Whether you’re a regular Discovery Channel watcher or not, you know the voice: Mike Rowe’s baritone has been heard on ads pitching everything from Tylenol to, more recently, Ford cars and trucks.
And, of course, if you do watch Discovery, you recognize the 47-year-old San Francisco resident immediately as the voice of ‘Deadliest Catch,’ as well as dozens of other network specials and one-offs.
But the thing Rowe is most closely identified with is ‘Dirty Jobs,’ the five-year-old Discovery nonfiction series that profiles some of the more gooey, icky and dangerous professions you can of… or maybe even haven’t thought of at all.
And that latter one is kind of the point for Rowe, who’s admittedly odd resume includes stints as an opera singer and QVC pitchman. To him, ‘Dirty Jobs’ serves a profound purpose in an era when fewer Americans than ever actually do stuff with their hands… or worse, have respect for those who do stuff with their hands.
Fancast caught up with Rowe Tuesday in Los Angeles, on a rare hiatus, to discuss the show, which returns for a new season tonight at 9 PM, and his career.
So what’s the dirtiest of the dirty jobs you’ve done in five years and 243 episodes?
The snappy answer is always to say the last episode we did. But truthfully, they all have a story, and every season has at least one episode that stands out. But for the season coming up, it’s probably window washing on a sky scraper overlooking Honolulu. At some point, the network should have changed the name from ‘Dirty Jobs’ to ‘Dangerous.’ For this one, we were basically mountaineering, swinging 400 feet above Pearl Harbor on a two-by-four with a bucket of suds and a squeegee. It was basically the first time my camera man said, “I can’t do it.” It was insanely dangerous.
So be careful and don’t fall. What’s so dangerous?
Picture yourself 400 feet off the ground on a two-by-four just big enough to get your ass on. And you’re basically just repelling. You’re totally in charge of your destiny. And the windows are hot – maybe 150 degrees – because they’re right in the sun.
How did you get into this, anyway?
‘Dirty Jobs’ happened really because I was trying to convince the network to hire me as a correspondent. I wanted a gravy gig where I’d travel around the world and be the voice of the network. So I pitched an idea called ‘Somebody’s Got to Do It’ that became a special. That blew up, and my career changed very quickly from a guy who does the occasional special to a guy who works every day in a different state doing one dirty job after another.
Watch Mike discuss his thoughts on America’s perception of dirty jobs – and lamb castration! – below.
So your schedule is pretty hectic these days.
I work every single day, and not just on ‘Dirty Jobs.’ There’s narration for ‘Deadliest Catch,’ there are seven or eight specials for the network each year that are always in some stage of production, there’s the Ford business, plus I run a website. These are all serious undertakings that take more time than I ever thought they would. Not that I’m complaining – you play the cards you get, and it’s a busy time.
That website you’re talking about is mikeroweworks.com. What’s that all about.
I wanted ‘Dirty Jobs’ to be about something more than things that go splat, so I asked my fans to help me build this trade resource center. It went live about six months ago, and we get about nine thousand visitors a day. That’s not huge, but it’s growing every day.
Is this like social networking for people with physical jobs?
It kind of does serve that function, but the main reason I wanted it up was because, somewhere there needs to be a case for the trades. There needs to be an unbiasted resource where people can get information about trades like farming.
How involved are you in the site?
I’m involved with it every day. I continue to maintain it, I write for it, I blog on it. It’s the best way to keep my own identity on track. I you don’t, you’re going to get murdered in this crazy industry.
That identity seems to be about respecting what has traditionally been known as “blue-collar” work. Why is that important to you?
I grew up around farmers and fisherman and tradesman. My granddad was someone with an eighth grade education who as a master plumber and master architect. He built the house I grew up in. These guys used to be celebrated. They were role models in the fifties and sixties. But my personal feeling is that the definition of a good job has changed. We’ve come to believe that a good job is a four-year golden ticket in college that will make all your dreams come true. But I see a lot of kids living at home right now, eighty grand in debt and not able to find a job they’re passionate about. I think we have a dysfunctional relationship with work right now. I think this whole separation of white collar and blue collar isn’t healthy for us.
So you see ‘Dirty Jobs’ as a means of correcting a societal ill?
I don’t know about that. I guess it’s just a long way of saying I respect hard work, and I know we in the media have done a pretty poor job of actively portraying labor. We tend to show it as drudgery. Find me a plumber on TV, and five will get you ten that he’ll be 300 pounds with a giant butt crack showing. It’s important for the show to present what work really is. Underneath the craziness of it, there’s a pretty big theme, and that’s the nobility of work.