He was the man in the red sweater in the front row at the second presidential debate. His face has been plastered all over the internet and clothing. He appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. IZOD has taken him on as a representative. He’s tapped into our thoughts as a nation more than we might even realize.
Ken Bone has helped a lot of us to get in touch with humility in a recently polarized election. To get out and the vote was his message, and now he’s still standing alongside those same beliefs. I was able to have a discussion about the here and now, the future and who he cast his vote for in the election last month.
DC LIFE MAGAZINE: Thanks for spending a moment today. Where do you call home?
KEN BONE: Happy to be here. I live in a little town called Belleville which is a suburb of St. Louis on the Illinois side.
DC: You initially had a wardrobe malfunction before the debate. What was that all about?
KB: Well I had a suit that I was planning to wear that my grandfather helped me pick out before he passed as he was always a really sharp dressed guy. He worked at a funeral home so he had a lot of really nice suits and he liked this suit on me. And since he has been gone, I had gained some weight and when I went to get in the car while wearing the suit, I split the seat out of the pants.
DC: Did any friends from first-grade contact you the day after the debate telling you that they missed hanging out together?
KB: I heard from a few people that I used to hang out with from high school and college. I didn’t get any surprise cousin phone calls that I didn’t know I was related to or anything like that. I did hear from a great, great uncle who I had never heard of before a few weeks later. He had actually heard of me and he is writing a book about our family and wanted to include a chapter about me. He’s ninety years old and so we talked for a bit. We’ll see if he ever gets his book published.
DC: What was the next day after the debate like for you overall and have you been recognized?
KB: It was bizarre. I was doing media from 5 a.m. – 8 p.m. pretty much nonstop. I think I had about a two-hour break where I had to return some phone calls while I was sitting at a studio before interviews. I had never done any sort of similar interviews, so it was kinda weird learning to do all that on the fly. As for being noticed, I get recognized at least once everywhere I go.
For the first two weeks, it was a madhouse. I was in Washington, D.C. and I was in Las Vegas, I was in Memphis and New York. In all of those places it would just be a mob on the street, dozens of people at a time would form up for pictures with me. They would stand around in a semi-circle expecting me to say something profound! But I really don’t have much profound to say so I would give a speech about getting out to vote and they would seem happy and take pictures and move on and another crowd would form.
DC: When you buy your groceries, do you still wear a red sweater?
KB: No, the original red sweater actually sold for charity. It got $10,000 for a charity named the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight. It supports 25 veterans who wouldn’t be able to fly out to Washington, DC and see their war memorials. I do have a replica red sweater I wear for appearances and photographs when I do charity. I don’t wear it anywhere else because, well, I don’t want to make a circus of the grocery store.
DC: Describe your feelings about becoming an internet meme…
KB: It was really strange. I’m kinda turned into the internet at all times. And to see myself become the next thing that occurred in videos and memes was odd. The consequences of that are…weird. Most of the people that contact me are wondering what it is like now that I am fading away. I have to tell them and say that I’m still a human being. I didn’t spring into life the day of the debate. I had a home and a family and a career before and I still have all of that now. I’m not worried about fading away or disappearing because I will still have the life I had before.
DC: What were the best and what were the strangest endorsements that companies were throwing at you?
KB: My favorite is IZOD. I’m still partnered with them as a spokesman. I give 10 percent of all I make to charity and when they heard this, they went above and beyond and doubled that! I give 10 percent of the value for my contract with them to the St. Patrick Center for the homeless and they doubled it and gave 20 percent. They are an incredible and very charitable company to work with and the commercial we put together looked more like a public service announcement than a commercial. At this point, I have had a lot of smaller companies come out of the woods, some of them good and some of them otherwise. I just don’t want to pretend to be something that I’m not and endorse a product that I would never use, which does upset them sometimes to hear. I only want to sponsor things I believe in.
DC: Have you seen the Ken Bone Christmas sweater yet?
KB: I have seen it. A lot have asked me how much I make from that and they are surprised to hear that it is zero dollars. People are selling a lot of things with my face on it. There is not a lot I can do to stop this, and I just hope they are being responsible and donating some of the proceeds to a charity as I would.
DC: What do you think of the shape of Trump’s cabinet picks so far?
KB: Well, I actually did one of my Youtube videos about that. He seems 50/50 so far. I don’t really see the point of Steve Bannon for his Chief Strategist even if he is the greatest strategist in the history of the world. It just seems like the public relations hit on that is so terrible, and I don’t know him personally, but from his public image, he really doesn’t seem like that great of a dude. So why are you willing to take that punch and appoint him? Some of the others I think are pretty decent, actually. Secretary of Education is really good. My overall grade for him really hinges on who he gets for Secretary of State. I hope he gets Mitt Romney because he doesn’t get along with him that well. Despite popular belief, I think that working with people you don’t agree with and trying to affect some kind of change or compromise is a good thing and that’s what we need to get back to.
DC: In these uncertain times, you helped to lower our blood pressure as a nation. Any future political aspirations or goals on your mind?
KB: I don’t even go to HOA meetings! If I really thought I could bring something to the table then I would consider running for city council and then maybe beyond that. I don’t see that happening right now, but this whole process has taught me to never say never.
DC: What is one or two major challenges that our country is truly facing over the next four years?
KB: I think number one is divisiveness, it’s internal. We’ve got a lot of people in this country that refuse to get along. They would rather see the country fail than see themselves reaching across the aisle and working with someone who disagrees with them. And that’s a shame. You look back to the days of John F. Kennedy and there was lots of reaching across the aisle. There was a sense of unity. So it’s going to be hard for President-elect Trump to re-establish that, but if we don’t, I don’t see how we can succeed. And number two is the energy crisis. I work in coal-fired energy and climate change is a very real threat and if we don’t start doing something about it today, we are going to regret it in twenty years.
DC: And finally, who ultimately earned your vote?
KB: I’m not telling anybody who I voted for. I pledged that I wouldn’t tell anyone before and after the election and the only person who knows who I voted for is my wife. All I said was that whoever won the presidency would get my support. So since Trump won the election, he will get my support. I will do my best to be on board with him. I want to foster that unity that I have been talking about.