Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

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PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now the game where we invite people on who've done a lot to do one more thing. It's called Not My Job. Every week, we at WAIT WAIT get emailed suggestions of people our listeners would like to hear playing this game. And over the past couple of years, there is one person who has been suggested far, far more often than any other. So ladies and gentlemen, because we could no longer defy your will, we are pleased to welcome the creator and host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs," Mr. Mike Rowe. Mike Rowe, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MIKE ROWE: Thank you. It sounds as though you're in receipt of my mother's emails.

SAGAL: Well, we were going to ask about that. Because what I said was true, you know, every week we'd get maybe one email suggesting this guy, another email suggesting that woman and 10 emails saying you should have Mike Rowe on. So we began to suspect an orchestrated campaign.

ROWE: You know, you really can't put it past me. But in all candor, I know nothing about it.

SAGAL: Okay.

ROWE: My mother, however, she has written to everyone who has ever had the questionable taste to hire me, starting with QVC back in the mid '80s.

SAGAL: Yeah.

ROWE: And then just, you know, she's just now shy about firing off a tersely-worded memo to the man in charge.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Mike, what did you do on QVC?

ROWE: Well, you have to imagine in those days, kind of like a condemned carnival midway.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUKE BURBANK: You guys sold those?

ROWE: We would sell anything that you could remove from an acrylic box with a hook, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: It could be your Health Team infrared pain reliever. It could be your Amcor negative ion generator. It could be a collectable doll. I mean, this is 1989, I guess 1990. There was no training program at the time. If you could talk about a pencil for between six and eight minutes - I'm not making this up - you were hired and essentially allowed to try and figure out the business of live TV and selling stuff to a narcoleptic and codependent audience in the middle of the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: That's how we rolled.

SAGAL: That's great.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: It sounds awesome.

SAGAL: How did you career at QVC come to an end? I mean...

ROWE: It actually ended on several occasions.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: The first incident involved a collectable nun doll.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah.

ROWE: Which if you wound her up, she played "Climb Every Mountain," which to me is already funny. And this thing was presented to me, actually in a primetime shift. I was filling in for someone. So there were more people watching than normal and the stakes were very high. And I could not find the winding mechanism on this doll.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: My search for it became accelerated and frantic.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: And it wasn't located between the shoulder blades where any self- respecting manufacturer of a nun doll would put it. What I found was a protrusion in the small of her back, but technically it was - I mean, it was her butt.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: And impossible to wind without reaching in, you know.

SAGAL: Of course, it makes sense to me.

ROWE: Of course, I had to wait for the technical director to change his shot to a display nun over in the light box. So now I'm off camera, but my mic is open. And I invert the nun in my lap and I push her habit down. And, you know, anatomically speaking, this woman is unnecessarily detailed.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: And everybody...

SAGAL: I mean, for a nun.

ROWE: For a nun, she was smoking.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: And she was also upside down in my lap. And I was peering over her feet, winding her up and the technical director cut back to me. And so in, I don't know, maybe a few hundred thousands homes, I was sitting there with this heavenly host between my legs that appeared to have fallen like a lawn dart and was entirely naked and my thumb was not where it should be at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It happens to us.

ROWE: It ended quickly and badly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Right. Well, I want you to tell us about "Dirty Jobs," because no public radio listener will admit to ever watching TV. I've noticed that. So tell us about it. Obviously, you do dirty jobs.

ROWE: I do. "Dirty Jobs" is maybe the simplest show in the history of TV, with the possible exception of "The Gong Show." I go around the country; we've shot in every state. And we spend a day with people who do jobs that are dirty or dangerous or ridiculous or difficult. And, of course, endless opportunities for exploding toilets and misadventures in animal husbandry.

SAGAL: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So, got to ask this question, which was the dirtiest of the jobs?

ROWE: Of the 300, I would say for pure epic horror, there's a thing called a lift pump and it's at a wastewater treatment plant.

SAGAL: Oh yeah.

ROWE: And a lift pump weighs about four tons and it sits in the bottom of a five-story silo.

SAGAL: yeah.

ROWE: And when the lift pump ruptures, the silo fills with whatever you flush.

SAGAL: Yeah.

ROWE: And to make a long story short, you swim through the muck to the pump.

SAGAL: Wow.

ROWE: You crawl on top. A crane lowers a cable. You affix it. You hang on. And the sound that a broken lift pump will make when it's hoisted out of the silo and breaks the seal of poo that was holding it to the floor will haunt your dreams.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Have you ever done a job that you had no idea existed before you went to do it?

ROWE: Oh yeah, geez. Let's see, noodling was a good one.

SAGAL: Noodling?

ROWE: Back in season one. Noodling is...

BURBANK: That sounds innocent.

ROWE: Yeah, it does sound innocent, except for the fact that it's insane. And it involves catching fish with your bare hands. And it's illegal in 46 states, but not Oklahoma.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: And that's where we went, to Shawnee, Oklahoma and...

POUNDSTONE: Why would you do it?

ROWE: Well, because it's actually a job. The people who fish this way, fish really, really effectively. And they can catch hundreds of catfish where guys with a rod and a reel might only catch a couple of dozen. And they sell them.

POUNDSTONE: So what makes it illegal?

