San Francisco Chronicle – Q&A: "Dirty Jobs" star Mike Rowe

Mike dishes the dirt and answers the questions in this column that sounds right up his alley ~ “The Poop”.

Q&A: “Dirty Jobs” star Mike Rowe

By Peter Hartlaub

My 5-year-old son is a huge “Dirty Jobs” fan. He’s polite about it, but it’s pretty clear that star Mike Rowe is the father he wishes he had. I’ve heard a lot of Mike Rowe love in the comments over the years. Add the fact that this blog is called “The Poop,” and it seems like an obvious place for a Q&A with the star.

Rowe is exactly like he is on the show in person, and despite the fact that he’s got to be worth a jillion dollars (his friend’s words, not mine) there was absolutely zero pretentiousness. The dude is just a good hang. He didn’t badmouth people, didn’t go off the record and he hung out for more than two hours, when the industry standard for these types of things is 30-45 minutes.

Rowe was, of course, a co-host for “Evening Magazine” in the Bay Area, most of which is covered in detail in the main article. The Q&A below consists of a few odds and ends, plus a lightning round where I asked some quick questions I’ve always wanted to know.

I should note that my greatest shortcoming as an entertainment journalist is my insistence not to ask people I’ve just met about their love lives. (This type of thing would get me fired from People.) I also thought that the statute of limitations had run out on Malou Nubla questions. In my defense, I did get the full story on why he was fired from the QVC home shopping network. And I quickly pulled out a camera when he went all Quint-from-“Jaws” and talked about how he got all his scars …

Are you constantly in pain?

I always complain because I’m old now and everything hurts. I say “God if I only had this job at 28.” But the truth is, mentally at 28, I wouldn’t have known what to do. I was stronger, but I never could have worked 340 days. I’m physically a wreck now, but it’s happening when it should happen.

How much of your success do you attribute to your personal suffering?

I never underestimate the power of pity. … Every bad joke, every endorsement deal, all of the things that a typical host would normally get creamed for, people don’t mind, because they know I don’t cheat when it comes to the work I actually try. I’m a lab rat. I’m a perpetual apprentice. The joke is on me if there is one.

TV blows. We turn regular people into heroes or punch lines. That’s what we do. Once it became clear that “Dirty Jobs” was going to work, to me that became the challenge. How do we keep that from happening? And then it became clear. It has to be me. I have to fail. I’m paid to try, and I’m rewarded for failing. It’s the ultimate management of expectations.


I heard you haven’t moved out of your “Evening Magazine”-era apartment.

I’ve been looking for real estate since I got here. I (wanted to) buy it while I was at “Evening,” but I couldn’t afford it. And now I can afford it, but I feel like I’m catching falling knife. The state is completely broke, in my opinion. It’s like a family member who you love that is going through some awful (series) of bad choices, and you can’t do anything except wait for them to hit bottom, and hopefully be there for them.

As we sink further into uncharted depths of debt, I can’t feel good about buying as house. But I don’t feel good about leaving, either, because it’s so damn beautiful. And I’m only home 8 days of the month.


How old is that Fomoco hat you’re wearing?


Not as old as it looks. I got this from a big shot at Ford. … It’s one of maybe 350 that come tumbling out of my closet whenever I open the door. I’m not a collector by any stretch, but I always wear a hat on the show. It’s my way of getting one over on the network. You’re not allowed to show phone numbers or do any kind of advertising. But the people who invite us out are basically providing us with a set, so if I can wear a hat with their name on it, the network won’t block it out.


Have you ever run into a member of Faith No More?

You know, I know they’re from here. It’s so funny you say that. I heard “We Care a Lot,” which randomly came on in the gym the other day. I said “I’m going to send them an e-mail just to say thanks, because I picked that song.”

The network didn’t want to do it because nobody in Silver Springs had ever heard of it. And I said “This is the right tune for the show.” They had three other songs in front of it, but (the rights weren’t secured) and this one came through. I’d love to meet them. Give them my regards.

Do you have any visible scars from “Dirty Jobs”?

That was an alligator gar. (Mike shows a triangular scar between thumb and pointer finger.) Sort of a demon spawn between an eel and a German Shepherd.

I’ve also got a hole, this is an interesting one, it doesn’t look like anything at all. (Pulls up pantleg and shows scar on leg.) I’ve had it for nearly four years.


Do you mind if I take a picture?

Be my guest.

That’s a shark tooth that got through my shark suit. … One little tooth got through, and the f—ing thing got through my skin to my bone. It never really healed properly. Everything else is stitches. I’ve gotten maybe 12 stitches over the years. Two cracked ribs, broken toe, broken finger …

The scariest one was a portable blast furnace, size of a toaster oven that a blacksmith uses. I was operating it in the field. The gas built up, so when we torched it the flames that came out wrapped around my head and melted my contacts to my eyes. I was pulling pieces of plastic off my retina. But it was fine, it just scared the hell out of me.

Were you handy as a kid?

For me, it’s an odd thing. I come from a blue collar family, but my personal life isn’t. I didn’t get the gene that my grandfather had in spades. He was a local hero. Built the church that I went to. Built the house I grew up in. Steamfitter, pipefitter, electrician, mechanic and plumber. I wanted to do those things. But it just didn’t come easy.

I would up getting in show business because I couldn’t learn the trade that I wanted to learn, that my grandfather did. His advice to me was “Get a different toolbox.” Looking back it was kind of brilliant. Because the toolbox of coruse was to write, learn to speak, sing, direct, act and host. I learned all of those things. By the time I was fired from the QVC for the final time in 1992 or 1993, I had a very specific set of muscles. And I was able to freelance in this weird sort of host space very well.

I’m so glad you brought that up. How did you get fired from QVC?

There’s no training program. In 1989, if you could talk about a pencil for 8 minutes, you were hired, and then you were put on probation for 90 days while you got up speed with the inventory. I went on double secret probation about three weeks in. Technically it was inappropriate contact with a nun doll.


A doll was brought to me. If you wound her up she would sing “Climb Every Mountain” I thought that was hysterical. The camera was off of me, I couldn’t find the winder, it wasn’t in the small of her back or the top of her shoulder. It was in her ass basically.

I’m off camera, I can’t get any torque on it. I turn her upside down. Pretty soon the nun’s head is in my crotch, and her habit is pushed down. People around me are either mute with horror or in hysterics. It’s 7 o’clock in the evening on a Sunday. The TV comes back to me on a medium shot. It looked like I was sodomizing a nun. …

That’s how you got fired?

… We were selling a book called “When Kids Ask Tough Questions.” We were snowed in and I was on the air for 24 hours. I was delirious. It was two days before Christmas. I said “I remember when I learned there was no such thing as Santa Claus. I was in a mall …” I told the whole story. The producer came in and said (the phones are ringing). “No they’re not buying anything, they’re just all calling demanding your resignation.”

That’s how you got …

I was selling indoor/outdoor unbreakable dinnerwear. I stood on it and it shattered. And it broke at a weird angle so it sailed into one of the lenses of the cameras. … I also read my boss’s memos on the air, even after he demanded that I stop it.

It was a cumulative thing, ultimately, that led to my demise.

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