‘Flipping Out’s’ Jeff Lewis has a method to the madness
by Tim Parks
Real Estate investor Jeff Lewis didn’t try to become a reality show personality – but that is just what happened to the Southern California native. Lewis’ home improvement show on Bravo, “Flipping Out,” chronicles Lewis’ life love – purchasing homes, remodeling and selling them, otherwise known as flipping.
“From my meeting to finding out we had two or three networks interested, it was about a six-week period,” the openly gay Lewis said. “It happened that quick. I did not even have time to reconsider – would I have decided not to do it, if I had really thought about it? Honestly, it happened so, so quickly that I didn’t really have time to really think about what I was doing.”
Thankfully, getting things done in a timely fashion is paramount to Lewis’ line of work, and having his day-to-day life captured for the cameras has meant that audiences can see the pressure points of flipping houses.
“I think people are understanding how truly stressful it is to be in this business,” he said. “To kind of be a smaller businessman – I don’t have access to tens of millions of dollars; I’m using my own money. And in order for me to make money, I have to risk putting my own personal funds into these homes.”
But, watching himself on the small screen had showed the flipper a few things he needs to work on personally and professionally.
“As you can see from watching episode one and watching episode two, I, at times get myself into a stressful situation where I’ve overextended myself,” Lewis said. “During the show, I believe I had six projects going, which is the most I’ve ever had at one particular time – and it was a little too much for me. I was a sensitive kid; anytime someone didn’t like me, I took it really personally, and I had to toughen up. Who knows? Maybe all of this was preparing for this reality show! I don’t know what my purpose is, I’m learning what my lessons are in life, and I watch myself on television and think, ‘Wow! I have a lot more work to do.’”
By incorporating the lives of people involved in the flips, and playing on human drama, “Flipping Out” brings an interesting element to the usual home shows seen on HGTV.
And, “Flipping Out” has more drama than you can shake a two-by-four at.
The drama is due, in part, to Lewis’ very particular way of getting things done, which is a direct result of his obsessive compulsive disorder, a disorder that affects 3.3 million adults in America. It is classified as one of the top 10 most disabling illnesses in terms of lost income and diminished quality of life by the World Health Organization.
While watching Lewis’ meticulousness makes for fascinating television, he is very candid about being labeled as “crazy” because of the OCD, both on the show and with clips of his behavior becoming comedic fodder for shows, such as “The Soup” on E!
“I actually embrace it; I think we are all a little crazy – granted, there are probably different degrees of crazy. Maybe I’m a little higher up the ladder than most people,” he said, laughing. “To be honest with you, I don’t take it personally, I run my own race and I’m not really concerned about what people think about me. Granted, when there’s enough criticism, it does affect me; Generally I go through life not being concerned what everyone thinks of me, if I did that I would probably be an emotional wreck.”
The “Flipping Out” star seems to be the polar opposite of the OCD textbook case, and has said that he feels fortunate to have found a line of work that “validates and celebrates” his disorders.
“Flipping Out” not only chronicles Lewis, but his staff, which he considers his extended family. And within any family there is always a fair amount of dysfunction and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry.
In fact, it was two of his staff members who were initially approached about doing a reality show.
“Jenni and Chris, my assistants, were working on a project with a local production company,” he explained. “And they wanted me to be involved, because it was basically filming their life – they were shooting a promo about their life and relentless pursuit for fame and success in Hollywood. The production company had asked permission if they could come in and film me, and I had initially said no. Finally, I reluctantly agreed and they came in and shot me for two days (with Jenni and Chris working here) and within five days I had a call from the production company that they were interested in doing a promo about my life.”
Lewis’ my-life-as-an-open-book approach on “Flipping Out,” also includes a chapter on his sexuality and his business relationship with his ex, Ryan Brown. Most break ups don’t end so well as to even remain friends, but Lewis and Brown forged a business partnership out of the ashes of their failed relationship.
“Initially when we first decided to go into business together, the break up was fresh and it was certainly tense,” Lewis said. “There is a definite love there and a connection, and we were and are such good friends. He’s one of the most important people in my life, and I’m so fortunate to have him in my life, and it doesn’t matter in what capacity. I couldn’t imagine having a better business partner – he’s got my back, and I’ve got his.”
Another area of his life that involves relationships is his love for his two dogs and two cats.
“There’s so much innocence in pets,” he said. “With pets, you really bond with them because they need you; they’re dependent on you. What I love about my dog Casey (the first dog I adopted) is that she forced me to leave work, to leave the house, and take that 45-minute canyon hike, and it’s turned out to be my most favorite part of the day.”
With the first season of “Flipping Out” in the can, was there any aspect of Lewis’ life that he feels wasn’t portrayed on the show that he would like viewers to know about?
“I do not blame the production company or Bravo, because when we first started filming this, I was in a very bad place in my life,” he said. “I was very stressed. I was very tense. I was scared – you could smell and read the fear on me in episode one and two. I love episode three because they are starting to show my sense of humor, and I am starting to show it to them! So, it’s not about editing. And the fact is that normally we have a lot of fun at work. We have a great time; we joke around most of the day. I would love for people to see more of my lighter side and my sense of humor.”
As for another season of “Flipping Out,” Lewis is definitely game, and is pleased with the end product of the first season.
“Maybe I’m not proud of my behavior all of the time, but what I’m proud of is that it’s an accurate depiction of my life, and it’s authentic, regardless of whether you like me or not.”
“Flipping Out” airs Tuesdays at 10 on Bravo. The season finale airs Sept. 11.
This interview was first published in September 2007