When "Nightline" asked to meet Mike Rowe, he suggested that a good place would be a recycling dump. "This is my office," he said.
Not really. If he has an office, he keeps it a secret. But as the host and creator of Discovery Channel's show "Dirty Jobs," Rowe actually seems to like being in dirty places. That's his element.
"You know it used to be that work looked like work," he said as he stood on the sorting line separating plastic, metal, wood and carpet. "Work used to be dirty all the time and now, you know, with financial services being such a dominant force in the economy, the notion of a good job looks different."
With rugged looks, a baritone voice and a baseball cap pulled over his brow, Rowe is the chronicler of those people who do the dirty jobs that hold society together. He pays homage by doing the job alongside people who do it for a living; maggot farmer, charcoal maker, chick sexer, ostrich wrangler, wind farm technician and sheep castrator -- which, by the way, is done with your teeth.
"Yeah, that sheep still calls me," Rowe said.
He has profiled at least 200 dirty jobs with a kind of workman's humor that makes the day pass. "If you're not laughing, honestly, doing this kind of work, the joke's on you," he said.
From Opera to Coal Mines
The 46-year-old native of Baltimore started out wanting to be an actor. In what may have been the first of his string of job impersonations, he learned how to sing an aria, tried out for the Baltimore Opera and was a singing spear carrier with the chorus for five years.
From there, he became a cable shopping pitchman and, eventually, co-host of "Evening Magazine" in San Francisco, where he said he was impersonating a show host. That was where he got the idea to do dirty jobs. His first: an artificial inseminator for cows that got him in up to his elbow in the world of dirty jobs.
He sold the idea to Discovery and now he's on the road 300 days a year hanging out with snake wranglers, coal miners and sewer cleaners. He has been bitten by sharks and snakes and pooped on by just about every creature imaginable. "It washes off," he said. But "a lot of the show requires you to ignore the synapses in your brain that normally tell you, you know, 'don't do that.'"
Kudos to the Blue Collar
Now Rowe's voice is a familiar one. He's the spokesman for Ford trucks and narrator for Discovery's crab fishing show "Deadliest Catch," which opens with Rowe intoning, "The vast Bering Sea ..."
But his passion is drawing attention to the working people, the ones who do the jobs his father and grandfather did. And he's learned something along the way, that dirty jobs have dignity and the people who do them may have a secret.
"They stepped back and looked where everyone else was going, then they went the opposite direction," Rowe said.
They do a job that allows them to shower off at the end of the day and leave work behind. "They've figured out a way to be happy doing it," he said. "And they figured out a way to get paid."