Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, September 28, 2009

Comedic commentator entertains Ross crowd with offbeat outlook

Mo Rocca, who describes himself as a “commentator, correspondent and comic,” led alumni, students and faculty through a laugh-filled tour of his life and career Friday during a talk at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Satirist Mo Rocca entertained a crowd of about 500 at the Stephen M. ross School of Business on Friday. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, Photo Services)

The lecture, part of the Ross School’s annual reunion weekend, was presented to a packed Blau Auditorium and was titled “Making It Up As I Go Along.” It seemed an apt description for the 75-minute combination slideshow and comedy act that meandered among topics as varied as politics, Barbie dolls and presidential gravesites.

Through it all, Rocca answered repeated shouts from audience members — made at the performer’s request — challenging his claim to know every world capital. None of the nearly dozen countries called out, ranging from Andorra to South Africa (which has three capitals), seemed to stump him.

“I’ve always loved facts. I still remember everything from the 1974 World Book encyclopedia that we had growing up,” he said.

If anything came close to advice for the business students in the crowd, it was his suggestion for how to get on television: “I think seeming like an expert, particularly in this economy, is important.”

Rocca is known for his offbeat news reports and satirical commentary. He is an essayist on CBS’ “Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood,” can be heard regularly on NPR’s “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” and is a frequent guest on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” and CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

Cable television, particularly its news shows, drew some of Rocca’s most pointed jabs. He showed a segment from Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” in which he appeared to ardently support two controversial toys, “Lingerie Barbie” and “Pregnant Midge,” much to the distress of other panelists, who seemed totally oblivious to his satirical approach.

Rocca told the crowd how he fabricated his position that the dolls appropriately encouraged young teenage girls to embrace their sexuality, just to appease a “Factor” producer in search of someone whose comments contrasted with the segment’s female conservative, who argued the dolls’ makers were pedophiles.

“I think what that shows, I hope, is the kind of absurd role playing that goes on on those shows. I don’t think my stance was any crazier than hers,” Rocca said. “These things are cast to throw red meat to the wolves.”

He also drew laughs describing his various TV experiences, from correspondent on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to writing for “Wishbone,” a children’s show in which a Jack Russell terrier was thrust into tales from classical literature.

“I learned a lot about classic novels, breaking them down so they could be played by a dog,” he said.