In his new memoir, “You Look So Much Better in Person,” weather anchor and author Al Roker looks back at some of his favorite moments and lessons learned in his life and career, from his first weather forecasting gig as a college student to his current job at “Today.”
On a recent episode of Milk Street Radio, Roker spoke with Christopher Kimball about the book, his favorite types of sandwiches, learning how to drive with his dad and the perks of being number two. Get an extended look at their conversation from the excerpts below, then listen to the full interview here on our website or via Apple Podcasts.
Most of the people who say “Oh, I’m having barbecue” aren’t really barbecuing. Not to be a snob, but what I do like about true barbecue is that you can’t rush. It’s at minimum a several hour event. Everybody likes barbecue. It evokes summertime.
On learning to drive with his dad
I had been taking driver’s ed and we were literally going for the road test here in New York City, in Queens by this giant cemetery, ironically. He said, “I don’t really think you’re that good at your broken U turn. Let me see you do one.” I got halfway through the turn and instead of stepping on the brake, I stepped on the gas. My dad very quietly just said, “Brake, brake, brake.” We went over the curb and through our neighbor’s prized Rhododendron bush. I finally snapped out of it and stepped on the brake. We left a note and then I went and took my driver’s test—and by the way passed—and then afterwards patched up the lawn and bought and planted a new bush.
On his favorite sandwich
Everyone’s got one. I don’t care how high and mighty you are, everybody likes a sandwich. Two of my guilty pleasures are sandwiches. A grilled cheese on white bread and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Not that artisanal peanut butter. We’re talking Skippy or Jif, some Smucker’s strawberry jam and I’m good.
On visiting Senegal to learn about his ancestry
I saw a lot of people who look like my dad and my grandmother. I saw a population of people that talked a lot of smack and loved a good laugh. These are all things I saw in my father’s family. I can’t even describe the feeling, standing in the region that my ancestors came from. There’s a tree that’s like 900 years old. It’s the communal meeting place of that village. It really touches you.
On the perks of being number two
I interviewed Ed McMahon a number of times, he was the sidekick to the king of late night, Johnny Carson. You can always make a living being the second banana and in fact, in some ways it’s easier because you don’t have to carry the burden. You can still be yourself. You can still do terrific work. I think so many people get caught up in being number one. You can still do wonderful things, in some ways, you can do more things because you don’t have people watching your every move.
Quotes have been edited for clarity.