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Mike Rowe's Own Dirty Job: Selling Knick-Knacks Overnight

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Mike Rowe's Own Dirty Job: Selling Knick-Knacks Overnight

Mike Rowe's Own Dirty Job: Selling Knick-Knacks Overnight

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we're collecting stories of triumph, big and small, moments when people make great leaps forward in their careers. We call it My Big Break.

Long before Mike Rowe was the host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs," he was selling ceramic figurines and cat toys on QVC in the middle of the night. The story of his big break begins at a Baltimore bar.

MIKE ROWE: I walked across the street to the Mount Royal Tavern to get a beer and watch the football game. I walked into the tavern, and my buddy Rick was behind the bar, but the football game wasn't on. Incredibly, he was watching a heavy guy in a shiny suit sell pots and pans. And I said, Rick, for God's sakes, man, put the game on. And he said, I can't. I'm auditioning for this job tomorrow, and I need to be familiar with the network.

And I said, well, what is it, you know? And he said, well, it's called QVC, and they're doing this cattle call, and they're coming to town. And it's live TV. I thought I'd give it a shot. I say, well, I could probably do that. And he said, no, you couldn't. I said, yes, I could. And he bet me 100 bucks I couldn't get a callback for the audition. So I went the next day and auditioned for QVC in a hotel room in downtown Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

And the audition was absurd. In my case, they rolled a pencil across the desk, and the guy said, pick up the pencil and start talking about it. Make me want it. And if you got through that, you had a job.

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ROWE: Okeydokey. We're back. Never really went anywhere, to tell you the truth. My name is Mike Rowe. This is QVC. And I'll be here for the next half hour or so. I've been here for the last three and a half hours. If you haven't been with us the whole time, well, shame on you. You just missed some really, really, really fascinating TV.

I looked at the overnights as an opportunity to essentially do the late night talk show I always wanted to do without permission. So somewhere between that 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.

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ROWE: Called the Katsak cat toy, $36.50.

The Katsak is a paper bag from a supermarket that somebody put, like, Mylar on the inside. And purportedly, your cat will crawl into it and become instantly enchanted by the sound of crinkling plastic.

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ROWE: There's a - look at him. That's a cat that's having fun. We don't really have audio for this, do we? That's too bad, because you would be hearing this cat making sounds of unbridled pleasure. What is he chewing on?

The Katsak was one of many, many, many, many products that, you know, you would look at and go, wow, I can't say that's a good idea, but it sure is an idea.

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ROWE: There's the crinkling sound once again, lest you forget. The Katsak cat toy, a bag for your cat.

I was fired three times, rehired - incredibly - each time and ultimately - I ultimately quit in 1993.

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ROWE: QVC was absolutely my big break. I look at it as a great opportunity to just let the viewers see you, try and figure out your job. And it was the perfect training ground for what would come many years later with "Dirty Jobs."

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ROWE: My whole career was based on a bet, really. 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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RATH: Mike Rowe, former host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" and founder of a nonprofit Mike Rowe Works. His new book, "Profoundly Disconnected: A True Confession From Mike Rowe," comes out next week. Hear more stories of big breaks at npr.org/mybigbreak. And we want to hear from you. Send us an email with your story to mybigbreak@npr.org.

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