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: How do you like your new work?
Mo Rocca: You know it interesting. I kind of moved from working as a news parodist ; I loved that on The Daily Show to doing a lot of talking head stuff, much of which I'd like to think was a little bit on the edge.I loved being paired with Larry King during the 2004 conventions. I mean I felt like we were some, you know, twenty-first century Vaudeville team or something. And . . . But the two shows I love doing right now are CBS Sunday Morning I adore it; its everybody's parents; favorite show ; and ;Wait Wait . . . Dont Tell Me!; The interesting thing about . . .CBS Sunday; is one . . . I think is a beautifully produced show, but its the first time that Im actually doing stories and reporting stories ; I do commentary for them; but also reporting stories where Im not parodying something; And its a . . . Its a very new experience for me, and its tricky, but its also really, really exciting because I certainly dont want to become what I spent years making fun of.; And that;s not gonna happen on a show like; CBS Sunday Morning; which is just a very good show.; The reporters are amazing.; And . . . But . . . But its an interesting challenge doing stories that finding humor in stories without relying on making fun of the conventions of news coverage. So sort of the unctuous nod that I would use in, you know . . . on The Daily Show to make fun of a reporter I wouldnt call that a crutch, but its certainly really handy and people get it immediately. But doing a piece for Sunday Morning, you know Im not gonna rely on that and I shouldn't.; But the task there is to actually find the humor in the story and draw people out, and let the storytelling . . . let the . . . let the absurdities and the ironies arise just from the storytelling; from . . . let the . . . My task there is . . . My task there is to draw out the ironies and the absurdity of a particular story without making fun of the conventions of news coverage. And thats . . . Its tricky and sometimes I don;t know, Wait a minute. Should I be doing something funny right now And its been a really, really interesting challenge to just kind of let a story tell itself. I did a story on the diner circuit in New Hampshire. Its a story thats told all the time that politicians live in these diners in New Hampshire. And I mean youd think it;s a law to eat breakfast in diners in New Hampshire; like that people dont have kitchens at home or something because everybody seems to be in diners. But theres a whole ritual of how to work a diner that a politician uses. Its . . . Working the counter is different than working a booth. You know going up to a diner just at precise chew point so that you're not getting them while their mouth is stuffed. And so I worked with a Mitt Romney consultant; a guy who understood how . . . how almost lunatical this was, except that it wasnt lunatic; that all this stuff matters in politics. It was a great kind of a story, and it was just my task to draw him out and have fun with him. But . . . But you know the story itself is what was funny.
Question: Has the transition been difficult?
Transcript: I feel kind of naked at points a little bit exposed, like, Oh my goodness. The story here is whats funny, and this . . . this is not . . . You know am I making a funny face Or doing an unctuous nod would be stepping on the story right now. So sometimes . . . So the challenge becomes sort of kind of directing the interviewee to be him or herself and tell the story that we think is a funny story and allow ourselves also to be surprised at the same time since we’re not trying to prescript these people. But it becomes as much about standing . . . staying out of the way as inserting oneself. I wanted to do something new, and I wanted to do something new without doing something old; without just simply becoming a reporter; as respectable as that is, and I really do believe that, you know I still wanna be funny. So how to be funny . . . how to . . . How do you report on a story . . . legitimately report on a story and be funny, but not step on the funny story How do you report . . . Basically its the challenge has become how do you tell a funny story without being pushy and stepping on the story by being funny in the middle of it? And its . . . Its a whole new and exciting challenge for me. And at a show like Sunday Morning, its really the only place that I can do that. I absolutely am very self-aware of slipping into becoming what I made fun of. And . . . And you know the . . . the . . . the . . . What its come down to is after generally kind of deciding whats funny about a situation, then my task becomes engage as much with the person I mean really listen and allow myself to be surprised. The story may turn out differently than I thought it was gonna be, and that’s a lot harder than I thought it was.
Question: Has it changed your perspective on media and politics?
Transcript: I always thought that what we had to do as reporters on The Daily Show was strikingly and eerily similar to what . . . what beat reporters, especially for the cable news nets, did which is we went in with an agenda, and were a comedy show. We had an idea of what . . . a pretty strong idea oftentimes . . . a strong idea usually about what was going to be funny about this, and would push that. And I think sadly that happens to a lot of reporters.; You know they dont allow themselves to be surprised by what the actual story might be, so they go in there with, Okay, this is gonna be our bad guy. This is gonna be our good guy, and go in and get that story. And that was strikingly and eerily similar to what we would do as reporters on The Daily Show You know here is this guy . . . Here is this guy that maybe lives in a cave with 98 cats. So heres whats gonna be funny about it, and make sure we get these bites ; which is totally legitimate for a comedy show.; And . . . But now that on a show . . . Now that . . . Now that I cant do that and shouldnt do that on a show like ;Sunday Morning, I have a lot of respect for the reporters who really get in there, you know, and really listen; and really engage; and then; . . . and allow a story to unfold, and allow their preconceptions to be demolished if that happens.