He’s called Mo, but he’s no stooge. Maurice Alberto Rocca is a smart, savvy observer of society’s whims who’s assembled a wide-ranging constituency from appearances on
The Daily Show, NPR, The Cooking Channel and
CBS Sunday Morning. He makes entertaining appearances of the non-broadcast variety, too, including one Friday for the Holiday Comedy Special at the Alys Stephens Center. Even this is eclectic. Co-presented by the ASC and WBHM 90.3, it’s also being touted by the Over The Mountain Democrats, who offer on their website a ticket package including prime seats and a private reception after the show. Why do so many people want to get some Mo?
WELD called to inquire.You’re a man about whom speculation constantly swirls. Can you confirm or deny that you’re taking Andy Rooney’ place on 60 Minutes?
You know, I just haven’t had time to check all my voicemail messages. I’m sure that in there there’s something from the executive producer. I just haven’t been able to get back to him.And what about this rumor that you might be taking Regis’s place?
Well, that’s the problem. I just don’t have time for both right now. I’m trying to figure out if I can juggle both.
Mr. Rocca arrives here Friday on a mission from Comedy.
You’re one of the few people we know who was actually born and raised in the District of Columbia. What was it like to grow up inside the political circus tent?
I was born in DC, raised in Bethesda, right over the line, but I’ll tell you—growing up in the DC area, I imagine, is the equivalent of when you grow up in LA staring at the gates of Paramount [Pictures]. It’s the most magical possible thing. When you grow up in DC, the White House gates are like the gates of Paramount.
First of all, you end up knowing more about politics than most other people, whether you like it or not. It just sort of gets into your bloodstream by osmosis, but you also especially appreciate the show biz aspect of it, and how kind of ridiculous it is, I think.
Are you having fun so far in the ramp-up to 2012?
I am. I’ll tell you one thing: one of the hallmarks of Sunday Morning is, we’re not one of those shows where everyone’s shouting at each other. We don’t do a lot of politics, but I’m hoping I can carve out more politics than usual on this show, because I love it. It is so much fun, and right now, already the race on the GOP side. The only thing that could be better is if there were a race on both sides.
It’s absolutely hilarious to watch one candidate replace another, replace another, replace another. It’s sort of the flavor of the week, basically. And poor Mitt Romney—he’s like that poor woman in “The Tennessee Waltz” who just gets left there. He’s all ready, he’s waiting at the door for the date to pick him up. He’s being stood up. It’s crazy. And now Newt is going to the dance before Mitt gets asked?
It may have something to do with the girlfriend’s father. I mean, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers may not approve of Mitt in some way.
Exactly. Exactly. That’s hilarious. But it’s so terrible for him.
Now, we share a formative childhood factor, in that we seem to have watched way too much television as children. What was your favorite TV show when you were a kid?
I have two older brothers, and my middle brother was always outside playing, and one day he mentioned having two brothers to the neighbor who lived right across the street. The neighbor’s mother said, ‘Don’t make up stuff. It’s not true, you only have one.’ It was because I never went outside. I was always watching TV. It was absolutely terrible. I’m almost ashamed to admit this, and my mother is probably ashamed as well….
I liked watching Dark Shadows, I remember liking that. I liked watching the Friday night NBC lineup with Sanford and Son and The Rockford Files, and I loved Tuesdays on ABC with Three’s Company. But I don’t know why early on I liked CBS’s Sunday night lineup with Alice. They were always in weird cities, like Alice in Phoenix, and One Day at a Time in Indianapolis.
I always thought that the city of Indianapolis should have sued the makers of One Day at a Time, because the opening credits made it look so dirty and depressing. Then I went to Indianapolis. It’s actually a pretty town.
Well, I saw it in black-and-white, so I couldn’t have told the difference.
Then you don’t know that Schneider’s vest actually had a kind of flair.
If only we’d had a more expensive TV…now, at what age did you fantasize being on TV yourself?
Gosh, I think really early on. I certainly did a lot of high school theater, and I became very, very serious about it and went away to something called the North Carolina School of the Arts in the summers. My pal there was Parker Posey, we were 16 years old, and she was so fantastically talented. Then, when I graduated from college, I went off, came to New York and started auditioning for plays and musicals, and I ended up doing the Southeast Asian tour of the musical Grease. Then I didn’t do any theater, really, until I did Broadway three years ago [he played Vice Principal Panch in the Tony award-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee] and that was just an absolute blast.
