The untold truth of Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe has made his name being a dirty, dirty man. Go ahead and get your head out of the gutter — we're not talking that kind of dirty. Rather, Rowe was the ever-agreeable host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs for eight glorious seasons. But there's a lot more to him than TV fame, so do yourself a favor and dig into some less-known facts about Mike Rowe's life. Digging in, after all, is pretty much what got Mike Rowe famous in the first place.

He joined the opera so he could earn his union cards

Everyone knows the easiest way to earn a union card is by joining the opera. OK, not everyone, but it was the quickest fix for Rowe. In the process, it gave him a rather amusing tale to tell.

In order to break into TV, Rowe needed his SAG card. But, living in Maryland, you couldn't obtain one without doing union work, which was impossible to get without ... you guessed it, those dreaded cards. As Rowe explained to Glenn Beck, it was a "classic catch-22." Luckily, though, there was a loophole. If you could get yourself into a union like AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists), then you could just buy your way into its sister union. Problem solved. Plan devised. All that left was the fun part.

Rowe chose the opera union as his mark, picking the shortest aria he could find—the coat aria from Puccini's La bohème—for his audition. One month later, his audition went as well as you'd expect from a guy who just started opera a month ago. After performing his piece, Rowe's reviewer asked, "You have no idea what you're doing, do you?"

But all hope wasn't lost. Rowe was told he had a "rich, well-modulated baritone" and that the next natural step was to dress him up as a pirate and let him in. Pirate Rowe enjoyed opera dso much, he stuck around for seven years, all after originally just wanting an easy way to get his SAG card. Perhaps an easier way Rowe should've considered? Hallmark.

He has a form letter he'll personalize and sign for fellow Eagle Scouts

After earning the esteemed honor of Eagle Scout, Rowe remembers receiving a letter from none other than President Gerald Ford congratulating him on his accomplishment. The letter was written on fancy paper and featured the presidential stamp, Ford's name and his photocopied signature at the bottom. In other words, it was a form letter, which was nice to Rowe in theory but, at the same time, felt slightly deceitful.

So what did Rowe do when he grew up and became the host of his own show? Why, he created his own form letter for new Eagle Scouts, of course, and offers to send it signed (and personalized) to any Eagle Scout who requests one, so long as they provide him with a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Since Rowe wasn't the biggest fan of Ford's seemingly impersonal message, what makes his letter any better? Well, for starters, Rowe comes right out and admits his is a form letter, which few do, particularly Presidents. Plus, Rowe's has five blanks throughout the letter where he at least takes the time to, in his words, "scribble in your name." Even that little bit of personalization is more than Ford ever allotted him,

So, is Rowe implying he's presidential? Perhaps. Or maybe he's just setting up the most epic long game in history—an eventual return of Dirty Jobs, live from the White House, hosted by the leader of the free world. Can you imagine the ratings? There's no way we wouldn't give it a watch.

His cool idea for a shot wound up fusing his contacts to his eyes

Rowe was on scene with a blacksmith during Season 1 of Dirty Jobs when he had an idea for a shot he thought would be, as the kids say it these days, straight fire. And oh was it fire, just not in the way he'd expected.

That day's job had Rowe dealing with a blast furnace, which he likened more to a little toaster oven, and his ideal shot consisted of having his eyes to the camera when he flicked the switch and started the flames. The flick wound up being no issue, but the gas that had accumulated forced the flames to shoot out instead of up, engulfing Rowe's dome and scorching his eyebrows right off.

Apparently the same thing had happened to the blacksmith five or six times, but in this fiery case, Rowe's contacts had been fused to his eyes. And in case it's not obvious, Rowe will be the first to tell you, "Pulling pieces of plastic out of your eyes, bad deal."

So was the shot still used? Of course it was, and in slow motion, no less! Straight fire indeed.

He's worth $35 million, but still lives in an apartment

Considering Rowe's fame from Dirty Jobs and several other successful projects, it should come as no surprise he's a multi-millionaire, to the tune of a fat $35 million. That's surely enough to splurge on a mansion, or two, or three. But for Rowe, there's been no chunk of change big enough to get him away from the modest San Francisco apartment he's called home for the last 14 years and counting.

Rowe finally revealed his digs when a fan on Facebook asked him, among other things, to truthfully admit he doesn't live in a mansion. It was a pretty easy thing to admit for Rowe, who said the extent of his mansioning experience is that he house-sat one once and "kinda liked it." Otherwise, he's been more than content sticking with the apartment lifestyle, especially at a pad that offers such a sweet, and only slightly obstructed (damn smokestacks), view of Treasure Island and Alcatraz, which he regards as the best part about his place.

Treasure Island and Alcatraz? With all the money he's saving by living below his means, he could probably just buy both. Now, that would be a killer view.

He received death threats for voicing a Walmart ad

Whether intended or not, Rowe's lengthy run on Dirty Jobs makes him somewhat of a spokesman for overworked and underpaid Americans everywhere. So when it was his voice that played over a 2014 ad for Walmart—you know, the same super-sized retailer frequently accused of overworking and underpaying its employees—trumpeting the company's pledge to invest $250 million in U.S. manufacturing, it's no wonder the spot raised a few eyebrows.

Sadly enough, it also sparked death threats, not to mention a response from Rowe on Facebook where he jokingly called the threats on his life "good-natured," and concluded, "Press tours are fun!" Hold on a sec. Press tours? Yep, Rowe had just released a book, Profoundly Disconnected: A True Confession From Mike Rowe, giving him ample opportunity to test the theory that any press is better than no press. And boy did he test it, starting a reply to a comment on Facebook with, "Who gives a crap about your feelings toward Walmart?"

Ouch. That hurts, Mike. But just imagine — if he'd only waited a little bit longer to drop his book, he could've added a whole other chapter.

That one time he woke up in his birthday suit, almost shot a drone, and was thought to be dead

The only thing worse than receiving death threats is waking up one morning to find people on the internet thinking you're already dead. Rowe's crazily had the fortune (misfortune?) of experiencing both scenarios, and his story that led to the latter is downright hilarious, albeit completely and utterly bizarre.

Decked out in his birthday suit, Rowe was asleep and remembers being submerged in some sort of strange dream about gardening. A loud buzzing sound finally yanked Rowe from his slumber, and he immediately rose to investigate the culprit. It turned out to be a nosy little drone, right outside his window, and with its camera pointed directly at Rowe and his still-as-God-made-him body.

Incensed, Rowe grabbed his shotgun from under his bed and, still entirely declothed, stormed outside, ready to shoot the "electronic Peeping Tom" from the sky. He pumped a shell into the chamber—which was apparently heard and served as the genesis of the death hoax—had the shot lined up, and was just about to pull the trigger when the drone's camera turned toward him and made Rowe rethink his actions. He could see it now: a video popping up on his mom's computer with the headline "Dirty Jobs Guy Totally Loses It — Gets Naked and Shoots Drone From San Francisco Skies," and that fright was enough to make Rowe drop his shotgun and reach for his cellphone instead. The only shot he ended up taking was a picture of the drone as it flew away.

Crazy story, but it does leave us with one unanswered question: If Rowe was still au naturel, where was he holding his cell phone? The world may never know. Unless,of course, there's a certain San Franciscan drone operator willing to release the footage. Your move, drone overlord.

He got away with a joke on Sesame Street about Oscar the Grouch's "back door"

Rowe doesn't need to be told by anybody how to get to Sesame Street. He's already got the directions down pat after making a 2010 trip to the Muppet-friendly destination for a segment aptly titled "Dirtiest Jobs with Mike Rowe." Just as a hungover Rowe expected—he'd stayed up until 5 AM the night before checking out a jazz trio in Manhattan—his appearance included coming into contact with Oscar the Grouch. Oscar's a dirty sock (Rowe's words), Rowe's a dirty guy and together, the two made for awesome, filthy television.

That turned out to be true in more ways than one for Rowe, who was invited into Oscar's trash can through the back door. He couldn't bite back his usual sarcastic humor, responding, "The back door? Hmm. Oh, I always wanted to go in the back..." before a not-so-subtle cut and transition to the next scene.

Yep, a "back door man" joke on a kids' show, and it somehow got past PBS censors. For any adult with a sense of humor watching with their child, though, it was probably a breath of fresh air from Elmo and constant reminders that Cookie Monster ... spoiler alert ... likes him some cookies. In hindsight for Rowe, the joke was "a cheap and childish double-entendre," but at least it made for a funny story. "I'm not saying I'm proud," he wrote on his website. "I'm just saying it happened." And we're sure glad it did.

