Mo Rocca

Mo Rocca: Are fringe candidates funny?

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Mo Rocca on the wacky grandfather.

Mo Rocca

Maurice Alberto (Mo) Rocca is an American writer, comedian, and political satirist, is known for his off-beat news reports,  satirical commentary, and as a former correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (1998-2003).  Originally from Washington, DC, Rocca graduated from Harvard University in 1991 with a B.A. in literature. He served as president of Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals, performing in four of the company's notorious burlesques and even co-authoring one (Suede Expectations). Later, he worked as a writer and producer for the children's television series Wishbone (1995), The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (1996) and Pepper Ann (1997), and also as a consulting editor to the men's magazine Perfect 10. Rocca is a regular panelist on NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! and a regular contributor to CBS' Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. He is a regular correspondent for NBC's Tonight Show, most recently providing 2008 election coverage, as well as for MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann. He was a celebrity commentator on VH1's Best week ever, as well as the I Love The... shows. He was the host of Things I Hate About You on Bravo. Rocca was an on-the-floor correspondent for Larry King on CNN at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which he called an "Obamarama." He returned as a correspondent for the 2004 Republican National Convention.


Question: Are fringe candidates funny?

Mo Rocca:Whatever their motivation to be in the race – and it’s different in every case obviously – I think some of them abase themselves I think just to get attention, because they’re trying to . . . But I think Dennis Kucinich is actually kind of interesting because Dennis Kucinich in the 2000 . . . Yeah. Dennis Kucinich in 2000 and maybe even in 2004 clowned around a lot – I mean to the point that you thought, “Is this guy . . . Does he care about anything?” And I interviewed him them, and I’ve interviewed him this time around and there was no clowning around. And that’s an interesting sign of the times – that the fringe candidate is . . . is immovably serious; is . . . It’s a sign of the times that a fringe candidate like Kucinich is uncompromisingly serious. Because last time around he was willing, when he was single, to put him up for a . . . Last time when he was single, he was willing to put himself up for a mock dating contest on the “Tonight Show”; and all these different things that made you go, “Was he just in this for attention?” But this time he’s been really serious, and I think Gravel is serious too. You know he’s . . . I was in one pressroom for a debate where the reporters were laughing at him; sort of waiting for the wacky comments he was gonna make, and I actually thought that they were great comments. They helped shake the debate out of its pre-scripted torpor, you know and liven it. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I mean at one point he say Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization, because I guess Hezbollah, like Hamaas, has an arm that provides social services. And the reporters laughed at him, but it was a provocative, good comment to throw in there and force other people to respond to. I think the fringe candidates are cast in these roles where they’re supposed to be clowns. I think the fringe candidates are cast in roles as clowns, and sometimes they bring it on themselves. But you know Kucinich is somebody that is . . . Dennis Kucinich is an interesting story, because in 2000 and in 2004 it would be fair to say that he made a mockery of himself at different points. And maybe he was just doing this all for an attention grab. In 2008 I’ve interviewed him, and he’s not interested in making a fool of himself. He is really, really serious. And these guys, just like . . . like I’d like to think sometimes a satirist or a humorist can kind of mix things up on a . . . on an otherwise scripted talk show, these fringe candidates do have the power to kind of change the conversation; to jerk it out of its sort of sort of torpor and inject life into it. And you know when I was in the press room for a debate that Mike Gravel was participating in, you know I heard a lot of serious reporters cackling, laughing even before he’d finish a response, like, “Thank God the wacky grandfather is . . . said something outrageous”; except that some of what he was saying was truly provocative. And if people had followed up on it, it would have . . . If other candidates had followed up on it, it would have made a difference. I mean his saying at one point that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization; and in fact Hezbollah from what I understand, like Hamaas, has social service wings. They also kill people, but it’s a valid comment. And you know, but they’re allowed to sit there like the wacky relative that just has to be suffered through.

Recorded on: 2/14/08