Hi reddit, I’m back!
I spent the past decade traveling to all 50 states and introducing cable TV viewers to over 300 different jobs. My new CNN series, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET and introduces viewers to people who march to the beat of a different drum. This show is about passion, purpose, and occasionally, hobbies that get a little out of hand. I sang in the Baltimore opera and sold stuff in the middle of the night on QVC. I’ve made many mistakes. I currently use my skills from the home shopping days to auction C.R.A.P. (collectibles rare and precious) to benefit my foundation on MikeRoweWorks.com. I’m @MikeRoweWorks on Twitter and TheRealMikeRowe on Facebook.
Victoria’s helping me out today via phone.
What job shocked you the most by finding out how awful it really was?
Many jobs appear bad at a glance, only to get much worse at a second glance.
And some jobs simply get worse and worse with every subsequent glance, which is why (of course) many people watch the program with their eyes closed.
I was never in a position to close my eyes, and consequently, I enjoyed a front-row seat to a great variety of pits, and holes, that most people simply don’t know exist.
One brief example might be the interior of an ocean buoy.
In the Coast Guard, buoy tenders are responsible for hoisting these giant steel contraptions out of the ocean, and refurbishing them.
In this case, “refurbishment” means “crawling into a woefully inadequate tube not much larger than the space taken up by your shoulders, and wiggling your way like a worm into the shadowy depths whereupon you begin to remove the barnacles and various other forms of nautical life with a stick or some other improvised tool.”
I could go on, but I won’t.
What dirty jobs did you always want to do but the network or producers wouldn’t let you do?
Regarding barriers to dirt, there have been many, and for a multitude of reasons. The segments I was most interested in doing but found the most resistance around was that of a rendering facility.
Aside from the fact that “rendering facilities” are by their very definition optically horrific, there was another concern that I had not considered.
That concern can be spelled out with the following letters.
That’s right – the Mob is still involved in a surprising number of rendering facilities. Why the Mob has such a rich history in garbage-related industries and rendering-related industries is a conversation beyond my pay grade.
I only know how relieved I was to finally find a rendering outfit that was not owned or operated by the Cosa Nostra.
That facility was in Northern California. And they were called North State Rendering.
To this day, I’m impressed with how brave they were in their decision to let us provide our viewers with an unvarnished look at what it takes to turn a dead cow into several hundred pounds of chicken feed.
Yes, I’m deeply proud of that day.
Do you follow an exercise/weightlifting routine?
For a while, when I agonized over maintaining the illusion of fitness, I committed myself to a routine that centered around Burpees.
Also known as “the Prison Workout,” Burpees require one to drop from a standing position into a squat. Then you kick your legs backward, and do a push-up. Then, you return to the squatting position. Then, you leap into the air as high as you can. Then you do it again.
Until you are either
A) No longer fat
B) Vomiting uncontrollably.
What profession have you gained the most respect for over the years?
At the risk of sounding overly earnest (and too metaphorical), I’m going to say: the welder.
Welders not only work their asses off, they’re in high demand, and critical to polite society. The entire world, including our infrastructure, and the building in which I currently find myself, is held together with welds.
Remove the welder retroactively from the species, and the whole thing shits the bed.
Why do you still choose to live moderately even though you have made enough money to not do so?
I’m not really humble, I’m just not properly acquisitive.
I take more pleasure in saving than spending.
And like the Native Americans, I tend to look at “ownership” as something more akin to stewardship. In other words, the more things you own, the more things own you.
On a practical level, I find if you don’t have the space for a lot of stuff, you don’t wind up with a lot of stuff.
If you had to choose one job to do permanently, out of all the ones you tried out on Dirty Jobs, what would it be?
Personally, I’ve never had the ability to do the same job for more than a few days at a time.
Clean, dirty, exciting, or tedious.
I simply don’t have the wherewithal to stick with one vocation too long.
It is, without question, a character flaw.
What are the biggest obstacles in the fight against the decline of the blue collar trades in the States?
The short answer is: perception.
The number of people who depend upon a workable infrastructure and a skilled trade force are coincidentally the same number of people who currently inhabit the planet.
For a long list of reasons, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors have begun to emphasize one specific form of education. At the expense of all the others.
In this country, it’s widely believed that a 4 year degree for the most people.
Unfortunately, that’s insane.
Of the 3 million available jobs today, less than 20% require a 4 year degree.
The rest require training, and a willingness to learn a skill that’s actually in-demand. On top of everything else, we have student loans outstanding in excess of $1 Trillion dollars.
In short, we’re lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back so they can educate themselves for jobs that no longer exist.
That should probably stop.
How has the transition to CNN been? Also, what was the reason for the move?
In my industry, several well-known terms are currently in the process of being redefined.
Terms like “non-fiction” and “unscripted.”
These words no longer mean what they used to mean.
Today, the Ducks have a Dynasty, the Amish have a Mafia, and until very recently, Honey had a Boo-Boo.
These programs, in spite of their popularity, all aired under the “nonfiction” umbrella. And yet, they all have writer’s rooms.
The truth is, it’s become very difficult to produce a show with no second takes, and no script, because the people in charge of putting them on the air would prefer to control them, in the same way an executive might be able to control an episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY.
It occurred to me that networks like FOX and CNN were not just news outlets, but fundamentally, nonfiction outlets.
CNN, in particular, was very interested in exploring alternative forms of programming, very similar to DIRTY JOBS.
In short, they’ve been great to work with.
