Hurricane Productions proved not to be a total waste, my words, last Monday when they brought Mo Rocca of “The Daily Show” fame to campus to speak before a packed crowd at the Storer Auditorium. (Note: some girlies drove as far as Sarasota to catch Mr. Rocca.) Walking on stage donning his signature emo glasses, but surprisingly sans bowtie, he’s wearing a religious hippie look. In an interview after the event with L&A he explained that it’s “a little bit Floridian; a little bit uptown Ashram. If I were going to be in an upper-eastside cult, this would be what I wear.”
Before arriving at UM for his speech on campus, Mr. Rocca made quality time of his stay in the city by filming a strange (is there any other kind?) cameo appearance on a Telemundo sitcom. Noticing a few differences from his backyard in the Big Apple, he confides, “I’m a huge Don Johnson fan. But I’m a lesser fan of Philip Michael Thomas. Miami is Fort Lauderdale but with a Gloria Estefan soundtrack. ‘Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga/I know you can’t control yourself any longa/Feel the rhythm of the music getting stronga,’ I love perfect rhyme schemes. Three words that rhyme, two of which are made up.”
Despite the terrible sound (HP needs a new sound man/woman) the crowd warms up to Mo Rocca’s sophisticated sense of humor (he has a BA in English Lit and History from Harvard). Unfortunately, the laughter in the auditorium seems overly self-conscious of muffling his un-miked jokes. Rocca starts out rather temperate, but soon transitions into a variety of sure-shot clips, a humorous summary of boggling summer news, and a brief chat about his very full platter of television projects.
A young but experienced writer in the entertainment world, he’s scribed for numerous, diverse outlets including the porn magazine Perfect 10 and PBS’ historical dog adventure show “Wishbone.” Of the latter experience he says, “I have people that come up to me and say, ‘I only let my kids watch ‘Wishbone.’ Which I think is a crock of shit, but the sentiments nice.”
Currently hosting “The Smoking Gun” on Court TV, a high-rated program based on the award-winning muckraker Web site, Mr. Rocca plays a well-received clip from the show where, quite gradually, he’s transformed into Nick Nolte’s infamous mug shot – complete with wild hair, Hawaiian shirt and “broken capillaries.” In never-aired footage from “The Daily Show,” which easily wins some of the biggest laughs of the night, he sticks a microphone in and on a man’s face during an ongoing interview in an ode to “Jackass.” Such an act of prolonged ballsiness delivers a message about the zany tolerance that many of this country’s citizens practice to sustain political correctness. The clip is one of the few experiences where Mo Rocca almost loses his composure, later admitting that he was shaking in restraint.
Yet, neither of those clips matched a segment where Mo Rocca appeared as “himself” on Fox News’ staple “The O’Reilly Factor” to debate Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women of America, over the demographic appropriateness of Lingerie Barbie and Pregnant Midge. A watershed intellectual highlight of the night, its absurdity said more about mainstream broadcast media and the ongoing decline of journalistic integrity than even the best “Daily Show” episodes.
Putting aside the humor, the situation exemplifies just how dangerously oblivious the mainstream media is to the ever wishy-washy mix of celebrity and ratings with legitimate news substance. Playing up irony to the nth, the host, a sub for Bill O’Reilly, and Wright are so predetermined to argue and stand firmly in their molded ground that neither realize what’s going on in front of millions of Americans. They’re merely absent-minded bobble heads babbling for a meaningless polar political stance. When it’s over, Mr. Rocca goes on to claim that sixty percent of such broadcast journalists do not agree with the opinions presented by their on air personalities, grinning with a certain flare of detest and desperate measure.
This isn’t to say, however, that he’s not involved in the network muck he so candidly runs loops around. At one point during the night a student asks if “The Daily Show” would ever work on NBC or FOX. His response is that it would become “watered down,” comparing such a change to Michael Moore’s long-axed “TV Nation,” during its snuffed run on Fox. But this past week CNN.com announced that Mo Rocca is starting a reality show focusing on the American prison system for FOX. When an audience member asks about the project, he confirms the affiliation without directly admitting to the contradiction.
And of course, this wouldn’t be Life & Art without a question about a college institution’s right to censor student publications. When specifically asked if he thinks a university should be able to censor articles pertaining to and containing photographs of art on exhibit in the surrounding area, he replies, “Honestly, the more art the better. I would find it hard to believe that the coverage, even if done by public funds, [Ed. note: UM allocates private funds for the Hurricane, but nevertheless] should be censored. It’s worth exploring.”
Oh, and for guys and gals left wondering where to purchase some of Mr. Rocca’s bowties, you’ll have to go to NYC to Paul Stuart at 45th and Madison.
Kira Wisniewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.