Mo Rocca to speak Thursday at UF

Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 12:20 a.m.
Mo Rocca, best known for his stint as a political correspondent on Comedy Central's news satire, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," will appear at the University of Florida on Thursday.
A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Rocca has made a career of commenting on politics, sports and entertainment since leaving "The Daily Show." He is a regular contributor to NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and CBS' "Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood."
Rocca also wrote the novel "All the Presidents' Pets: The Story of One Reporter Who Refused to Roll Over," which was released in 2004. Jessica: When did your book come out?
Mo: It was released in hardcover 2004 and paperback 2005.
Q:Your book was released in hardback in 2004. Is writing something you have always enjoyed?
A:Well, and I ripped this off from a little poster in the New York subway, "I hate writing, I love having written." It's one of those things that have all the quotes. They put little quotes for the people who don't have iPods in the subway trains, and I think it was Dorothy Parker who said that. I mean, I love performing, it fills the hole inside to have people applaud me, but when you're writing, you basically have to perform for yourself, so it's sort of, like, the closest thing I've come to being confined to a mental institution, sort of pacing around, talking to myself and pitching jokes and lines to myself. So it was a pretty ... trying at times, the solitary-ness of it.
Q: What is the book about?
A:It's about the secret role that White House pets have played in White House policy throughout our history. So it is equal parts political history and thriller, starring me and longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas. So it's a little bit like "Hart to Hart," the '80s series, and a little bit like "Harold and Maude": only there's more than a little sexual tension between Helen and me. I would say it's kind of "Charlotte's Web" meets "All the President's Men" meets "The Da Vinci Code" because we have a villainous albino in it, which no thriller can do without.
Q:Do you prefer performing live or writing?
A:Both at different times. You know, maybe what I should try to do is combine the two and write live. And actually I'm sure my writing would be a lot funnier if I had a group of 1,000 Gator fans sitting around me while I sat at my laptop. The more people, the better, to come up with the best material. I could just call it, like, a creative writing class, to just exploit all these great minds.
Q:Do you perform at colleges often?
A:I love going to colleges. I love it. The audiences are energetic, they're sharp, but they're not jaded. They're curious, and they want to have fun.
Q:Do you do a Q&A part of the show?
A:Oh, I love Q&A. Because I don't have to prepare anything. And it's terrific fun to interact with an audience. And I think at most colleges, you actually get credit for showing up and hearing me speak, so you should check with your administrator.
Q:What's the most bizarre question someone's asked?
A:I get bizarre questions all the time. I get mostly bizarre questions, so it's all relative, I suppose. In light of all the strange questions I get, the most bizarre is probably, 'What are you going to do next?' The more mundane questions are the rarest ones.
Q:What can we expect at your show Thursday?
A:Well, I like to talk about alligators. I like to talk about Gators, but really, alligators. I love them. I've always preferred alligators to crocodiles, because I'm somebody who is partial to fresh-water creatures over salt-water creatures. Alligators are, to me, a symbol of peace and prosperity. There are over 1 million alligators in Florida today, which I think is wonderful. Alligators live in only two countries, the United States and China. In China, they are endangered. I think that China, as it continues to rise, is going to be an entity that we are going to have to deal with. I don't think we can be at war with China, we have to be friends with them, and alligators present our way forward. They already have cousins in China. So, we should listen to the gators. I mean China isn't treating their gators well, and I hope there aren't going to be any Chinese gator fans who are going to be (upset) for me saying that, but the alligators on the banks of the Yangtzee River right now are having a terrible time. I don't know If it's some weird population control thing the Chinese government's imposing on them, but they aren't prospering the way that Florida gators are. The adult Florida gator, by the way, can take a bear and a razorback; we know that about the razorbacks, because you handily defeated Arkansas, and they are Razorbacks. f-z Q:Where did you get your interest in politics?
A:I was raised in D.C., really Bethesda, Md., right on the D.C. line, and D.C. is more like Los Angeles than it is like New York in that it's a one-industry town, it's a mill town. In LA, it's entertainment; in Washington, it's politics, which is oftentimes more entertaining than entertainment. It is the atmosphere. It's the air you breathe, the same way I suspect it is when you grow up in LA, you know, you follow the entertainment industry; it's a second nature. And I've always been kind of tickled by the sort of personality side of politics. It's just a huge part of politics. I think it's pretty well-understood that the personality or the character of a candidate matters as much to many voters as the actual point of view, the policy stance, of that candidate. So, that's always kind of fascinating, watching candidates try to project a personality... that rarely comes naturally to them.
Q:Barack Obama? Do you think he'll run?
A:He has pretty much as much experience as Kennedy had. And it's interesting; people keep comparing him to Kennedy, saying, "Well. Kennedy had an undistinguished career in the Senate before he ran for president," and Barak Obama has done very well in the Senate, so arguably he has more experience even if Obama had not served in the House of Representatives. But I think the more apt comparison is with Lincoln, because Lincoln never served in the Senate, but Lincoln, who was also from Illinois, served only in the state House, which is where Obama had served. So, I think it's actually kind of neat that the first serious black candidate for national office is not only from the same state as Lincoln but has sort of a similar background. And I think he has just crazy charisma. That little thing he did for Monday Night Football a few weeks back, I thought, "Wow, that's personality." I don't know if you saw it. He did this little intro for a big Chicago Bears game. It was really, really entertaining. I don't think he should push it. Like, I don't think he should start doing the Super Bowl Shuffle. It's a little too soon for that to come back. (You know, that was when the Chicago Bears danced around.) Q: How could someone named Mo Rocca comment on someone else's name?
A: Well, you know, I would love to have someone do a commentary on my name. It would make me feel so important. I mean, a Mo Rocca-rama. That's what I'm hoping the University of Florida will be calling my performance afterward: the "Mo Rocca-Rama." Q:Some of the favorite interviews you've done?
A:I loved going to the Super Bowl for the Tonight Show last year in Detroit, and I'm actually going again this year, right after I'm in Gainesville, I'm going to be down in Miami for the Super Bowl this year. So I'm very excited. I think I have to first learn how to play football, and then I should be totally prepared. Meeting a bunch of the players last year, like meeting Jerome Bettis was really, really fun. In the past I've loved interviewing John McCain. I have never interviewed Hillary. And interacting with Al Sharpton was, as I expected, a blast. Q: Most bizarre interview you've done?
I think for "The Daily Show" I interviewed a guy who was obsessed with Garfield the cat, hated him, because this man called himself "Polka Joe" and was a huge fan of polka music, and in the comic strip "Garfield," Garfield the cat hates polka music and would make fun of it, and this guy was so angry at Garfield. So I brought a giant Garfield cat with me and we got into a role-playing, kind of a confrontation, you know, asking Polka Joe what he would say to Garfield if he could speak to him, and one thing led to another, and we ended up on his front lawn rolling around, and I unfortunately beat the crap out of him with the Garfield cat. Q: What was it like working on "The Daily Show"?
A: Oh, I loved it! That's where I learned to be the reporter that I am. Who needs J-school when you can train at "The Daily Show"?
Q: Anything else you want to say to UF?
A: I just want to give them my heartfelt congratulations on holding two titles at once. The only thing I want to say is you guys gotta work on your bocce. Because the bocce team is just not up to snuff. And I want you to be the first school to hold three titles at once. Lawn bowling's where it's at, guys. Stay ahead of the curve.

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