In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Legendary Today show weatherman Al Roker could give Howard Stern, Ryan Seacrest, and Martha Stewart runs for their money as one of the hardest-working multi-hyphenates in show business. Not only has Roker had his main gig on Today for almost 20 years—where he’s both the weather anchor and the third-hour co-host—he also co-hosts Off The Rails on Today Show Radio on Sirius XM. He has written 13 books, from cookbooks to mysteries, and his latest is a memoir titled You Look So Much Better In Person. He even showed up on Broadway in 2018-2019 in Waitress: The Musical.
Roker also has a production company that specializes in documentaries, like the long-running Coast Guard TV series for The Weather Channel. His latest special, Life Aid: A Story Of Hope airs August 30 on the Discovery Channel and September 2 on the Science and American Heroes channels, to mark the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Month. The Life Aid Research Institute raises money to provide veterans and first responders with targeted and personalized mental health treatments.
It’s admirable for Roker to keep working on projects like these instead of just taking a break once in a while, but as he describes it, “It’s about wanting to make a little bit of a difference. We don’t want to be so highfalutin and say we’re going to change the world. But if we can do stories that affect people, that make people kind of sit up and take notice, then, at one story at a time, you can effect change. And that’s what we try to do.”
Even with his jam-packed schedule, Roker still took a few minutes to run through our 11 Questions. During the interview, my family’s new puppy started barking. I tried to shush him, saying, “You’re not being very cooperative, mister.” Without missing a beat, Roker said, “Okay, but what about the dog? I thought I was being pretty nice!” In addition to being a quick wit, we were delighted to learn that Roker was a member of his high school’s A.V. club. “We were very cool,” he said. “Which meant, of course, we weren’t. We would be the I.T. guys today.”
Al Roker: If I could create a candle, I think it would smell like steak. It would smell like a bone-in, grilled ribeye steak.
AVC: Your impressive weight loss has been a big deal in the media. It was paleo, right? So you’re a big protein person?
AR: Yeah, I’ve done a little of everything, to be honest. But I like meat. Although, I have been cutting back a little bit during the pandemic, trying to be a little more plant-based. But I do love a good steak.
AR: I would have to say Innervisions by Stevie Wonder. There’s just not one bad track on it.
AVC: On vinyl, I’m assuming.
AR: Yeah, yeah.
AVC: Did you just play it until it broke? One of those?
AR: Yeah, it just wore the grooves down. You know, you’d put the needle on, like at the beginning, and it just would skate across. Isn’t it funny, though, even though we’re in a digital society, when you want to get somebody’s attention, they use the sound effect of a record scratch.
AVC: Or, you have to explain that to people.
AR: There’s a whole generation that doesn’t know what that even is.
AR: The Matrix. I’m not sure which pill I took, but I think it’s The Matrix.
AVC: So you think we’re in a fabricated reality?
AR: Exactly. I mean, how else would you explain anything that’s happened here?
AVC: That is true.
AR: I mean, you talk about a program that’s glitching.
AR: The Watergate affair. I was disillusioned, but I was also happy about it, because I was working at my college radio station. And they were carrying the Watergate hearings. So I was making 15 an hour just to babysit the radio board during the committee hearings. I literally had a front seat to history, and I got paid.
AVC: It seems so tame now. But at the time, it must have been groundbreaking.
AR: Oh my gosh, it was—there’s nothing like it, I think, maybe not since the McCarthy hearings. I don’t think there was anything like it since that, up until that point. And the country was riveted. Either listening to radio, watching it on TV. You know, it was nonstop.
AVC: So you started in radio.
AR: I did, when I was in college. Started in radio, and then in my sophomore year, I got a job doing weekend weather at the CBS station, but I was still doing radio. So I was working three jobs while I was in college.
AR: My brother Chris. He’s a resourceful fella. He’s in management. He runs NYC Health + Hospitals/ Metropolitan Hospital. So that’s part of his background, dealing with bodies. I mean, he’s the CEO, but you know, I’m sure during his fraternity days, he probably had something to do with it.
AVC: There was no hesitation. You didn’t even have to think about it. It was straight to your brother.
AR: No, if I needed a body buried...
AVC: How is he holding up with everything that’s going on there? Although, New York is doing better now.
AR: They got through it. I’m so very proud of him. He’s just such a terrific administrator and an inspiring leader. I mean, literally he is my baby brother, but I really look up to him.
AR: I think it was last year, maybe the year before. But I was Doc Brown, and Dylan Dreyer was Marty McFly from Back To The Future. It was pretty spectacular.
AVC: You guys always dress up, right? On the show?
AR: Yeah, we do. Number two would have been my B.A. Baracus from The A-Team.
AVC: So for the show, they help you out with costuming and stuff like that, so you’re looking pretty spot-on.
AR: Yeah, that’s right. We’ve got an amazing staff.
AVC: Do they tell you, “Hey, you guys are going to be The A-Team this year?” Or is it something that you all come up with?
AR: No, it’s—sometimes, we come up with the idea. Sometimes, they do. It depends. Sometimes, we have a theme.