And as long as headlines like Ebola, and ISIS, and terrorism, and natural disasters don’t completely dominate the landscape, I think there will be room for SOMEBODY’S GOTTA DO IT and other shows like it.
I always got a good chuckle out of your QVC days, have you ever considered reuniting with them as a goof now that you’re so successful?
My days at QVC (or more specifically, my nights) set the tenor and tone for what would eventually become my “career.”
I was fired 3 times in 3 years (deservedly so).
I made fun of the products, and all too often, the people who purchased them.
I did this not out of any kind of mean spiritedness, but rather a desperate attempt to remain conscious.
What I got away with from 1989-1992, on live television, will one day be a book.
And if there’s any justice in this topsy-turvy industry, my former masters in the home shopping business will invite me back to the scene of the crime to sell said memoirs.
But I’m not holding my breath.
Do you keep in touch with any of the people you met at any of your dirty jobs?
Too many to mention.
Although I will mention one.
There is a farm, in Northwest Indiana, called “Fair Oaks.” Mike and Sue run one of the largest dairies in the Midwest. We first shot there back in 2006, and Mike trusted me to not only deliver a dozen cows on a cold winter’s evening, he allowed me to perform a cesarean.
After that, he invited the crew and I to stay with them for the evening, and several days afterward. Which we did.
To this day, none of us are allowed to fly over Indiana without first landing in Chicago, and driving to Fair Oaks to drink their wine, and their delicious milk. But mostly, their wine.
Which dirty job was the hardest on you both physically and mentally?
In general, any day that begins with a man handing you a sledgehammer and concludes with the same man taking the sledgehammer away 12 hours later is going to be a difficult day.
Toward that end, I could tell you stories about railroad workers, gandy-dancers, marble miners, or a variety of specialized construction jobs.
However, the absolute worst in terms of physical discomfort combined with soul-deadening ennui involves the cleaning of the drum on a cement mixer.
No one really thinks about it, but these trucks are in constant use.
And every time the drum spins, a thin layer of cement hardens in the interior. So by the end of the day, the insideof the drum on a cement mixer is essentially solid.
So the job in question requires a man to wedge himself inside with a pneumatic jackhammer.
The sound is indescribable. And the claustrophobia is off the charts.
Essentially, you lay there on your back directing the jackhammer over your head and all around you. You wear ear protection, a respirator, and goggles.
But NONE of it makes a damn bit of difference.
Because that job hurts on every level.
Aside from Troy, is there anyone from Dirty Jobs working on your new show?
Doug is back. Paler, and more bitter than ever.
The once-good-natured director of photography has now become a thoroughly disgruntled albino.
Who I still respect, and admire.
Chris Jones is also back. He, too, appears older than ever, and profoundly disenchanted with life in general.
Combined, the 3 of them make for a truly indispensable triumvirate.
If you went to a guidance counselor in high school, what would he/she have said your ideal job would be?
I did go to a guidance counselor in high school, his name was Mr. Dunbar, and he gave me the worst advice I’ve ever heard.
He told me that my desire to attend a 2 year community college was “beneath my potential.”
As it turns out, the 2 year school I ultimately attended allowed me to experiment, and explore, all kinds of studies that I simply would not have been able to afford at the university.
Consequently, I got on the road that brought me to where I’m sitting now.
Although, to be fair, I should point out that the road also led through several miles of sewer pipes.
If I were to take you to a karaoke bar right now, what song would you sing and why?
I might be inclined (in the interest of shameless self-promotion) to sing the theme song from SOMEBODY’S GOTTA DO IT – which is a fantastic program alluded to in some prior questions, that can be seen this evening at 9 PM on CNN!
(I wrote the theme song, and fans of the show sing it – so much of SGDI is programmed by the fans, it only seemed natural for me to ask them to help sing the theme song).
If you want to hear it for yourself, 80 different versions now exist at http://mikerowe.com
(*We’re still taking submissions!)
What was your favorite dirty job and why?
Typically, I don’t use words like “favorite” to describe dirty jobs. But in general, the best ones are always the ones with the most interesting people.
Bob the Pig Farmer.
Jane the Marine Biologist.
Frank the Bridge Painter.
There were 300, and to be honest, they were all pretty great.
Do you only get on Reddit for AMA’s or do you actively browse?
To be perfectly honest, this is only the second time I’ve been here.
In fact, this is really the first time I’ve been here.
My previous AMAs was video, back in 2008. I’ve been a supporter for a long time.
I’d say in general – I’m kind of late to the social media party.
But over the last year, I’ve taken the Facebook thing pretty seriously.
And based on the staggering wit and intelligence I’ve seen thus far in queries like your own, I recon I’ll be back.
Have you ever refused to do a job?
I refuse to direct.
What was your dirtiest job?
God, I’ve never heard that one before, let’s see…
how about: Counting this one? Tough to beat replacing a ruptured lift pump. That’s the 4 ton motor at the bottom of a 5-story silo that processes all of your crap.
And by “crap” I mean literally your crap. When the lift pump breaks, the silo fills with excrement. And in order to stop the poop from flooding the streets and causing a modern-day Armageddon, men in woefully inadequate Tyvek suits descend a spiral staircase and muscle their way through a series of water-tight doors.
At which point, they swim – that’s right, swim – to the ruptured lift pump, and climb on top of it.
Then, other men lower a cable from 5 stories above. The cable is affixed to the ruptured lift pump, and the entire apparatus is slowly lifted up towards the heavens.
The sound a ruptured lift pump breaks when it breaks the seal of shit holding it to the floor will forever haunt your dreams.