An Interview with Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe is the host of my favorite podcast, The Way I Heard It, which posts new episodes every Tuesday. He also hosted the shows “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” on CNN and “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel. Rowe has been an important advocate for skilled, often high-paying jobs that desperately need to be filled. On Labor Day in 2008, he launched the Mike Rowe Works Foundation to help educate people and provide scholarships for skilled jobs. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Mike Rowe and his mission, so ICYMI, here’s an interview I did with him last year.

This interview originally appeared in the Monday, May 15 edition of the daily Bright email. Sign up at

What’s your morning routine?

I’m not sure I have one. Years ago, QVC destroyed any assumption I might have harbored that darkness and sleep were supposed to coincide. In my three years on the graveyard-shift, I never really went to bed. I just napped, pretty much around the clock. Four, ninety-minute snoozes over the course of twenty-four hours was typical. In that context, I had four “mornings” every day. Four opportunities to “get up and write,” or “get up and work out,” or establish some sort of routine. But of course, that same schedule also afforded me four opportunities to sleep in. Which of course, is hard to resist.

After QVC, I traveled constantly, and rarely acclimated to a single time zone. Consequently, most of my mornings came too early, and found me too foggy to do anything more ambitious than simply try to regain consciousness. Sadly, that’s still true today. So I guess my morning routine is really focused on waking up, which I usually accomplish with cold water, hot coffee, and as many pushups as I can manage, in no particular order.

What book, movie or TV show did you last recommend to a friend?

Straight Man by Richard Russo.

What’s the last picture you took on your phone?

To my shame, a selfie, sitting behind a microphone at my kitchen table. I wanted to upload it as a thumbnail, and put it in front of a video of me reading one of my mother’s letters on my Facebook page. But the image — while properly oriented in my phone — was inverted on Facebook. There was no simple fix, and whatever “solution” you’re imagining might correct the problem, didn’t. Trust me, I tried everything. Maddening. For hours, I fiddled and futzed and let this task — this completely ridiculous, totally pointless task — suck hours from my life. Serves me right for taking a selfie. (But you should listen to my mother’s letters. They’re very funny, and an essential part of any balanced “morning routine.”)

What’s your favorite piece of art in your home?

I appreciate art, very much, but I don’t collect it. Truth is, I don’t really collect anything. But a couple years ago, outside Darwin, Australia, I met a guy named Jimbawa, who happened to be an aboriginal Chief of some kind. We were shooting Dirty Jobs, and we’d been in country for about a month. I was ready to come home, but this group of aborigines was both interesting and hospitable. They lived very close to the ocean, in something very close to a rain forest, but not quite. Anyway, we lingered with Jimbawa. We went spear fishing. We cut down a milkwood tree. We killed some poisonous cane toads. We made a segment for the show. A few months later, I got a package from Australia. Turns out, Jimbawa is a sculptor of some renown, and carved from the milkwood tree we cut down a towering bird eating a fish. I was touched, and found the piece to be elegant and beautiful and expressive and all the things art is supposed to be. And so I put it in an alcove under one of those special lights people use to show off valuable artwork. Because to me, it is.

If you could, what is one thing you would go back and tell yourself early in your career/life?

Honestly, not a damn thing. This whole premise of time travel has been made intriguing by countless books and movies, and I agree — it’s fun to talk about in the abstract. But seriously, think about what it would be like to actually confront yourself in the distant past. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying, or dangerous. For one thing, there’s the whole Butterfly Effect thing. I’m pretty sure any attempt to improve my own journey through life would trigger some sort of unintended consequence, and by the time I got back to the present we’d all be speaking Chinese or Russian. But beyond that, I can’t stand to watch myself on television, because I cringe at everything I do and say. You Tube is even worse. It’s full of clips that people posted from me 25 years, doing things on camera that I have absolutely no recollection of doing in real life.

This may sound silly to you, but trust me — when you see a person that is undeniably you, doing things you can’t recall, it’s deeply unnerving. I think that’s what going back in time would feel like. So, no thanks. Now going forward in time — that might be useful. No less terrifying, but useful.

Please let me know when the technology is worked out…

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