Getting to know the oddly informative Mo Rocca, panelist of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, which will be featured as a part of this year's Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
You may recognize him as the senior political correspondent for The Daily Show, or perhaps you know him as the guest with the unusually vast store of knowledge on VH1's I Love the 80s. Here at NPR, however, Mo Rocca is best identified as one of the eight valuable flavors thrown into the Wait Wait ...Don't Tell Me mix. And somewhere in between political commentaries at CNN and NBC's Today Show, Rocca found time to answer a few questions about the freshness of his satire, pre-show rituals, and Wait Wait fanatics.
You're an experienced writer and producer in numerous mediums and for seemingly disparate industries - from public broadcasting to an adult magazine. How are you able to switch gears so easily and what common traits are needed to succeed in each industry?
Look, you have to roll with the punches. Of course it also helps if you have multiple personality disorder. But the truth is, the projects I've worked are not so dissimilar. The PBS kids series Wishbone and the adult men's magazine Perfect 10 (the only magazine to feature models without breast implants) may seem like totally different animals but their audiences are equally demanding. Kids can instantly detect lazy writing that talks down to them; Perfect 10 buyers will right away spot a model with an even modest bust job. In both cases I need to be honest with my audience. They won't stand for anything less.
In addition to Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, you are the senior political correspondent for The Daily Show on Comedy Central and a frequent guest on CNN, NBC's Today Show, VH1, and others. How do you fit it all in and keep the satire fresh?
Each show draws on a different part of my brain. Thank heavens for VH1 and I Love the 80s. I finally have a place to unload all my deepest thoughts on 1980s orphan-driven sitcoms (Different Strokes, Webster, Punky Brewster). In fact , I just shot I Love the 70s. I can't wait for I Love the 20s. Someone needs to rip Eddie Cantor a new one.
Is there a lot of competition among Wait Wait panelists to win? Do you have a good luck charm or a ritual that you do before each taping to ensure good luck?
I can't speak for the others, but for me Wait Wait is a blood sport. As for rituals, I'm a very spiritual person. I pray each episode that the other contestants screw up.
You've been a panelist for two of the live shows - what's the best part of doing the show live for an audience? Is it true, as reported by The Boston Globe, that Wait Wait fans are as wild as teens at a Britney Spears concert? Do you have any particularly funny stories to share?
The best part about a live show is watching 40-something women fling their tote bags aside and throw themselves at Carl Kasell. They don't know who I am since none of them has a TV.
What's your favorite game on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! and why?
I like the Bluff game. The game with the limericks embarrasses me. It reminds me that I don't know the difference between a limerick and a haiku.
If you compiled a soundtrack for Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, what is one song you would include?
"Roxanne" by The Police
Describe Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! in one word.