February 11, 2005

Mo Rocca Rocks Cornell

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Last night, comedian and self- described “fundit” (that’s a fun pundit) spoke in the Statler Auditorium in an event sponsored by Cornell Hillel. As show of “faith” Rocca, who is not a jew, peppered his speech with yiddish phrases and placed hammentashen, a jewish desert, on stage and welcomed the hungry audience to take. “We figured people just got lots of work to do, and the weather isn’t so good, so we wanted people to just have fun and walk around with a smile on their faces,” said Adam Shapiro ’06, Hillel Vice Chair for Internal Relations. Daze sat down with Rocca to hear his views on life, politics, and of course the ’80s.

DAZE: Most people know you from The Daily Show and every commentary show ever put out by VH1. I know you have a B.A. from Harvard. So, how did you get started doing what you’re doing?

MO ROCCA: The very first thing I did was audition for theater and do mostly musical theater; and while I loved doing that, I also realized that it was going to be hard to do what I wanted to do which was, you know, write my own material if I was just standing in line with thousands of other people to audition for touring musicals. And I got lucky. Before I had to do anything that required real courage, a friend of mine created a show called Wishbone, and she hired me to write and produce for it; and it was an amazing experience. I’d always been a huge news junky, and I am a big history buff so I had just started at one point visiting presidents’ homes and gravesites and meeting really interesting characters. So by the time I finished working on Wishbone and a couple [of] other kids shows, The Daily Show had started running and become sort of popular, and it seemed like the perfect fit for me: a place where I could write and perform comedy about the news.

DAZE: So, what’s it like doing the VH1 shows? I understand that you are not actually in the same room as the other commentators and don’t actually meet?

MO ROCCA: No, we don’t. It’s like for the Frank Sinatra duets album; he was so old and crotchedy at that point that he made Aretha Franklin record her part in a separate room and all that. What happens for VH1 is that I’m put into a basement cell and I’m kept there for several weeks. Occasionally, they’ll throw me just a piece of meat — which is good because my trainer says I need to get lots of protein. Red meat is a great way to get that, except it’s not always lean so then it just defeats the purpose of having a personal trainer. And they force you out into a little adjacent studio every couple of days to talk about things like Different Strokes and Webster for hours on end.

DAZE: And do they give you clips to refresh your memory?

MO ROCCA: Yeah of course, although, Hal Sparks, who is wonderful does cheat because he made a pact with the devil. He actually made it, and the reason I know that is that the tapes that we’re given before hand only have certain clips and a lot of the time we’re commenting on those clips. Hal can quote vast passages of movies like Howard, the Duck that didn’t appear on those tapes.

DAZE: To get more airtime?

MO ROCCA: I think so. I think Methastopholes is his agent. It’s great, I’m jealous. He’s wonderful; he’s hilarious.

DAZE: So what do you think is more important political humor or cultural commentary? If neither is more important, which do you enjoy more?

MO ROCCA: Well, you know, they’re two different things; so something like The Daily Show is, certainly during the election, fairly relevant; and I was with it during the 2000 election and that was a very heady experience. As far as performing, [The Daily Show] is much more structured. The fun of those VH1 shows is that you sort of go in there and just sort of blow your wad; you do everything you have, and its all your own, and the producers are pretty good they cut out the bad stuff. It’s kind of like open mic night but no one has to hear your crappy material and you don’t have to deal with the stench of stale beer. [Rocca also revealed that there will be a new installment, I Love the ’80s 3D].

DAZE: So I guess my next question, to change gears, is how have you liked Cornell; and also, what are you speaking on tonight?

MO ROCCA: Well I’m gonna talk about myself, because I figured any time I can get a thousand people in a room trapped, basically, as a captive audience, it’s a good time to work out some issues and get people to hear me out. Why is Hillel sponsoring me? Well I’m a huge fan of Jewish desserts, actually. I love hamentashen, and I’m a big fan of Purim, which is only 46 days away, but who’s counting?

DAZE: I know you just came out with a book, All the Presidents’ Pets. What was that like — writing a book, since you do a lot of speaking and writing other types of material? What was it like to do something a little different?

MO ROCCA: Well, I spend a lot of time alone nearly losing my mind, which is how I came up with the story. But I honestly believe that White House animals have guided our history, and that I’ve lived through an epic love story with Hellen Thomas that’s really a cross between All the President’s Men, Charlotte’s Web and the DaVinci Code; because what’s a thriller without anagrams and a villainous albino? That’s an indication of how much time I spend alone.

DAZE: John Stewart is coming to speak later this year and he just sold out Barton Hall. What’s that like, is there any competition or is it friendly?

MO ROCCA: I thought Jon Stewart was opening for me. [laughs]. No, I tried to hack into his laptop and steal some of his jokes but it didn’t work, and unfortunately I spent all that time trying to steal his material. So essentially, I’m going to be improv-ing. And if I am at a loss for words, there’s always interpretive dance.

DAZE: Do you have any messages for Cornellians?

MO ROCCA: Give a hoot, don’t pollute, because even though those gorges are deep, if you thow a Coke can in there, you can still see it if you’ve got sharp vision, and also those things on six packs of beers. Don’t even throw your straws because little gorge creatures can choke.

Archived article by Logan Bromer
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer