Mike Rowe, the “Dirty Jobs” host who made his mark as a brawny, smooth-voiced smart aleck who gamely processed fish and cleaned udders with a blow torch, comes to Seattle’s Paramount Theatre with a solid game plan — sort of.
A few weeks ago, former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe posted the plan for his appearance at the Paramount Theatre on Feb. 20.
Bottom line: He had no plan.
“To be honest, I’m not exactly sure when I agreed to do this,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “but a basic awareness of my own schedule has never been a critical part of my business model, so I’m not really surprised to learn about this obligation. In fact, I’m thrilled to actually know something this far in advance.”
Uh-oh. Did he know the tickets were $35 to $55 each?
On the phone the other day, I read Rowe’s words back to him.
“I said that?” he asked, then rallied. “You will be pleased to know that I will be bringing the same level of preparation and organization to this event as I did to ‘Dirty Jobs.’ ”
In other words, very little. And that has never failed him.
Rowe, 53, made his mark over eight seasons on the Discovery Channel as the brawny, smooth-voiced smart aleck who gamely cleaned buoys, processed fish, made bricks from dirt, cleaned udders with a blow torch and inseminated turkeys. He pulled a car out of a lake. He made mannequins and moved a giant cactus.
He’s now doing the same show for CNN, called “Somebody’s Gotta Do it.”
Ninety minutes alone on a stage may be the dirtiest job of all. But he’s up for it, if we are.
“I’m not a comedian and I’m not a speechifier,” Rowe said. “I’ve done hundreds of appearances but I’ve never sold tickets before and I’ve never wanted to. I’ve been protective of the relationship between me and the viewers. I don’t want to exploit or take advantage.
“But you do have a lot of fans who would like to hear a few stories and pick your brain.”
Rowe’s own story started in Baltimore, where he was raised in the shadow of a grandfather “who built a house without a blueprint.”
Rowe, in turn, flunked out of shop class and by the time he was 18 realized “the handy gene is brutally recessive.”
So he took some humanities classes — singing, acting, writing.
He was encouraged by a high-school teacher named Fred King, who saw something in him and even helped him shake his stutter by telling him during an audition, “OK, now try it once without the stutter.” It worked.
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“He was my Mr. Holland,” Rowe said of his teacher. “What he did for me wasn’t unique, it was only unique to me. You don’t know it until you look back.”
He prepared to audition for the Baltimore Opera by listening to a Puccini aria over and over on his Walkman until he had it memorized. The job not only meant performing but meeting women and paying dues toward a Screen Actors Guild membership.
He was sitting in a bar in a Viking costume, during an opera run, watching QVC, when Rowe’s friend bet him $100 that he couldn’t get a callback as a host for the shopping channel. He went, talked about a pencil for eight minutes and was hired on the spot.
The first thing he sold: “A newfangled telephone and answering machine, some kind of ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ contraption. It looked like a giant child’s toy. To demonstrate the facility of the keypad, I dialed my home number with my nose.
“Those were the single best, most unusual three years of my life,” he said. “Just the best training.”
That led to more television, including a San Francisco TV news segment called “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” which turned into “Dirty Jobs.”
From there, he became the face and voice of the Discovery Channel, narrating “The Deadliest Catch,” “American Chopper” and “American Hot Rod,” among others. He’s even hosted “Shark Week.”
If there’s any downside to working for the Discovery Channel for some 13 years, he said, “it’s that in many ways, they have destroyed all my hobbies.”
“Like diving,” he said, recalling the episode where he had to test out a shark suit by getting in the water with three reef sharks.
“They were biting me and shaking me like a tug toy,” he said. “I used to like to dive. But I will never again dive for fun.”
It’s interesting that Rowe’s career has led him from singing opera and quoting Shakespeare to “Dirty Jobs” and “The Deadliest Catch.”
But if all the world’s a stage, as the Bard wrote, then that must also include cranberry bogs and sewage-treatment plants.
All that slogging has landed him a home where he can look over “the orange of the Golden Gate Bridge, the green of the Marin Headlands and the blue of the San Francisco Bay.” He listens to everything from Dvorak to Crowded House, and just finished reading “Straight Man” by Richard Russo.
Never married, no kids. Just him and his dog, Freddy.
“I have commitment issues as deeply rooted now as when I was 18,” he said.
That doesn’t apply to Rowe’s parents, who have appeared with him in commercials for Viva paper towels.
“The only way I see them is to hire them,” Rowe said.
Along with all the TV and voice-over work, he has started the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which provides “work ethic scholarships” for men and women interested in mastering a skilled trade.
When the economy tanked in 2008, he said, “I was doing really well. ‘Dirty Jobs’ is in 200 countries, and I’m getting phone calls from financial writers asking me to weigh in on these dichotomous data points” around the dearth of skilled tradesmen and women.
There were plenty of dirty jobs at the time, he said, but “Nobody could find people willing to do them.”
Since then, the nonprofit has awarded more than $2.5 million in scholarships to schools around the country. Technical institutes. Welding institutes. Refrigeration schools.
One source of funding was a “Somebody’s Gotta Sniff It” Micro-Mike Rowe air freshener. Looks like they sold out.
What does that smell like, exactly?
“It doesn’t smell like anything,” Rowe said. “It smells like ennui.”