ROWE: Well what makes it illegal is that it's really crazy to do. Because you're in a little bayou or a swamp or some backwater up to your neck. And you're rooting around with your hands. And when you find a hole in the mud, you stick your hand in it and you hope something bites you.

POUNDSTONE: Oh.

ROWE: And if it's a catfish, you grab it by the jaw and then you pull it out. And congratulations, you've noodled. But if it's a snapping turtle or a water moccasin or who knows what else, then you die.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You must come home smelling of all kinds of interesting things.

ROWE: Well, the first time I knew that the smell was really going to be a problem on a personal level, I was flying home from Austin where I went to this place called Bracken Cave, where they have about 40 million Mexican free-tailed bats. And I went in with a cave biologist. That was the job we were profiling. And we sunk in a giant soup of guano. And, you know, guano, in a bat cave anyhow, was filled with (unintelligible) flesh-eating beetles. And the bats over your head are constantly defecating and urinating and giving birth. So there's just a shower of urine. And we are covered in the worst of the worst. And well I guess the point of the story is that night...

SAGAL: I was wondering.

ROWE: Stupidly.

SAGAL: Yes.

ROWE: Stupidly.

SAGAL: Stupidly. Formal ball.

ROWE: Well look, I was wearing my favorite pair of khakis. I know that sounds ridiculous. But I had a nice pair of pants, and I just balled them up and I threw them in my suitcase. And the next morning, going through security, you know, they dust the bag for, I don't know, explosives. Everything just went crazy. And then they opened the bag and the terminal cleared out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: The smell was just extraordinary.

SAGAL: I can imagine.

POUNDSTONE: Wow.

SAGAL: So have you ever tried the dirty job of hosting a public radio show? You think you'd be up for that?

ROWE: Some things are simply too hideous.

SAGAL: I think you're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Mike Rowe, we are delighted to have you with us and we're delighted that you're in another room so we cannot smell you.

ROWE: Thank you.

SAGAL: But we have asked you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL, Host:

The name is Clean, Mr. Clean.

SAGAL: You do dirty jobs, so we were certain you've never heard of this guy. A certain Mr. Clean, both the name of and fake spokesperson for a cleaning product from Proctor and Gamble. We're going to ask you three questions about this shiny-pated neat freak. If you get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. You ready to play?

ROWE: Mm-hmm. I'm ready.

SAGAL: All right, who is Mike Rowe playing for, Carl?

KASELL: Mike is playing for Julie Spears of St. Louis, Missouri.

SAGAL: All right, here's your first question, Mike. Many people don't realize that Mr. Clean has a first name. In 1962, a nationwide contest ended up giving him what first name? Was it A, Mr. Aloysius Anthony Clean; B, Mr. Veritably Clean; or C, Mr. Chad Clean?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: What was that first one?

SAGAL: Aloysius Anthony.

ROWE: That's too precious. What was the last one?

SAGAL: Chad.

ROWE: The middle one was Mr. Veritably Clean.

SAGAL: Veritably Clean.

ROWE: Yeah, I think he was veritable.

SAGAL: You're right. He's Veritably Clean.

POUNDSTONE: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

POUNDSTONE: I wouldn't have guessed it.

SAGAL: Only his...

ROWE: He is my nemesis, by the way.

SAGAL: I'm sure he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, the second question. The second question now, Mr. Clean, as you apparently now know, has always been helpful and concerned with cleanliness. In 1965, though, he had a change in personality. What happened? A, he became Mean Mr. Clean; B, he became Sad Mr. Clean; or C, he became briefly and disastrously, Mrs. Clean?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: Was there a mean in there?

SAGAL: There was. Mean Mr. Clean.

ROWE: Mean Mr. Clean. Does anything else rhyme in any of the choices?

SAGAL: No. Sad Mr. Clean sounds poignant.

ROWE: Yeah. He was mean.

SAGAL: He was mean.

ROWE: He was Mean Mr. Clean. When in doubt, go with something that rhymes.

SAGAL: He was Mean Mr. Clean. That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: The idea was that he was mean to dirt.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: He was intolerant of grime. He was cruel. All right, this is great. You seem to know a lot about this. We'll see if you can go for perfect. Back in 2000, an Ask Mr. Clean website went live, and Proctor and Gamble promised he would finally address what frequently asked question? A, are you Mr. Clean toxic to pets; are you an albino; or C, are you gay?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: Why does it have to be just one?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROWE: Yeah, it's got to be pets.

ROBERTS: No.

SAGAL: No, it's gay.

ROBERTS: Of course, it's gay.

ROWE: Hey, it's two out of three, right? Who cares?

SAGAL: Yeah, it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: There's the attitude that got him to the top of QVC. Yes. No, the answer is, the question was, are you gay, because people have been wondering for years. He's muscular, he's got an earring, he's a neat freak. But the answer is no, he's not gay, he's a fictional cartoon spokesman.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Mike Rowe do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Mike had two correct answers, Peter, and that's good enough to win for Julie Spears.

SAGAL: Congratulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done, sir.

ROWE: Thank you.

SAGAL: Mike Rowe is the host of "Dirty Jobs," airing on the Discovery Channel Tuesday night through the end of the year. Mike Rowe, thank you so much for joining us. It's quite a pleasure. Great to have you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!