Mo in Minnesota
Tongue-in-cheek commentator and pop culture guru, Mo Rocca, recently made a visit to the Twin Cities to film a segment at the site of the 2008 Republican National Convention for The Tonight Show. City Pages interrupted Rocca's blogging about Lindsay Lohan and Eric Moran to ask him about his visit.
Mo Rocca: I love the Twin Cities.
City Pages: Do you really love the Twin Cities? You're not just saying that because you're supposed to?
MR: No, I'm not. It's funny—people from the Twin Cities, as I'm sure you know, are fanatical about where they're from. People from Minnesota in general—in college, the Minnesota people were crazed. And one of my best friends, Carol Bagnoli, she grew up there. She was my first exposure to it. And she hectored me until I finally came and I visited and I loved it. We went canoeing in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota, which was just glorious. I just love the Twin Cities. I mean, I always feel kind of slovenly when I'm there because everybody's always in great shape and it's just an energetic, really optimistic place. And the parks are so gorgeous.
CP: It is supposed to be one of the most fit urban areas in the country.
MR: I think it's really well read as well. A lot of places in the Midwest are like that—Des Moines is that way. People do a lot more reading than they do in other parts of the country. But yeah, there are so many bookstores. And I know you guys have—although this figure is controversial—Carol, my friends says, "We have the second most theater seats in the country." And I said, "Carol, that must be per capita." "No, total." It's got to be per capita! You can't have more theater seats than Los Angeles. But there's all these great little independent outfits. And the museums are great—I love the Sculpture Garden at the Walker. I haven't been to the Weisman yet.
CP: What did you do while you were in the Twin Cities?
MR: Part of it was comparing Denver and the Twin Cities, the two different convention sites. One of the things is how green they are. Both cities seem to be competing for who's going to have the greener convention. So we put R.T. Rybak through his paces and Mayor Coleman to see how green they could be. I don't want to tempt the wrath of NBC by telling you exactly what we had them do, but I wanted to see if Rybak really did ride to work. I certainly wanted to hear Mayor Coleman play the bagpipes, and that's somewhat green. I mean, it's energy efficient.
CP: Did he convert the bagpipes into some CO2-eating machine?
MR: Well that would have been really, really cool. If St. Paul could generate electricity through Mayor Coleman's bagpipes. I mean, forget Al Gore, Coleman would be President.
CP: What was the highlight of your visit?
MR: The highlight for me was biking across the Stone Arch Bridge in tandem with Mayor Rybak. It was really fun. My goodness, he's an energetic guy—I barely had to pedal. Believe me, my job was made a lot easier by the enthusiasm of Minnesota's politicians. And then of course I had my own closed door meeting with Jesse Ventura, back from the wilds of Mexico.
CP: What sort of world problems did you solve in that meeting?
MR: First, it was very, very cool to meet him. I mean, my God, he's an original—which is the most unoriginal thing that can be said about him. He's let his hair grow out... which is a choice. It's a look. It might surprise you to know that he was fairly outspoken in the interview. I always thought of him as being just kind of a wallflower. But I guess the wilds of Mexico, living an hour from electricity and an hour from paved roads will do that to you. I'm inspired, I might become a mercenary. I met him at the Mall of America and I thought we were going to eat Cinnabons and ride the roller coaster, but no such luck. He actually was very, very nice. You can't buy charisma—I'm not just kissing ass there. It's one of those things. It's present. It doesn't matter if your head's shaved or if you've ill-advisably let your hair grow out. If you've got it, you got it.
CP: What did you think of the Mall of America?
MR: I actually was surprised at how aloof people were at Mall of America. OK, here's the thing, everyone in the Twin Cities is really, really friendly. So I expected, OK, I'm going to go to the Mall of America and that will be the height of friendliness. Well, in fact, because the Mall of America has lots of shoppers from all over the country, you really get to see in high relief how nice, in fact, Minnesotans are. Because the Mall of America is populated, really, with shoppers from all over America, the average niceness level is lower. We thought that people would be really enthusiastic to talk to The Tonight Show, but they were just like, "Eh, forget it." But out on Nicollet Mall, oh my God, it was a love fest. I mean, I was bathed in Minnesota Nice.
CP: Did you visit the Mary Tyler Moore statue?
MR: Of course I did. I took a picture of myself in front of that. I also got really... Wait. What kind of paper is this? This is like the free paper, right?
CP: This is like The Village Voice.
MR: I was at Graves 601 Hotel. For the first time in my life I was the victim of my own minor celebrity.
CP: What happened?
MR: I was so flattered by this private equity guy who was there for some convention, buying me drinks, that I just let him buy drink after drink. I just became so embarrassingly drunk, I cannot even tell you—I had not done this in years—it's honestly not something I'm proud of at all. And the worst part about it is they were Old Fashioneds. And I like Old Fashioneds—it's Maker's Mark with bitters and a muddled cherry and orange. It's basically like a kick-ass Shirley Temple. But the problem is that if you drink many of them you not only get really, really shit-faced, you go into sugar shock. I was flattered by this private equity guy saying, "Whoah, Mo Rocca, you're a pop culture genius," that I just kept letting him load me up on Old Fashioneds.