AR: Well, up until a couple of months ago, I would have said Portland, Oregon. But all things being equal, I love it. I mean, I think Portland is a terrific city. It’s a great, great food scene. They’ve got great mass transit. Beautiful outdoor space. It’s so funny, every place I was going to say has had issues. I would also say Minneapolis-St. Paul. I mean, it’s just kind of crazy. Chicago, I love Chicago. Which just goes to show it doesn’t matter where you are—where you want to go, there you are. You know? There are problems and issues everywhere.
AVC: But you would want to stay in a U.S. city instead of going off to a private island somewhere or whatever. Or Italy.
AR: Well, my daughter lived in Paris. I wouldn’t mind living in Paris.
AR: I remember my dad taking me out on a boat to do some fishing. I was maybe 12. I remember him saying, “Okay, I think you’re mature enough. It’s time for us to have this talk.” And all I can remember thinking was, if we leave now, we can be back in time for The Flintstones. And I don’t remember a word he said. I think I blanked it out. Yabba dabba doo.
AVC: Too traumatic to get that news from Dad.
AR: In fact, three of my siblings are adopted/foster kids. Three of us are biological. And I remember coming home from high school, and my mother was in the kitchen. And, you know, you don’t want to think about your parents doing it. And my mother said, “I just want to talk to you.” She says, “What would you think about another little brother or sister?” I said, “Oh, are we going to take in a foster kid?” She says, “No.” I said, “We’re going to adopt?” She said, “No.” “So well then… Oh, geez, no.” [Grossed out sounds.]
AVC: So you grew up in a big family?
AR: Yeah, yeah. I’m the oldest of six. [We grew up] in Queens, New York. A little bit of Brooklyn, but mostly Queens.
AR: I refuse to write with a ballpoint pen for personal correspondence.
AVC: So you have a fountain pen?
AR: I have a fountain pen.
AVC: You have to write with that so carefully. Otherwise, you get glops and drips all over.
AR: Yes. And I almost never use just plain paper. I have notecards and stationery. One of the greatest gifts my wife ever gave me for a birthday present was a stationery wardrobe of 8 x 10" embossed sheets, 5 x 7" embossed sheets, 5 x 7" notecards, and calling cards, and the corresponding envelopes to go with them.
AVC: Wow, and you still are writing notes to people. That is a lost art form, nowadays.
AR: In fact, my kids… It’s like, “No, you can’t send a thank-you email. No one gives a rat’s patoot about a thank-you email. You will write them a card.” Each of my kids has stationery. I can’t speak to the older girls now, because they’re out of the house. But Nick still has a little wardrobe stationery.
AVC: That is a great thing to pass on to your kids.
AR: And you know what’s interesting about it, is that it gives him such pleasure when people thank him for his thank-you note. “Oh, Nick! This was really lovely! I’m really touched that you took the time.” And it’s like this positive reenforcement. He really enjoys it.
AR: I pop in a DVD of any of the five seasons of The A-Team. One of the greatest cartoon live-action shows from the ’80s.
AVC: Was it Mr. T that drew you in?
AR: [Rapidly.] “In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.”
AVC: No wonder you loved that Halloween costume.
AR: Oh yeah.
AVC: Do your kids ever watch it with you and see the attraction?
AR: No, I tried to get them to watch it. They make it to the first commercial, and they’re done. “Dad, this is really stupid.” “Yeah, I know.”
AR: Yeah, I think I would, so that I’m sure—now is it the day, or do you get the date? Because if they tell you it’s a Tuesday, that doesn’t really do much for you.
AVC: Yeah, the date, it should be.
AR: Ah, okay. Yeah, because then you can make the most of—instead of being at a Comic-Con convention, if you know you’re going to get flattened by a crosstown bus, maybe you don’t go, and hang out with the family a little longer.
12. Bonus 12th question from Dulcé Sloan: Is there a Black actor or actress that has made an impact on you? If so, who and how?
AR: I would say Yaphet Kotto.
I mean, look. Anybody from Sam Jackson to Denzel Washington. Those guys are the gold standard. But then there are guys that are journeymen actors, like Yaphet Kotto or Bill Duke, who also is a terrific actor and director. That weren’t necessarily pigeonholed in roles. They played different characters that could have been Black, could have been white. Some of them were race-specific, but others weren’t. And they did a really terrific job. And I would always watch their work, both of them, Bill Duke, Yaphet Kotto. Either one could play a good guy or could play a really bad, bad guy. And each one was believable.
AVC: So we don’t know who the next person is we’re interviewing for this feature, but what would you like to ask them?
AR: I would like to know which Saturday morning cartoon show of their youth they would want to be inserted in and be a character in.
AVC: And that answer for you would be?
AR: The answer for me—I guess I should have thought of an answer first. I guess it would have been—it’s going to sound crazy—the Harlem Globetrotters. The cartoon show. And they had a song in every episode, and I always enjoyed that.
If not—if it couldn’t be that—I think it would be The Flintstones. I would like to integrate Bedrock.
AVC: Yeah, way overdue.
AR: Like, move next door to Fred on the other side of where Barney is. And like, Fred is being kind of a jerk about it. Barney is fantastic. Wilma is just appalled at how her husband is acting.