Dirty Jobs was originally only slated for three one-hour specials

Nine years, 169 episodes, and 50 states later, it's crazy to think that Dirty Jobs, the franchise that truly put Rowe on the map, was originally only slated to air as three one-hour specials. That's right — 180 minutes of Rowe is all we were supposed to get, after he caught the Discovery Channel's attention by sending a tape of one of his more graphic pieces from a segment he used to do on San Francisco's Evening Magazine. The segment was called "Somebody's Gotta Do It," and it featured Rowe exploring the wonders of artificial cow insemination.

Unsurprisingly, viewers reacted to the specials en masse, and in every way imaginable, giving Rowe the bright idea to see if Discovery was interested in making his fresh, but clearly eccentric, concept a regular deal. They were interested all right and, like that, Dirty Jobs was born. The rest, as Rowe says on his website, is dirty history which, if you're looking to build a wide TV audience, is the best kind of history.

He helped an acerbic but honest Girl Scout sell tons of cookies

You'd expect Girl Scouts to sound sweet and nice. Rowe managed to find one that was a real tough cookie. In January 2017, Rowe read a brutally honest letter on Facebook that his podcast producer Sean McCourt's 11-year-old daughter Charlotte wrote. She warned a potential customer about the 2017 Girl Scout cookies she was selling.

"Some of the descriptions, I'm afraid, use false advertising," the South Orange, NJ, Girl Scout said about the marketing of the treats. She then rated all of the Girl Scout cookies from 1 to 10, giving both the classic Thin Mint cookies and the coconut-flavored Samoa ones a 9. McCourt dinged the Do-Si-Do peanut butter cookie a 5 "for its unoriginality and its blandness." She saved the worst venom in the letter for something called the Toffee-tastic, which she labeled a "bleak, flavorless, gluten-free wasteland," calling it "as flavorless as dirt."

Naturally, Rowe thought the letter was a hoot, so after he shared the letter with his fans, he asked them to buy from her online link to support "truth in advertising." She had an initial goal of 300 boxes, but after the story went viral and got national media coverage, she sold 26,086 boxes before shutting down sales, as well as 12,430 boxes donated to troops overseas. All due to Rowe yakking on Facebook.

The idea for Dirty Jobs came from his childhood

Rowe is so identified in pop culture as the Dirty Jobs guy that people who've heard of him assume that he's great at fixing things. The truth is just the opposite. He grew up being envious of his father and grandfather, who both had a much better mechanical knack and ability to use their hands. Especially his grandfather Carl Knobel, who Rowe called Pop.

"To me, Pop was a magician, and his talents a great mystery," Rowe wrote in Guideposts magazine. "As his would-be apprentice, I mimicked his every move."

But Rowe was a terrible apprentice. And it frustrated the heck out of him when he was a teenager. To which his grandfather explained, "God gave me a toolbox, Mike. He gave you one too. But he didn't give us the same one. You understand?" Rowe said he first thought his grandfather was "just trying to make me feel better" but then realized he was right. Rowe's gifts were his voice and his ability to speak in public.

Years later, when Rowe was a San Francisco TV host, his toilet backed up, and he had to call a plumber. The situation reminded him of his grandfather. "I considered a world without men like Pop. What would civilization look like without them?" he wrote. "If a TV host calls in sick, life goes on. But if our tradesmen don't report for work, things fall apart. Literally." So he used his own toolbox to do a segment called "Somebody's Gotta Do It" to illuminate what those forgotten blue-collar workers do, with Rowe as the apprentice. That idea evolved into Discovery's Dirty Jobs. Pretty touching story for a self-described "smart aleck."

He narrated the infamous Wunder Boner ad

Even if you haven't ever watched Dirty Jobs, chances are you've heard Rowe's voice at some point. He has been a big name in the narration field since 1984, flexing his dulcet tones for everything from TV shows to commercials to the Bible.

A reader once asked him, "Do you ever disagree with what you are narrating?" Rowe responded by comparing the job to a plumber fixing a toilet. (Rowe's big on talking about the toilet.) "I didn't question the nature of the clog, or ponder its source," he wrote. "I neither agreed or disagreed with what I found clinging to the paper. I just completed the job as best I could, and moved on to the next one."