CP: Did you find yourself in an SUV chasing after your former assistant?
MR: If I had a current or former assistant I would have run down her mom but in a hybrid vehicle. It is a very green city. I must have looked pathetic: bobbing and weaving and stumbling along the sidewalk of Hennepin Avenue.
CP: You were staying at Graves?
MR: And they put me in a beautiful room. I just want to tell them how much I love them because I want to come back there and pay for a regular room and get upgraded once again to like the Executive-Presidential-Boundary Waters Suite—whatever it was.
CP: Replete with the sounds of loons in the background?
MR: Exactly. With like the Hubert Humphrey memorial whirlpool—or memorial jacuzzi. Never again will I fall for the Graves Hotel flatterers. The Graves Hotel was great—I only have nice things to say about them. They really were incredibly nice.
CP: What should we keep an eye out for in The Tonight Show segment?
MR: I think everyone will be interested to see how much the camera loves R.T. Rybek and Chris Coleman. I mean, how much it loves all of them. No, sorry, that sounds weird. If you want to see your Mayors in action—if you're concerned that your mayors are desk bound and you want to see them in action, then tune into The Tonight Show.
CP: What are your thoughts on the CNN/You Tube debates?
MR: It was revolutionary, ground-breaking, historic—never been tried before. Really, on par with democracy itself—it was so revolutionary. I wanted to vomit hot blood more than I did after my Old Fashioned binge from watching twenty minutes of CNN earlier in the day. I mean, it was shameless the way that network, God bless them, but the way that that network treated their own debate as a major news story. Not the substance of the debate. This was before the debate took place. The imminence of the debate was treated—replete with the countdown clock. Suffice it to say that if they had they asked me to do the red carpet I would have been there in a second. "Wolf Blitzer who are you wearing?" I agree with most people that the questions were good. Some of them were really, really great. The whole thing smacked of this ratings-challenged network trying desperately to talk to the young people. They culled questions—digitally produced and sent to them and then put them on a big overhead project. It's like the equivalent of listening to your favorite TV show on the radio. I mean, you know what I mean? It's like taking new technology and putting it in old technology terms. In essence what you had basically a Q & A session—a town hall. You had what Larry King Live has been doing for over 20 years—people asking public figures questions. And it's not a debate because they don't engage each other. I remember even watching—I'm being awfully unfunny—but even watching like a clip of the last debate with Sarkozy and the woman who ran for president of France. I mean, they really hated each other. They were going at it. I don't even remember if they had a moderator.
CP: St. Paul or Minneapolis?
MR: I have a more friends in St. Paul and they take it more seriously, so I'm going to have to... you know what? I'm going with Duluth and I'll tell you why. When my friend Carol, who works at General Mills and is from St. Paul—when we went canoeing in the Boundary Waters, we parked the car in Duluth. We left her car in Duluth for the week and when we came back, it turned out that the car had been egged but these little kids on the block had come and cleaned the car, had washed it off. They cleaned it! They like spit polished the thing. And we only found out—the kids didn't tell us—because another neighbor said, "Oh, your car got egged and these nice kids came and washed it off." It was cleaner than it had been before. And I just wanted to pack it in and move to Duluth.
CP: Next time you're in the Twin Cities, we'll have to make sure that your car gets egged and we'll see what happens.
MR: So, yes, until my car gets egged in each other Twin Cities, I can't tell you if I prefer either of them to Duluth. Girls! Girls! You're both pretty—but you're not Duluth.
CP: Denver or the Twin Cities?
MR: That's a rough one. You know, I'm more likely to return to The Twin Cities before I return to Denver mainly just because the altitude just makes my head feel like it's splitting open in Denver. I'll say this, the Twin Cities in July, Denver in February, which may not actually be fair because Denver had a really brutal winter.
CP: We'll see what happens when global warming hits the Twin Cities.
CP: Do you have plans for future visits to the Twin Cities?
MR: Well, you know, a very good friend of mine is in Spamalot. He rode into town. And I very well may in the next week or so make a quick jaunt. And he's in the ensemble but he's covering two of the big roles and he told me that he might end up going on for Galahad or one of the bigger roles. If that's the case—I have so many miles from work travel and I barely ever travel just for fun and I really just have a great time there. It would be fun. And my friend Carol's pregnant right now so it'd be fun to go and see her also.
CP: When you were last here, did you make it to Nye's Polonaise Room for some polka?
MR: I didn't. But I've been there twice before.
CP: On your next visit, we'll take you to Nye's.
To catch a glimpse of Mo Rocca hang out at Nye's or The Ordway Theater (or perhaps the bar at Graves) – or just watch his Twin Cities segment on The Tonight Show 10:30 p.m. tonight.