Mike Rowe's Own Dirty Job: Selling Knick-Knacks Overnight
As part of a new series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click and people leap forward into their careers.
Before Mike Rowe was the host of Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, he was selling knick-knacks on the QVC cable network in the middle of the night. He got the job after winning a bet in a Baltimore bar.
His friend Rick was working at the Mount Royal Tavern. Instead of having the football game on the TV, Rick was tuned into "a heavy guy in a shiny suit sell pots and pans." QVC was holding auditions the next day, and Rick was watching the channel to prepare.
Rowe told his friend that he also wanted to audition, but Rick wasn't convinced. He bet $100 that Rowe couldn't get a call back. The next day, Rowe went to the audition.
"It was absurd," he says. "They rolled a pencil across the desk, and the guy said, 'Pick up the pencil and start talking about it. Make me want it.' "
Rowe was hired on the spot and scheduled on QVC's overnight shift.
"I looked at the overnights as an opportunity to essentially do the late-night talk show I always wanted to do without permission," he says.
"So somewhere between the whole tension of not knowing what the next phone call would bring, trying to stay awake, knowing that the ice I was standing on was cracking under my feet constantly, was an opportunity to poke fun at every single product that landed in front of me."
He sold a porcelain Carol Ann Christmas doll, a seagull design bracelet and, most famously, the Katsak cat toy (which is, essentially, a sack for cats to play with).
"The Katsak was one of many products that you would look at and go, 'Wow, I can't say that's a good idea, but it sure is an idea,' " he says.
Rowe was fired three times — and "incredibly" rehired each time — before quitting in 1993.
He says he looks back fondly on his years at QVC.
"QVC was absolutely my big break," Rowe says. "My whole career was based on a bet. I'll take credit for whatever I can get, but honestly, I got lucky. And I've been in TV ever since."
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