Back in the day when he was a nobody, he narrated the legendarily bad Wunder Boner commercial. The ad for a fish deboning tool is done with a knowing wink—one of the fishermen says "just wait until you see what I've got," while another talks about how his "wife would like that" when discussing the product. It's still funny to watch, over 20 years later. Wonder if that toll-free number still works.

However, Rowe's not likely to be narrating Wunder Boner: Now Bigger Than Ever or a similar silly product anytime soon. Rowe said he now has to be more "discriminating" in choosing ads, due to being famous. "Notoriety makes people wonder about all sorts of things, and justifiably so," he wrote. Plus, he said his "price for reading other people's words is what you might call 'exorbitant,'" admitting, "in other words, I can still be bought. It just hasn't happened in a long time." At least he's honest.

Castrating sheep changed his life

Rowe gave a TED Talk in 2008 in which he discussed preparing to work at a Colorado sheep farm castrating lambs for a Dirty Jobs episode. "Normally, I never do any research at all," he admitted, but since this involved animals, he wanted to do this with "respect" for the creatures. He called various animal protection groups to get their opinion on the most humane way to do this procedure. They recommended putting rubber bands around the tail and the testicle. In a week, both body parts would fall off, due to blood constriction.

He then found out when filming the episode that the sheep farmer he was apprenticing with used a knife to cut both. Then the farmer finished the job by using his mouth and teeth (yes, really!) to remove the testicles. This also brought out some blood and squealing and looked shockingly gruesome (not to mention the disgusting idea of having a mouth full of lamb testicles), but the lamb quickly recovered. It took Rowe himself a little while to recover from seeing the man bite off those Rocky Mountain oysters himself, though, and he asked for the camera crew to stop for a second.

"I don't know what just happened, but there are testicles in this bucket," Rowe said, "and that's not how we do it." Yet when he asked the farmer to do the removal the "humane" way, with the rubber band, he saw that this other lamb was staggering around and would have ongoing pain for the next week, while the first lamb was back to "frolicking."

So Rowe ended up doing it the farmer's way, which meant following the direction, "Bite 'em. Just bite 'em off." Yikes. Not a pretty picture.

This was a metaphor for other misconceptions he had in life. It made him change his thinking forever. And yes, he got that epiphany from biting off sheep testicles.

The dirty job Discovery wouldn't let him do

Rowe's done disgusting jobs throughout the country, from cricket breeder to cleaning up lots of "poo," as he called it, thanks to Discovery initially censoring the term for it that rhymes with "rap."

But there are some jobs the host will not do. He told USA Today in 2007 that cleaning up a crime scene was one of them. "It's a great dirty job," he noted, "but in the end, it's hard to be lighthearted about a body left in a trunk for three days in the Louisiana swamp." Good point.

Someone queried Rowe in a 2014 Reddit Ask Me Anything as to which jobs the network wouldn't do. He said that "the segments I was most interested in doing but found the most resistance around was that of a rendering facility." (It's where animals are turned into other products. Save yourself the chance of losing your lunch and don't Google photos of it.)

He claimed that "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. M-O-B."

Yikes. He might have needed a crime scene cleanup—for himself—if he did the show at one of those places. (Rumor has it that a rendering house could have been one of the many locations where Jimmy Hoffa was disposed of.) Rowe added sardonically, "Why the Mob has such a rich history in garbage-related industries and rendering-related industries is a conversation beyond my pay grade." Heh.

Anyhow, there was a happy ending of sorts to this. They found a facility that wasn't mob-owned and filmed in there. And viewers got to see "an unvarnished look at what it takes to turn a dead cow into several hundred pounds of chicken feed," Rowe said. You know the expression, "that ain't chicken feed"? Guess you can't say that the next time you see a cow.

He keeps in shape with a prison workout

Way before Spartan Races and Crossfit training made the exercise of torture known as a burpee popular, it was most well known for being a prison workout. This bodyweight exercise is how inmates can get jacked up in the joint without using free weights. A burpee is like a pushup, squat, and lunge on steroids, complete with a jump at the end of each one. You don't need any equipment or even a lot of space to get in shape with this.