You’ve been a guest star on many programs, but, outside of hosting Foodography for The Cooking Channel, I’m not aware of any you’ve had all to yourself. Why haven’t we seen The Mo Rocca Show yet?
That is a great question. You know, when I was growing up, I always liked the Variety Pack of cereals. Rather than getting the one big box, I always liked the ten little boxes. When I was in college, if I could have just taken electives, I would have. Maybe it’s a kind of ADD, I don’t know, or maybe, frankly, it’s one big old commitment issue: I can’t commit to one show. But I have done a pilot now, and I’m keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that it will be a show that is really my show. I’m ready. Jesus, I’ve done segments for everybody else. I mean, my mother’s probably going to have a show and have me guest star on it at some point.
Foodography is a fun show, and a great fit for The Cooking Channel, because it’s like going to a favorite restaurant. Now, I didn’t see anything about it in your resume, but are you yourself handy in the kitchen?
Oh, no, I don’t know how to cook at all. It’s terrible. In fact, the special that I’m doing that I hope turns into a series, in all seriousness, is a show where I learn to cook from grandmothers and grandfathers all across the country. I would take a deficiency and turn it into an asset. We’re in the middle of editing right now and polishing it up, and I think it’s a nifty little special there. If that goes, that would be The Mo Rocca Show.
Have you been to Birmingham enough to know if we have any restaurants here that would qualify for Foodography?
You know, I spent about four weeks in Birmingham a few summers ago doing an independent movie [Jen West’s 2006 short, Piece of Cake] and I loved it. I’m trying to remember—the best thing I ate was this lovely woman’s (Jen West’s grandmother) pulled pork thing, what do you call it, a big old thing where for a couple of days it’s marinating—
We call it barbecue here.
That’s right. And I host a show on The Cooking Channel. Anyway, it was tremendous. That was the best thing I ate there.
Well, I hope you get to sample the cuisine here when you come. We’ve turned into quite the little food destination here.
Is that right? It’s a great town.
And we’ve also got quite a bit of political ferment for you here when you visit. I guess you’ve heard about the famous immigration bill we enacted in hopes of out-machoing Arizona.
That is unfortunate, and as someone who’s half Colombian, I trust that by going to Birmingham I won’t put myself in any danger.
As long as you can show your papers, please, no problem.
Omigosh, is Lou Dobbs living there now?
We were also shocked, shocked to find out that our own personal Congressman, Spencer Bachus, might have been involved with insider trading because of his bank connections in the House of Representatives.
I saw that on 60 Minutes. He sorta got nailed. Well, look. At least you have Helen Keller. She was born there, right? She’s on the Alabama quarter, it ain’t Spencer Bachus, so you don’t have to worry. I wonder what she would have thought of Patty Duke in Valley of the Dolls?
When you come here for the Holiday Comedy Show, what can we expect in the way of hi-jinx from your stage extravaganza?
Things that will surprise you AND me. I’ll be doing a little singing, a little storytelling and I’ll be doing, as always, a little gymnastics. I always do that. With the Olympics coming, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
With all the success you’ve had in most every other medium, it sounds like you still get a kick out of performing live.
I absolutely do, and I especially love the unpredictability of the questions that people will ask. I love interacting with an audience. It’s an absolute blast for me.
Then let me go ahead and ask my question before you get here. I’d like to say Mazel Tov on your coming out this summer, and I found it interesting that you said around the same time that you would no longer perform wearing your trademark glasses. I just wondered if there was some sort of fascinating Freudian overtone to that.
I think there probably is, except, as in many things, I immediately backpedaled, and I’m still wearing them. What I did say is that I did get tired of wearing big blocky glasses. I was being a little bit facetious, but at the same time I really meant it, that it sometimes feels—I don’t know, it does feel like armor sometimes, like some sort of thing that’s blocking you, and I didn’t like doing it. And you know what, Courtney? Maybe I’ll just go with contacts! Or maybe what I’ll do for the holiday show is get Lasik onstage! Which I think my new insurance plan covers.
Mo Rocca stars in the Second Annual Holiday Comedy Show Friday night at 8 P.M. in the Jemison Theatre at the Alys Stephens Center, with bonus festivities fore and aft.