He is best known as the host of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, but Mike Rowe has also been an opera singer with the Baltimore Opera and on-air salesman for QVC. He continues to work as a voice-over actor and appears in commercials for Ford Motor Co., Viva paper towels and his own line of Dirty Jobs cleaning products. He will be hosting a retrospective of Dirty Jobs on Destination America on Saturdays at 9 a.m.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. You do a cute commercial with your parents for paper towels. Are you an only child?
A. (Laughs) No, I’m the oldest of three boys. It’s actually been one of the best things for me. I hadn’t seen them in a long time and concluded the only way to fix that was to hire them.
Q. So were you always the favorite?
A. (Laughs) I’m pretty sure I’m not their favorite. The middle son turned out to be much more traditional, you know, giving them grandchildren and living a neatly ordered life as an engineer in Florida. The youngest is as unpredictable as me, just in a totally different way. So yeah, they’ve got certainty in the middle and confusion on both ends.
Q. You filmed Dirty Jobs without a script.
A. I don’t believe, with the exception of look-back specials, we ever did a second take. One of the things I wanted to do early on was to keep it as authentic as we could.
Q. You are very talented at off-the-cuff commentary. Is that a skill you’ve always had?
A. It’s nice of you to call it a skill. My approach to TV, after I was fired from QVC for the third time in 1993, which by the way was the best training ground you could ever have, was to do it with the idea in mind (that) you are home with your friends watching it. With Dirty Jobs, that really was kind of the mandate. We ended up calling it the truth cam. No matter what went wrong on the scene, whether it was a technical issue or just something wildly inappropriate, you could always turn to the truth cam and tell the viewer what was going on.
Q. You seemed to stay away from controversial things like slaughterhouses or factory farms, so how did you choose the occupations?
A. We really didn’t stay away from those things. The main reason is, I wanted the show to be fundamentally a celebration of work and humor combined. Too often hard work is portrayed as drudgery. I suspected there was a lot of humor on the work site. In fact, sometimes, the grimmer the job, the better the sense of humor just out of necessity. But to answer your question, I had about 30 or 40 jobs in mind when we started that I thought would be good.
Q. The list on your website of the jobs you’ve done is amazing.
A. We did over 300. If it wasn’t for my right knee and my attitude, we probably would’ve done 3,000.
Q. You’ve said that the people who do these jobs seem happier than many of the lawyers and bankers you have met.
A. I hate to generalize, but it’s true. I don’t want to put anyone in a box, but after a hundred of these things you can kind of step back and look at it as a kind of control group. The answer to that is a 400-page book I can’t seem to finish. But your point is the big question: What do people with dirty jobs know that we don’t? In a really general way, the answer is balance. The answer is completion.
Q. So has higher education been overglorified? Parents wanted their children to do better and not dig ditches or paint bridges.
A. It’s bad math. It’s normal and natural, and I completely understand the desire to want something better for your kids, but really: How much better does it get for a lot of us? Fifty years ago, college needed a PR campaign and it got one. But it went too far, and college became the solution at the expense of all other roads. And now all other roads to knowledge are called alternative. I mean, good God! We’ve turned so many dirty jobs into vocational consolation prizes. It’s not that college is bad – of course not. It’s great. If you ignore scholarships, apprenticeships, on-the-job training, you do it at your peril.