Need salt? Don’t ask Mo Rocca — but as the Texas vet gets older, he keeps getting better
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
You know that man on CBS Sunday Morning who’s really funny and kind of nerdy? That panelist with the nasally voice on NPR’s Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me quiz show. The guy you can’t quite describe other than from the kinda geeky-gay vibe he puts out, but in the nicest way. That’s Mo Rocca.
He’s the face you might recognize but not be sure where from. Rocca is everywhere, whether he’s reporting newsy features for CBS in his special snarky way or adding to the fun on Wait, Wait (or maybe you recall him from the heyday of The Daily Show when he, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell dominated the reports). Now he’s added to his resume as the host for Cooking Channel’s Food(ography) — perhaps the last show he thought he’d be on.
“I was approached to host this and seemed like an odd fit,” he says. “My only experience with cooking food at all is none. I don’t even have salt in my apartment. My kitchen is totally virgin territory. But I needed the work!”
What he didn’t want was to look a fool on camera — although he admits knowing nothing about cooking, he didn’t want to be put in the position of looking like he knew nothing. Instead, the show allows Rocca to use both his comic and journalistic talents to tell the stories of food and its history and how it becomes something else altogether.
“Food has become more the portal into discussing food and history and life. Getting through to people through the stomach because hopefully we all sit down to eat. This is my long way of saying I like talking about history and I get to do it through food.”
He’d dare to call it the best show he’s worked for … this coming from the guy with no salt.
“I went in for a paycheck and have fallen in love with it.”
Rocca juggles that gig using his shtick on the as-fun radio show Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me, which covers current topics with a rotating panel of guests (including fellow queermedian Paula Poundstone) as they test their knowledge with hilarious results.
“Oh, it’s both fun and easy,” he says. “I didn’t know the show because I don’t listen to radio, but I’m able to be funny because I don’t have to create the stuff. It’s there already.”
Which means less work for the clever comedian. With his wit, funny would seem to come as second nature. Instead, Rocca makes it sound oh-so-painful.
“Making something funny is hard work,” he says with breathy emphasis on the hard work. “If I do a piece for CBS Sunday Morning, it’s like crapping out a pineapple. It is so hard to get that thing out. I think President Reagan used that term first.”
With NPR being in such hot water these days, Rocca didn’t pull out the whole pledge plea. He thinks NPR could actually go in a different direction with funding.
“I do feel badly about [the scrutiny] and it is tricky,” he says. “This is a great product, but if it’s so great then why do we need taxpayer money? I am reluctant to say that, but the reality of it is, it sure would be a whole lot more convenient. But if we didn’t have NPR, the void would be filled by more opinion. And that’s just what we need!”
He jests of course.
Rocca will appear in North Texas Monday as part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s Arts and Letters Live series, but he’s no stranger to the area. His first job in television was here, writing and producing for the children’s show Wishbone. The gig was great, but he does have his regrets.
“I used to live in Plano,” he says. “It was such a mistake. I thought I needed to live near work and the studio was in Plano. You know, plano means flat in Spanish, and it was and there were all these McMansions… ugh.”
If only Rocca had gotten the show he really hoped for when he got there.
“Yeah, I didn’t get the gig at co-hosting Plano Tonight.”
He jests again — but who would put that past Plano?
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.