing: I have an amazing husband. This person is even and solid and while I would sooner get divorced and never talk again than just talk something out, he will work things to the end. He gets up in the middle of the night with the kids when I’m pretending to be asleep. So, in a way, I feel like I’ve got it made. I just keep positive role models around. I can’t say enough about the role models I’ve had in my life or the stories I’ve read. That’s why I think sharing stories is so important, because they are beacons that we can follow.

Can you tell us one of the most significant stories in your life?
I was on the phone with my grandfather when I was about four, and he explained to me that my sister was adopted, and I wasn’t. And it was at that moment—it was less a decision than it was a gut feeling—that I knew how my life was going to be. I kind of envisioned my boys here. Since then, I never gave it a lot of thought. There are two things in the world that I know: I’ve always known that I believe in God and that I was going to adopt children. Everything else is up for grabs.

Did you and your husband experience any obstacles during your adoption processes?
Yes. Two people are sitting in jail today for scamming us. Words of wisdom: Google the people you are going to scam. Don’t scam an investigative television reporter! [And then], we had a baby for two days until the birth mother changed her mind before we left the hospital. But, bottom line: Any person who wants to keep their baby should keep their baby! We worked with [another] woman pretty late into her pregnancy, and she just never called us again.

Any words of advice or wisdom?
While it can be tough, the adoption process assures one thing: the baby at the end of the road. Somewhere out there, there is a baby that will be adopted into your family. It will work out.

Given how much work you’ve put into fostering this unique career, what are you most proud of?
Everything great that I have I feel I can pin on someone else. I have a great marriage because I have a great husband. I’m crazy in love with him. I have great kids because God made them that way. I shoot a television show on the steps on my house in my sneakers because I pitched the idea on a day when people were too busy to say no. I feel very, very lucky.

Stealing a cue from you on “Talk Stoop,” tell us something you’ve never told anyone on or off camera.
I have never felt alone. Even when I’m very clearly alone or when I’ve moved abroad and been the only person I know on a continent, I have always felt accompanied.

By what?
By possibility—just knowing that something is going to happen around the corner. The sense that possibility is out there everywhere you go. That’s a constant.

Sarah Torretta Klock is a story-teller, photographer, and expert wrangler of her three children, all red-heads like their father. They live happily in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

And for a peek at the top 5 people Cat Greenleaf would like to interview, click here.