Since Rowe has been on the road so much for the past 20 years, he started doing this prison workout, which works in a regular hotel room the same way it does in the Graybar Hotel. He explained in an FAQ how he does them—start with 10, take a 30 second break, then do nine, and so on until you get to one. Then do two more sets before eating breakfast. No word on whether Rowe also practices carving shanks or how to make pruno.

A bank robber looked a lot like him

In 2016, the Medford, Oregon, Police Department put out an alert on their Facebook page to be on the lookout for a man in a gray hoodie and a baseball cap who had robbed a Chase Bank. He looked an awful lot like Rowe, except he was shorter and smaller. The post went viral, thanks to fans commenting about how much the suspect looked like Rowe.

Even the police department noticed. "Thanks to you guys, we issued an arrest warrant for Mike Rowe from the TV show Dirty Jobs," they joked. "But in case it's not him, keep your eye out and keep the tips coming."

Rowe pointed out the height and weight difference between him and the bank robber on his own Facebook page, then posted a theory of his own: "What if the thief was not an idiot, but a clever person of below average height wearing a Mike Rowe mask?" he said. "Crazy as it sounds, these masks exist. I don't know where people get them, but a couple of years ago, I ran into a woman at a Halloween party who was wearing my face, and I don't mind telling you it scared the hell out of me." Did anybody check into her alibi?

He called out other reality shows as being fake, including one he worked on

When moving to CNN to do the show Somebody's Gotta Do It, he talked to TV Guide about why his show Dirty Jobs ended. He explained the first reason was that he didn't want to have it get bigger and start doing celebrity versions. "I didn't want to do a special episode of Dirty Jobs with Gwyneth Paltrow or John Stamos in the sewer," he said. Too bad. She could have returned the favor and had him in Goop next to her explanation of "conscious uncoupling."

The other was that the trend for reality shows was getting away from his unscripted, one-take style of show. "Unscripted no longer means without a script. I looked at Duck Dynasty and Amish Mafia and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and all the hit shows were coming out of the nonfiction space—they had writers' rooms." You mean the Amish Mafiosos are fake? Who knew? Is nothing sacred?

In his 2014 Reddit AMA, he even called out Ghost Hunters, a show he worked on, as not being the most real. When a Redditor asked him if he had "ever had an experience with a ghost," he responded, "Well, I narrated GHOSTHUNTERS for 8 seasons. All I can tell you for sure regarding the paranormal is that there's good money in it." But would there be good money with ghosts showing up to haunt Honey Boo Boo or the Duck Dynasty guys? Maybe there's a writers' room working on that right now.

One clean job he had was being the voice of ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer

Rowe has a bit of a goofy persona, but he once had a more serious role on ABC News. He had the announcer's role for Diane Sawyer when she anchored the evening news. Rowe said he first met her in 2016, he told TV Guide, when she was on Good Morning America.

He said she saw a video of him "walking from a barnyard holding a 200-pound pig" when getting ready. Then she asked him, "And I understand you've had some experiences with a pig?' He responded, "Look, Diane, I'm not going to lie to you. I've made some mistakes." He said, "She snorted on the air, really loud," and she told him during a break, "'I don't know what this means, but I'm going to remember you.' She called me two years later, and I was the voice of her show for a few years after that. So I guess if you can make Diane snort ... "

Bestiality jokes as a pathway to get a network news gig. Who knew?

Rowe's testified before Congress about his jobs message

Because of his work on Dirty Jobs, he has been identified as somebody with affinity for the working class, and for illustrating points in a humorous way. But Mike Rowe also has a foundation called mikeroweWORKS to get more people trained in skilled jobs that don't require a college degree. To that end, he has testified multiple times to Congress on this issue.

In February 2017, he spoke before the House Committee on Education and The Workforce, noting that "the student-loan bubble is going to burst, as bubbles always do, and that "the outstanding debt is 1.3 trillion dollars." Yet even now, he pointed out, "we continue to lend money we don't have to kids who can't pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist—while ignoring careers that do." And that's no joke.

Some of the Dirty Jobs episodes were taped very quickly

Many of the Dirty Jobs episodes were filmed in an extremely efficient, brisk manner. Like the day Mike Rowe spotted hot tar roofers on a hot day in Pasadena, California, on his way to leaving the town after filming another episode. Once he saw the potential for this dirty job, he canceled his flight and checked out what they were doing. Within 12 hours, he had content for a new episode for the show. Now that's fast-moving.