Originally posted September 15, 2005.
Humorist Mo Rocca, Daily Show alum and author of All the Presidents Pets, is a correspondent for The Tonight Show, among other programs. A regular judge on Iron Chef America and panelist for NPR's weekly quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, Rocca tells us about his experiences at Harvard, where he made great friends, volunteered at a prison, and consumed dangerous amounts of sugar.
Name: Mo Rocca
Occupation: political satirist, television personality, author
College attended: Harvard
Graduation date: 1991
Academic awards and honors: None. None at all.
Favorite drink/midnight snack: Jolt Cola and Goobers
How/why did you choose your major?
I wanted to study theater, but Harvard didn't have an established theater major. English was the closest I could get.
Activities (sports, music, clubs, theater?)
My college life revolved around the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, America's oldest college theater group. The Pudding puts on an original student-written musical each year. It's a drag show. (All the actors are men—half play women.) I was a woman all four years, I co-wrote the show my junior year, and I was president of the Pudding my senior year.
Do you keep in touch with any of your college friends?
Absolutely. I'm in regular contact with about eight of them. They are friends for life—available 24/7 to hear all my problems big and small.
What was your favorite hangout spot?
The Hasty Pudding Theater.
Were you a bookworm or a slacker?
I was a spaz. I was way too hyperactive to study for long. I would freak out, then crash, then be too tired to read or write. I really should have had less sugar.
What was the biggest obstacle you overcame in college?
My vanity. I wore a thinly lined blue parka from L.L. Bean that I thought looked good. It wasn't warm enough, though, so I suffered through four brutal winters. (So I guess I didn't overcome my vanity.)
Tell us about one thing you did in college that still makes you proud.
I volunteered at a prison where I taught reading and GED prep. I never played contact sports, but this made me feel as tough.
What did you like most and least about your school?
I loved the diversity of the student body—and I'm not talking exclusively about backgrounds. I was constantly amazed by the variety of goals and interests that my classmates had. At Harvard an aspiring jazz musician might be roommates with an aspiring president of Turkey and an aspiring public school teacher.Believe it or not, I didn't love the grade inflation. I used to think I benefited since I wasn't a stellar student. Now I think I might have studied harder if I thought there were serious consequences.
Tell us one way in which college changed you.
I became even paler.
If you could go back, what about college would you do differently?
I would major in history.
What were two things you did for the first time while in college?
Oh, come on, you're not asking me to answer that, are you?
What schools accepted you?
Boston College, University of Virginia, William & Mary, Williams, Columbia, Harvard
What schools rejected you?
Any thoughts on why you were rejected by specific schools?
Juilliard - an 18-year-old auditioning for a drama school with a monologue from Othello's Iago is, in retrospect, pretty ridiculous.