At the tender age of 20, Lisa Kennedy Montgomery became a breakout personality at MTV, combining coverage of alternative music with political news starting in 1992. With a number of radio talk shows and TV shows (Reality Remix,’ ‘Outnumbered,’ and ‘The Five’ on various ‘Fox Channels), she has been recognized as one of the most brilliant and versatile hosts in the world.
Kennedy and her two brothers were raised by her mother. She is of half-Romanian and half-Scottish descent. She also picked up a degree in philosophy from the University of California, Los Angeles, in those years, along with professional snowboarding husband Dave Lee and a couple of kids. In 2012, Kennedy revealed that she had been suffering from the autoimmune disorder celiac disease.
„Both my parents were Democrats. My dad was definitely more of a fiscally conservative traditional Democrat. My mom was more of a feminist Camelot Democrat. They definitely had an idealistic view of life as it should be in the United States. And they had a sense that the government had to have some hand in making people’s lives better. So for me libertarianism was the ultimate form of rebellion.
„I think being deeply suspicious of the government and communists is implicit in a lot of first-generation immigrants, particularly from Eastern Europe. My mom came over from Romania when she was a kid and they fled the commies who took their family hemp farm.”
We both come from good Democratic families with Romanian roots. Do you think the Romanian experience of being dominated by assorted autocratic regimes over its entire history has something to do with your parents’ politics or yours?
I definitely think my ancestry has something to do with my politics. And I think being deeply suspicious of the government and communists is implicit in a lot of first-generation immigrants, particularly from Eastern Europe. My mom came over from Romania when she was a kid and they fled the commies who took their family hemp farm.
This is a common experience among immigrants—but not a universal experience. It’s not as if everyone of Romanian or Russian extraction shows up in the United States and is like, „Woo! Thank God we can get on with the great libertarian project.” There clearly are some other contributing factors to your politics. What comes next?
Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: I was born in Indiana and raised in Oregon and there’s a strong sense of individualism, particularly in Oregon. And my mom is an artist, so there was always a lot of emphasis placed on expression. She never raised us to distrust the government as a tool for suppressing free expression, but obviously, as an expressor, you run into problems when trying to carry out your craft.
You became a very public, prominent non-liberal very early in your life. How did your family feel about that?
Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: My mom was very disappointed when I came out as a Republican in high school. And being a Republican in high school was really fun because all of my teachers were extremely liberal. Expressing anything that was counter to their deeply held beliefs was so easily unsettling that that form of contrarianism was very comfortable. It wasn’t comfortable for my mom. One time I lied to her and went to a Republican conference in Oregon.
I told her I was staying at a friend’s house. She worked for the phone company. And when I called her collect, she checked on Monday to see where the call came from, and the fact that it came from the beach where they were having the Dorchester conference meant that I was not spending the night at a friend’s house. And she grounded me for spring break.
Your show has a little bit of a different flavor than the typical cable news hour. It’s candy-colored. It’s got a lot of pop culture references. You blow kisses at your viewers.
Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: I grew up in a loud, very funny house where you had to compete to be heard. I worked at MTV, where the visual component and the aesthetic was very important and satisfying, because it was layered with music and meaning. Just as music was the common language at MTV, news is the common language here. But we consume it in a way that’s much more comfortable, in a language that we understand. It’s the kind of conversation that you have with your friends when you’re having a great dinner.
When you’re out at a restaurant with different kinds of people and you challenge each other and you laugh, that’s the ultimate vibe I want to create on the show, because those are some of the best nights and those are some of the best conversations. When you’re talking about race and politics and freedom and government, but you’re also talking about celebrities and parenting and things like that, having substantial conversations that make you laugh so hard you could pee your pants, that’s the ultimate goal.
How have you managed to maintain your rebellious streak throughout your career?
Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: I’ve worked with plenty of agents over the years who have tried to advise that I just conveniently step into a familiar box. It’s never felt right. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that things changed. I was stressed out, between jobs, and I was worried that I was going to have to compromise myself and take a job that I didn’t want. Everyone’s been there, and it was a horrible position to be in.
My husband was like, „You need to figure out what you really want to do. You need to figure out what you’re most passionate about and don’t worry about the money. Let go of that employment anxiety. The work will come.” He was absolutely right. He was the one who believed in me. Nowadays, when I mentor people, I tell them the exact same thing: You have to figure out what you want to do. Even if it’s going back to what you wanted to do in high school. Figure that out. Figure out what you love.
You’ve been doing the bicoastal commute from New York to LA but, with the new show, have moved the whole family to New York. Was that a difficult decision?
Lisa Kennedy Montgomery: If I’m in New York three days a week, that’s manageable and that’s OK. I got a lot of airline miles and I met a lot of nice plane friends. But then you realize something’s gotta give. I talked to my husband about it and he was like, „Life is an adventure.” We don’t want to raise sheltered children. They should see different parts of the country, and they should experience things.
It’s been really critical for us to explain to our daughters that when you have a big dream in life, you have to go after it. You have to. At some point, you do have to give up that personal security — which can be false — in order to embrace the new adventure. And we agreed that we are a unit, and as long as we’re together, we can pretty much do anything.
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