Mike Rowe: 21 Facts About The Dirty Jobs Host

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. 

Taking on a wide variety of jobs most people haven't even heard of, let alone want to do, Rowe tackled the essential tasks done every day by unseen and unsung heroes: From scorpion hunting to cleaning water towers, and scooping up toxic sludge to recycling hotel soap, Rowe shone a light on these unpleasant tasks with gusto, making the show's fans appreciate essential workers just that little bit more. 

But there's a lot more to him than TV fame, so do yourself a favor and dig into some less-known facts about Rowe's life. Digging in, after all, is pretty much what got Rowe famous in the first place.

He joined the opera so he could earn his union cards

In order to break into TV, Mike 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 was 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 so 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, Mike 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 offered 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."

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

Mike 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 (via Entertainment Weekly), 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.

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

Considering Mike Rowe's fame from "Dirty Jobs" and several other successful projects, it should come as no surprise he's a multi-millionaire, to the estimated 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 view of Treasure Island and Alcatraz, which he regards as the best part about his place.

He received death threats for voicing a Walmart ad

Whether intended or not, Mike 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 (per Business Insider), 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, as reported by CBS News, 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?"

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

Imagine waking up one morning to find people on the internet thinking you're already dead. Mike Rowe crazily had the misfortune of experiencing this scenario, and his story that led it (via HuffPost) 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 disrobed, stormed outside, ready to shoot the drone from the sky. He pumped a shell into the chamber — which was apparently heard and served as the genesis of the death hoax (via HNGN) — 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 cell phone instead. The only shot he ended up taking was a picture of the drone as it flew away.

He got away with a dirty joke on Sesame Street

Mike 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 a.m. 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, taking the opportunity to sling a crude joke (we'll let you fill in the blanks).

Yep, a "back door" 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 the 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."

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 Mike 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.

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

You'd expect Girl Scouts to sound sweet and nice. Mike 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 (per NJ.com), she sold 26,086 boxes before shutting down sales, as well as 12,430 boxes donated to troops overseas, according to Rowe's website. All due to Rowe yakking on Facebook.

The idea for Dirty Jobs came from his childhood

Mike 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 Mike 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. As Rowe's website describes, 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. "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 days 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."

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."

Castrating sheep changed his life

Mike 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 to remove the testicles. This was shockingly gruesome, but the lamb quickly recovered. It took Rowe himself a little while to recover, 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." This became 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

Mike Rowe's done disgusting jobs throughout the country, from diving in swamp water to cleaning up lots of "poo," as he described it on his website, thanks to Discovery initially censoring the more blunt term. 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."

Someone queried Rowe in a 2014 Reddit Ask Me Anything as to which jobs the network wouldn't do, to which he responded: "the segments I was most interested in doing but found the most resistance around was that of a rendering facility." About these places where animals are turned into other products, Rowe 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."

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," according to Rowe.

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 pumped 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 Mike 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 a fan Q&A how he does them — helpfully demonstrating both how to do them, and highlighting their beneficial effects on his fitness.

A bank robber looked a lot like him

In 2016, the Medford, Oregon, police department put out an alert on their Facebook page (via The Oregonian) 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 Mike 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."

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," Mike Rowe 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, saying, "I didn't want to do a special episode of "Dirty Jobs" with Gwyneth Paltrow or John Stamos in the sewer," he said.

The other was that the trend for reality shows was getting away from his unscripted, one-take style of show. Rowe told TV Guide, "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."

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."

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

Mike 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 ... "

Rowe's testified before Congress about his jobs message

Because of his work on "Dirty Jobs," Mike Rowe has been identified as somebody with an 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, as described on Rowe's website, 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, as he described to National Review. Once he saw the potential for this dirty job, he canceled his flight and checked out what they were doing. Shortly afterwards, he was on the roof, on camera, and being educated on the finer points of roofing.

Of course, Rowe wasn't going to just stand and learn from the foreman — he got stuck right in, hauling refuse chutes up with the rest of the team, lugging barrows of gravel up ramps, and spreading hot tar. By the end of the day, he had content for a new episode for the show. Now that's fast-moving.

COVID convinced him to return to Dirty Jobs

"Dirty Jobs" has been such a special part of Mike Rowe's life that once the possibility arose to bring the show back in 2022, the host eagerly set the wheels in motion. In an interview with TMZ, he said, "I started getting a lot of letters from fans of the old show and I think the network heard from a lot of them as well. 'Dirty Jobs' was the granddaddy of essential working shows. Since that was back in the headlines, it seemed like a good idea to go out and just remind people of who was keeping the lights on and doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life work for the rest of us."

Since the pandemic deeply affected so many of the very same people that Rowe passionately supports, it was the perfect time to revive the series. Yet at the same time, the host wanted to do even more to highlight the difficult lives of workers, so he also became both the narrator and a producer for another show, "How America Works," on the Fox Business Network.

Clearly, Rowe has not changed in his dedication to promoting critical, yet often overlooked jobs, but he also has admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that his views on various careers have evolved over time. With his revised outlook, the host wants to stress that no matter how important some careers are, there is no such thing as nonessential work, for they all play an essential role in making the economy run smoothly.

His country hit reached number one on the charts

In 2021, Mike Rowe stepped a bit out of his comfort zone to collaborate with John Rich of Big & Rich for a song called "Santa's Got a Dirty Job." But much to his surprise, the country tune quickly became a hit, not only reaching number one on Billboard's Country Digital Song Sales chart, but also even making it to the top on the overall Digital Song Sales list as well, according to Forbes. Plus, even though it was for a brief moment, the song impressively took first place on iTunes for a few days too.

Rowe enjoyed the experience very much, and was grateful to Rich for contacting him and asking to partner up for the duet. When talking with TMZ, Rowe said, "It's been so much fun, and this thing continues to go all over the charts." He then added, "I sing in the shower, weddings, and funerals, but I just got off the phone before you guys called and people want to do like a record deal. It's absolutely unbelievable." However, more important than possible record contracts and chart positions was the massive boost the song made in Rowe's fundraising efforts: All of the profits from the single were divided between the two men's sponsored charities.